Guest contributor: Rick Van Noy

Bad Advice Wednesday: Don’t Pick the Flowers! An Un-Fairy Tale

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour


The context: We learned at the beginning of the school year that kids on the Radford, Virginia, High School Cross Country Team could no longer run on roads. The boys were state champs last year and they have a tradition of roaming all over the place, hilly streets, through neighborhoods, waved at by friends. Parents pushed back, and the administration gave no good rationale for it, or shifting ones, or they changed what is was called (a policy, then a directive?). Anyway, the overprotective fear of kids getting hurt is something I touched on in in A Natural Sense of Wonder.  The original piece led to a sequel after a board meeting and there will be at least one more.  As we discuss a ban on road running in Radford, you may be interested in a similar town that banned flower picking. It was written by one Jonathan Slow, a little-known friend of Jonathan Swift’s.  Tune in for the next installment when the queen herself speaks.

The Banning of Flower Picking: An Unfair-y Tale

The Land of Rad was a peaceable kingdom. Families lived happily and the children played. Every afternoon the children went about the town picking flowers. They picked flowers everywhere, up hills and down, by the river and all through town. They got so good at picking flowers they won prizes. They were the best flower-pickers ever. Their secret was that they had so much variety. They could pick in high places and low, wet ones and some dry. They never thought that picking flowers could in anyway be dangerous. In fact, they grew strong and healthy picking flowers. Their cheeks were ruddy as roses.Then one day some wise men held a council. They didn’t like all this flower picking. They feared the children roamed too free, without proper supervision. They talked to the queen about this and the queen agreed it was not a good idea.“Yes, they flower pick in too many places. All over the kingdom. Let them pick where we’re sure they’ll be confined.”

Rick Van Noy

The head flower picker objected. “But their bouquet of flowers will not have variety. They won’t enjoy flower picking anymore, and they will never again bring honor to our town.”

“Tis enough,” said the queen. “You dare to question my authority?” She had her three wise men escort him from her building and issued a decree: All flower pickers would now have pick flowers in one field only.

“But why?” The parents of the pickers asked.

“Because of the bears,” one of the men said.

“But we’ve never seen any bears, not ever,” said the parents.

“Because the flowers are poisonous,” said another wise man.

“Which flowers? We’ll teach the kids to avoid them.”

“Because there are hunters,” said the third.

“But the hunters don’t even hunt where the pickers go,” the parents pressed on. “How can the queen issue a decree without our consent?”

“It is an edict, not a decree, and she needs no approval from you. What do you know of the dangers of flower picking?”

The parents asked to speak with queen, hoping she would reason with them. “Please, queen, listen to our cries.” But she would not appear before them. Instead, she sent her trusted wise men.

Great Book for teachers and parents alike

Before they spoke, they made the head flower picker issue a statement they had approved. He kept his head down and read:

Because flower picking can be dangerous, I agree with the queen’s proclamation that we pick in approved places only.
Then wise men #1 spoke. He was a big man and it did not appear as if he ever flower picked, but he said he had experience with it, and he didn’t like it. So he thought no one should pick flowers.The people didn’t want this. “You can’t ban something you don’t know something about.”Wise men #2 spoke. He was stern and waived a piece of paper. “I have evidence here of highly toxic plants. They are everywhere.” He seemed to dare the parents to contradict him.“Sure there are bad plants,” someone said, “but the kids don’t go near them.” The second wise man glowered at speaker.Wise man #3 spoke.  “We developed this ban for your own benefit. I have heard from some of you that picking is dangerous, so no picking.”The people turned to each other. They didn’t know anyone who thought it was dangerous, and they certainly didn’t think so.

The wise men grew restless at this chatter, and they spoke louder now. “It does not matter. We know what is good for the children. And we will not be persuaded otherwise!”

“But please sirs. Let our children pick flowers again. They know the best places to pick and what flowers to avoid. They enjoyed it so. And they brought great honor to the kingdom. They are good kids. They know how to pick. If they don’t pick right, please help teach them. You are wise teachers after all.”

“Safety is our first concern,” wise man #2 said. Not education? The people whispered to each other.

“Enough!” wise man #3 said, the one who had the queen’s ear. “What shall I tell the queen? That you want them to die?”

The people couldn’t believe their ears. Did they want them to die? “Quite the contrary, said one: “We want them to live, as true pickers, able to amble and roam across the fields they have grown strong in. It that too much to ask?”


[Rick Van Noy is the author of Surveying the Interior: Literary Cartographers and the Sense of Place and A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature Through the Seasons. He teaches at Radford University in Virginia, where he runs on streets among other dangerous things.]

Radford parents have set up a blog: That site has gotten over 9,500 views from about a dozen different countries as this thing has gotten media coverage. The area TV news did stories, as did Runner’s World:

  1. Dave writes:

    Thanks for coming to the party, Rick. Loved this.

    And fun to hear that you went to school with Nina.

    • Rick Van Noy writes:

      Thanks Dave. And hope someday again soon for a real toast and so Nina and I can compare CC English and other experiences.

      Is. “Is that too much to ask?” Don’t know how that got through Bill’s typo radar.

    • kristi gallagher writes:

      Our kids run – that’s what they do. That’s what comes natural. But out in the world they are told the opposite. NO RUNNING. Don’t run in the halls at school, or in the grocery store, or on the sidewalk. NO RUNNING. (I whisper – run on!!!!)
      I run. I ran a marathon for each of my girls. I ran a marathon within a year of their births so that I could give them the medal to encourage them to keep running.