Study Guide for Earth Day

                                                                                    The Starfish  Parable
The cold ocean water washed over his feet. The Old Man scanned the beach slowly. 
Hundreds of starfish littered the sand.  He bent over another sea star, lifted it up, waited 
for a wave to come in and gently tossed it out to sea.  He stooped again, straightened 
and pitched another one, darker and heavier this time.  Often he imagined their life in the ocean,
crawling across the watery sand in the rolling surf, operating solely on instinct.
A young man sat on an overlook, the wind and sea spray playing havoc with his hair and clothes. 
He studied the Old Man as he carried out his tedious endeavor. What a foolish undertaking!  
What a misguided old-timer!  After scrutinizing his actions for a while, the Young Man clambered 
off the overlook and carefully picked his way around the craggy rocks, down to the beach.
Strolling over to the Old Man with a contemptuous smile, he said, “You silly Old Man, 
what do you think you are doing?   Look at the all those starfish ahead of you, and then
 look at the ones that have snuck up behind you.  Your work will never be done.  
What difference do you think you can make?”
The Old Man looked the Young One straight in the eye, carefully scooped up still another starfish
 in his weather-beaten hand and threw it into the sea.  He glanced at his challenger and said, 
“It made a difference to that one.”
I take the listeners on a guided imagery through the story. I ask them to close their eyes and see
the old man - how old is he; what is he wearing, how did the sand feel on his feet; can he smell 
the salt in the sea; what does he hear; how does the starfish feel on his hand; what is he thinking 
as he throws the starfish into the ocean? Then visual the young man - what is he wearing; what 
color of hair does he have; how long is it; what's on his feet; what did it feel like when he talked 
to the old man? What did the old man feel when he heard what the young man had to say? 
Remember the last line - "It made a difference to that one."
I tell them that storyteller tells images not words. Now that they have the images of the story - 
the sights, the sounds, the smell, the feeling (both in their hands and their hearts), they can tell
this story. Storytelling is the first recycler. We take a story that has been used by many and renew
it with our images.
                                    Margaret Read MacDonald's - Earth Care: World Folktales to Talk About 
                                            This is an abbreviated version of the story found in the book...
The story starts with 2 friends, one a farmer and the other a shepherd, who have always gotten along. 
When a disease kills the shepherd's sheep, the farmer insists that he split his land and let the shepherd
 now farm alongside him.  The shepherd hesitates to have his friend split his land but the farmer insists.
 They both settle into this new pattern of life – still the best of friends, when the shepherd finds a cask 
of gold buried in the ground that had once been the farmers and tries to give it to his friend. The farmer
 insists that it now belongs to the shepherd and for the first time the two cannot agree!
So they take their debate to the local wise man who is in the process of teaching students when they
 arrive and so he puts the questions of how to solve the farmer and shepherd's debate to his students.
At this point in the story, I stop and ask the students what could be done with the gold. I tell them that
 there are no right or wrong answers. I have received some interesting answers. Many say that they
 should split the gold between the two of them. Some said that The money could be used for charity. 
Others said that it should go to another person. I liked the one that said that the farmer should 
buy the sheepherder more sheep.
1st student says - it came from the ground so put it back in the ground.
2nd student says - it was brought to the teacher so now it belongs to the teacher 
3rd student says - it was found in the ground, ground is part of the nation, the nation is ruled by the
 Khan so the gold should go to the Khan. 
The teacher is getting more disgusted by each of these answers so finally he turns to his fourth student
 and asks again.
The 4th student says - Since neither of these men want the gold, why not do something wonderful
 with this and create a garden for the poor where they can come and eat fruit, rest in shade, drink clear water
 and have a sanctuary from the harshness of life.
I stop the story at this point. The rest of the story is below. I think for the purposes of the exercise 
 have them do, it is the perfect place to stop. However, here is the rest of the story...
The shepherd, the farmer and the wise man all think this is a marvelous idea
and the wise man even says that if the student is willing to take the gold
and go the Khan's city to buy seeds for this venture, then he will donate
the land where the student can plant this garden.

The student agrees and takes the gold to the Khan's city - a long trip
shortened by his imagining the beauty of this future garden. It takes him a
while to find his way in the busy city but finally he finds the seed
merchants and is just about to purchase his seeds when a camel train winds
its way through the market and the student is horrified to see live birds,
hanging by their feet and covered with dust, knocking against the camels
with each lurching step.

The student offers to buy all the birds and the camel driver laughs and
tells him the birds came from all over (mountains, forests, seashore, etc.)
and they are for the Khan to decorate his palace with their feathers and to
be eaten at his table. "No one else can afford them!"

The student holds out his bag of gold - and the camel driver sees it is even
more than the Khan will pay, so he sells the birds to the student. It takes
hours to untie, brush off the dust and set the birds free. Some need to wait
in the shade and be gently massaged back to life but finally all birds are
flying again and the student is walking home happy that he was able to free

...until he realizes, upon reaching the ground that would have been the
garden, that he spent the money and now cannot buy seeds and the garden will
never happen. He drops to the ground and weeps, saying aloud his deed. A
bird hears this and flies off. Finally the student is roused from his
weeping by hearing the sound of wings. Thousands of birds fill the air and
tell him that they will help him.

The birds land and some begin to dig the ground to prepare the soil, rolling
the rocks to the edge of the garden to create garden walls. Others carry
seeds from hilltops and beaks full of clear water to put into pools (I
changed my version to the birds digging wells since I told this at a
sustainable environment event) and the biggest birds fly great distances to
bring rare seeds back. Then the birds fan the seeds and also breathe their
warm breathe onto the ground. Before the students eyes, the seeds sprout and
grow into trees with luminous apples, green lawns to rest on with
interspersed pools and beautiful flowers.

Word spreads quickly and when some of the rich merchants hear about this
marvelous garden, they leap onto their horse and ride to see it for
themselves, certain that anything this nice should belong the them. When the
merchants arrive, the walls grow higher and the gates slam shot and lock
with 7 locks. The merchants stand on their horses backs and reach over the
wall to grab the shining apples, but when they touch the apples, they are
thrown from their horses to the ground.

Finally the poor arrive since they had to come on foot. As they approach,
the 7 locks click open and the gates swing wide. The poor taste the apples
which are as sweet and juicy as they are beautiful. They rest in the shade
and drink from the cool waters and enjoy the flowers. When it is the end of
the day, some return happily to their homes, now at peace from their day in
the garden - but some have no homes. So the garden shuts its gates and
locked up the 7 locks and the walls grow yet taller to keep them safe
inside. The apples begins to glow a soft blue (?) light, the birds softly
sing sweet lullabies and all who remain inside can sleep peacefully for the

Thus was the magic garden of the poor created - because of the dream of one
young man.

                                                        Discussion Questions and Story Ideas

                                                                      Ideas using the starfish parable:

Here is another version of the starfish story

How did the author make the story his/her own?

What do you know about starfish? Here are some interesting facts. Can you make them into a new story?

Here are some websites about starfish:

Books about Starfish:

by Edith Thacher Hurd
Cut-paper collage illustrations and simple text introduce young children to scientific concepts about starfish.

by Rebecca Stefoff
This nonfiction book introduces children to a variety of starfish through vivid full-color photographs and simple text.

Starfish: The Stars of the Sea by Connie Roop

Ideas to use "The Farmer and the Shepherd" story: