Timothy stares down into the warm muddy water of the plastic bucket.
“What did we get?” Dad asks across the small fishing boat.
Timothy gives it a little swirl. “It looks like some more dragonfly nymphs, not much else.” He passes the bucket to Christopher, who, after a quick glance, passes it to Dad.
Dad takes the bucket and pours the water, mud, and nymphs into a plastic bag and places it in a big cooler. The cooler is the kind you might expect to be filled with sandwiches, fresh fruit, and soda pop, but this one is filled with samples of the insect life in the farm ponds of North Carolina.
Timothy (11) and Christopher (7) live with their family in the Raleigh First Ward, Raleigh North Carolina Stake. Today they are helping their father, a scientist who studies the insects that live in farm ponds.
“Insects in ponds? Underwater?” Both boys were surprised to learn that many animals that live on land also live underwater. There are insects and spiders that spend much of their life underwater. Some, such as the dragonfly, live part of their lives underwater as nymphs with gills before they become winged adults.
It’s hard work to help Dad take samples from the mud and plants of a pond. Timothy and Christopher start the day early. After family prayer, they and Dad load the pickup truck with a net, some special scientific equipment that will help them tell something about the water in which these insects live, and other supplies. When all is ready, the boys hop into the truck and wave good-bye to Mom and their two younger brothers, Jaron and Nathan.
On the way to the pond, the boys and their dad talk about the wonderful plants and animals that they are able to study and enjoy. Timothy wonders, however, why there are mosquitoes. “They only bite and hurt us—what good are they?”
“Do you remember the big bluegill fish you caught when we were fishing?” Dad asks.
“Yes, but what does that have to do with mosquitoes?”
“Well, when that fish was little, guess what it ate.”
“Yes. If you look hard enough, you’ll find a reason all creatures were put on the earth, even the ones that annoy and bother us.”
Soon they arrive at the pond, which is about as big as a football field and is surrounded on one side by pines and on the other by fields of hay. Even though it is still early in the morning, it is already getting hot. Timothy and Christopher unload the truck and put everything into the boat that has already been put partially into the water. Then they get into the boat. Dad pushes it the rest of the way into the warm pond water and jumps inside.
“Timothy, please get the hummingbird out and tell us how deep the water is,” Dad requests.
The “hummingbird” isn’t really a bird at all. It’s a tool in a little box that tells them how deep the water is; it can also tell where fish are located. Timothy plugs its wires into the battery pack, then lowers a small black knob about the size of an apple into the water. He watches the screen and excitedly yells, “Nine feet!”
Dad rows the boat near the shore where there are thick patches of water plants. He gets out a sampling net and starts collecting the insects in the water. After he sweeps the net through the vegetation, he dumps whatever has been caught into a big bucket.
“What are you going to do with all these insects?” Christopher asks.
“They’ll help us know how healthy this pond is.”
“Healthy? Ponds can be healthy?”
“Yes, ponds can be healthy—or unhealthy.” When a pond is unhealthy—if it’s polluted for example—then certain kinds of insects die. By looking at the insects in it, you can tell if the pond is healthy or not.”
Dad stops the boat at several places along the shore to take more samples. Each time, one of the boys transfers the insects, water, and mud in the bucket to a plastic bag and places it in the cooler. Then it’s time to head for home.
On the way, Dad says, “We’ve just tested that pond to see if it was healthy. What if someone wanted to find out if our family were healthy? Just as I look at insects to get an idea about the health of a pond, what do you think someone might look for to see if our family was a healthy one?”
“You mean, if we are all sick or not?” Timothy asks.
“Not exactly. You see, the pond is healthy when all the plants and animals live in the balance that Jesus Christ created them to live in—there is enough food to eat and oxygen to breathe. In the same way, our family is healthy when it’s living the way Heavenly Father and Jesus want it to live.”
“Oh, I see—like if we all love each other?”
“Yes, that’s the most important sign of a healthy family. What else?”
Christopher puts in thoughtfully, “If we are doing the things the Lord has asked us to do.”
“Like what?” Dad raises his eyebrows encouragingly.
“Like having family prayer, family home evening, and personal prayer.”
Timothy adds, “Well, we read the Book of Mormon, and we try to follow the prophet.”
“So if a ‘spiritual scientist’ came to our house and saw that we were doing all these things, then he or she would decide we have a healthy family?”
Timothy and Christopher both nod.
“Do you think we have a healthy family?” Dad asks.
“Yup,” Timothy asserts.
“I think so, too,” Christopher agrees.
Dad gives them both a quick pat on the shoulder. “I think you’re right.”