A man in an old-fashioned tuxedo knocks on the door of a first-grade Seattle classroom. The teacher ushers him in and he totters across the room and groans as he settles in a chair. The 6-year-olds wait, bug-eyed. "I suppose you're all wondering who I am," he almost whispers. "Well, most people who know me, including my wife Flo, call me Old John."
Old John then
tells a story about the Apollo 11 moon shot - ancient history to
the kids - and how the Earth looked like a small and fragile place
from the moon. Old John digs into his bulging denim sack, but he
doesn't pull out moon rocks. He shows them a glass milk bottle, an
old-fashioned razor, then some cloth napkins, a metal lunch pail,
even a cloth diaper. Peppered with lots of questions, he explains
how each of the dumped items can be reused. He compares them to
their modern throwaway counterparts.
diapers," he says. "It actually takes more water to make one of
those disposable diapers than to wash 10 to 15 of these cloth jobs
Old John is the brainchild of a
considerably younger actor named Loren Foss who in real life works
for the Mountaineers, a Northwestern conservation and outdoor
recreation group founded in 1906. While most environmental groups
offer nature hikes, the Mountaineers wanted to do something to
reach children in school. Conservation for Kids started in 1992
with two characters - Old John, who visits first-graders, and
ex-logger Archie Mattox, who visits fifth- and sixth-graders.
Loren's swaggering Mattox character tackles some
tougher issues: Why should we save forests and reduce wood
consumption, even though it might put some people out of work? Both
characters come with a curriculum packet for the teacher so the
lessons can continue after the visit. Foss pays visits to more than
a hundred Seattle-area schools each year and he's now training
others in those roles so the program can expand even more.
For adults, the Mountaineers offers the
Northwest Environmental Issues course. Taught by natural resource
experts, the nine sessions involve group discussions, guided field
trips and service work. Since it started three years ago, the
course has reached almost 300 people.
information, contact the Mountaineers, 300 Third Avenue West,
Seattle, WA 98119 (206/284-6310).