Meet Arlo: A 9-Year Old With a Passion for the Natural World and Comics

Arlo poses with excavated pipes (left) and greets a grub up-close (right) at Arlington Garden.

Arlo roamed around Arlington Garden with a bursting curiosity and sense of adventure. He picked up all kinds of bugs, observed lizards at close range, and generously shared knowledge about plants, mycelium, and more with the rest of us adult volunteers. We had so much to learn from him.

I will never forget the moment he held a giant grub in his hand. Expressing immeasurable delight at his finding, he showed it proudly for all to see. Up until this moment, I was terrified — or really, conditioned to be terrified — of creepy crawlers, associating them solely with horror stories and disease.

Seeing how Arlo interacted with the garden inspired me to rethink my relationship with the natural world. To unlearn and relearn. And to approach my surroundings the Arlo way: with curiosity, openness, and appreciation.

In this conversation, Arlo talks about his passions — gardening and comic books — and shares messages about insects and things we can do for kids to have a better future.

Jen: Can you tell us about your first or favorite gardening memory?

Arlo: So I can’t really remember when this garden [at my home] was built, but I really like when the tomatoes are ripe, because that means tomato sauce. So me and my dad…we always get some onions, get some tomatoes, and make it. I remember smelling the fresh tomatoes, and there are so many different varieties. There was big ones, small ones, teeny ones, golden ones, black ones, blue…no, not blue…red ones. All different types.

And I remember one time we had so much luck. My dad did not know one year before, we planted an onion under the mulberry tree. The onion grew like this big [gesturing the size of a large watermelon]. I was like pulling it. My sister came to help. We all pulled it, and we had to all heave it inside because it was so big. If we made tomato sauce every single day, it will last two months. But we didn’t. We cut every week, and it lasts us three months.

Jen: Would you say that your homemade tomato sauce is better than any other tomato sauce out there?

Arlo: Well, I can’t say any other…

Jen: Better than the store?

Arlo: Yes, better than the store. I can say, if you make tomato sauce at your house with fresh tomatoes from your garden and onions, it’s gonna taste way better. Any people who just grow it from their own garden, it’s gonna taste way better than the ones at the grocery.

Jen: I love that. What do you think gardening teaches people?

Arlo: Well, I think it teaches people to wait for surprises and really to dig in and try new things. For example, many of my plants had died and instead of giving up on gardening, I just tried not get that plant again and learn something new from that. So it gives you a lot of lessons to learn, like to be calmer when something frustrating happens.

Jen: Can you tell us what your favorite insect is?

Arlo: There’s so many insects, it’s really hard to choose. But, this time I love when the June Beetles come.

Jen: You do? A lot of people are afraid of them.

Arlo: I mean, they can’t really hurt you. They just make a lot of noise. June Beetles also mean bats. So at night, the June Beetles would come out, and all the bats would come.

Jen: They attract the bats to come out?

Arlo: Yeah, the bats get the June Beetles. That’s why, when June Beetles are out when I go to sleep, then there’s a lot of noise at night and buzzing.

Jen: For anyone who’s afraid of insects, what would you say to them?

Arlo: Well, not all insects are bad. I think I decided on my favorite insect. It’s a spider. A lot of people think: “Ah! I heard this Black Widow can kill someone.” That doesn’t mean all spiders are bad. In fact, some can help you. If you’re terrified of mosquitoes, which I can see why, then it’s good to have Daddy Long-Leg Spiders. They’re not venomous. Actually, barely any spiders are venomous. No matter how scary they look, barely any of them.

Jen: So it sounds like the insects play a pretty important part in the ecosystem.

Arlo: Yes. And it’s really funny because it’s like we hunt every thing. And the thing that hunts us: the teeniest tiniest bugs. It’s cockroaches! Mosquitoes! It’s so funny…we’d think that we had bigger enemies than those.

Jen: Yeah, that is funny. Is there anything you want to share about insects and their role in the ecosystem?

Arlo: Sure. Many people at my school, once they start freaking out of a teeny little spider, they harm it. But I don’t think you should harm it because they help the ecosystem and they can help you in many ways. So instead of harming them, if you don’t know what spider they are, you could ask someone and also you could just walk away from it instead of trying to bug its business. It’s not bugging yours.

Jen: How did you learn about insects?

Arlo: When we had bee boxes, I used to go in the garden and play “watch the bees.” I’d stick out my hand and a bee would just fly onto it. And another bee. And I watched them fight each other. Sometimes I put a flower on them. Yeah, it would just fight, and it’s kind of like wrestling. It’s like: “Wrestle for the flower. Who will win?”

Jen: Wow, that’s wonderful. What is your favorite class at school?

Arlo: Well, I have three classes. My favorite is Math. And second comes Projects, then lastly Literacy. It’s more about the writing in Literacy that I don’t like. I like reading. I’m actually a big comic book fan. I have so many different comic books. You may have heard some of these? InvestiGators. Dog Man. Cat Kid Comic Club.

Jen: I haven’t heard of those. Do you think you would ever write a comic?

Arlo: That’s what I was about to tell you about!

Jen: Okay, tell us about it.

Arlo: So, me and my friend are actually trying to write a comic. My friend is named Ajna. She’s coming over later. We’ve only designed the villains unfortunately. One is called Omicron because Ajna thought it would be funny to grownups if she called it a stage of Covid. And then I made the second villain named Bad Bird. I couldn’t think of any other name. It’s a bird that has no idea he’s a bird. It’s supposed to be funny and his weakness is other birds.

A sample of the comic that Arlo and his friend Ajna are writing.

Arlo’s Mom: You made a comic for your passion project.

Arlo: I did? Oh, right. That wasn’t much of a comic. It was a book.

Arlo’s Mom: What was it about?

Arlo: Climate change.

Jen: Tell us more about your book on climate change.

Arlo: So actually I did a passion project about [crude] oil and climate change. I was one of the only kids that did two passion projects — and combined them in one. I did not know much about oil. Yet. But I already knew so much about climate change — all the books I found about climate change talked about all the things I already knew. So then I learned about oil and that really helped me focus on the world again.

Jen: What’s something that you want to share with people who might not know a lot about climate change?

Arlo: I think I would like people to know about how we affect climate change with plastic and other things. I feel like we should stop using plastic and stick to better things and stop heating up our planet. Because when fossil fuels are burned and when plastic is wasted, these two things go up into our atmosphere and cause a little bubble around our earth and when sun hits it, it heats up our planet.

So if you’ve noticed each year that the weather gets hotter, it’s because of that. In winter, it used to be cold but it’s starting to get less cold.

For his passion project, Arlo presents research about the harm of oil pumping and climate change on ecosystem and human health, and offers actions to stop it. Photo by Levi Brewster.

Jen: That is an important message for people to know about. Can you tell us about what you want to be when you grow up?

Arlo: I think I want to be a garden teacher or a comic book writer. I haven’t decided yet. Well, I basically am a comic book writer right now. Lately, I’ve been trying to finish a comic — right spelling, right coloring — and see if I can turn it into a real book for other people to read. That’s my main goal.

I already teach gardening. I teach my class a lot. Like, when they’re trying to identify a plant, they call me to identify it because I know most of them.

Jen: What is a problem that you want to see fixed so that things are better for kids in the future?

Arlo: Well, I think kids not knowing about climate change [is a problem], like their grownups never talked to them about it or tell them what it is. Most people don’t even know what it is. They just think you throw something away or you burn fossil fuels, it just goes away, doesn’t damage the earth. It does.

Jen: Would learning about this be helpful, so people can do something about it?

Arlo: Yes.

Jen: My last question is if you wanted to tell one last thing to the world, what would it be?

Arlo: It’s a hard question to settle on! I’d like to let them know about climate change, not to be afraid in gardening, and not to be afraid of bugs. I feel like that’s three main things. Mostly climate change and grass lawns.

Jen: What about grass lawns do you want people to know about?

Arlo: I don’t like grass lawns because people give them a bunch of chemicals and things that actually damage the ocean and hurt the sea creatures. First of all, it’s wasting a lot of water. They’re an invasive weed that knocks out the indigenous — the native — plants that are here. So its roots grab the bottom of the native one, rip it off, then spread.

Native plants really help our ecosystem. And each country or place, their native plants are different. Maybe some here that are indigenous, on another place are invasive. So it depends where you are. But if you’re in a place that they’re invasives, you don’t want them around.

Jen: Thank you for sharing. Any last words?

Arlo: Not really, I feel like I’ve covered it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Jen Ho

Jen Ho

Soil & climate action advocate. Former corporate marketer. On Tongva land.