I have had so many amazing experiences and interactions in the past month that I can hardly decide where to begin writing!! So I stared thinking about what the essence of these experiences was and what in particular made them so inspiring and it all boils down to the sense of wonder. Then I thought- well of course it does! Wonder is what energizes us to follow our passions, to create beautiful natural experiences for the children in our lives, and to keep working for the protection of our beautiful Earth not only for ourselves, but for many generations to come. When we look to those personalities who most inspire us what do they have in common? They have strong senses of wonder. Rachel Carson had it we definitely know, if you’ve ever had the fortune to see Richard Louv in person he has it, and each of the people I met on the past month’s journeys were connected to their wonder and were expressing it in ways that they felt were meaningful and creating positive change. When thinking about the people in my life who make me feel great, I noticed it is the ones who are wonder filled, passionate, and dedicated to their work, families, and community who are putting out an energy that makes everyone they come in contact with want to be a better person. And it is no surprise that many of these people are children! The ability to make one want to be a better person is also one of nature’s many powers. The more time we spend interacting with the natural world, the more we slow down, relax, and rejuvenate. So to celebrate our senses of wonder as we head toward longer nights filled with fun, family, and a little more free time, I am going to tell a couple stories that I hope inspire you as much as they did me!
I received this picture of my 7 year old nephew last week and posted it on the Facebook page so you may recognize it. To me, it really illustrated in a practical way how nature’s wonder can inspire our daily activities. This is a child who has had the good fortune of spending lots of time having fun in nature in both structured and unstructured ways. The story behind this particular picture is that he and his father noticed how the morning sun was casting these shadows onto the wall. This observation led to a discussion about light and the way light changes daily and seasonally. They also discussed the way different lighting scenarios affect people and how light has the ability to make us feel different ways. To illustrate more concretely these concepts, his father suggested they capture the light and shadows that were happening at that particular moment by drawing them. Then they did the same thing the next day and compared the drawings. This showed my nephew how he was relating to the light visually and emotionally and how just like him, it was also changing each day. This is a simple activity that can be done at home or school that only requires a little wonder and slowing down enough to notice the light as it changes our environments throughout the day. Thoreau said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings”. I completely agree.
You may recognize this little beauty from last week’s blog post thumbnail pic. This 2 year old is the daughter of some good friends. She has grown up in the garden and is proof of children’s connection to and interest in a relationship with the food they eat. She has helped her parents in every stage of the growing process from seed to table. As these beautiful pictures illustrate, the garden’s bounty is like an exciting treasure hunt for little hands. This past summer when I was visiting them, I was greeted in the morning by the gift of freshly picked pea pods from giving little hands. We sat on the porch in the bright morning mountain sun sharing delicious produce and perpetuating our relationships with the wonder of mother nature. Sure pea pods may not be a typical breakfast food and placing a toddler knee deep in dirt may require a lot more cleaning on the adult end of things, but isn’t the foundation that is being laid for healthy food relationships and a connection to the land that supports us worth it?! I think so. Sure, in our nearly sterile modern life a little dirt can seem to make a big mess, but the reality is in the end the extra cleaning we do, whether in our homes or classrooms, is well worth the impressions made and wonder sustained!
Rachel Carson eloquently reminds us of this idea in The Sense of Wonder when she reflects on her relationship with her nephew Roger. “We have let Roger share our enjoyment of the things people ordinarily deny children because they are inconvenient, interfering with bedtime, or involving wet clothing that has to be changed or mud that has to be cleaned off the rug. We have let him join us in the dark livingroom before the big picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames and finding thousands of diamonds in the rocks in the shore as the light strikes the flakes of mica embedded in them. I think we have felt that the memory of such a scene, photographed year after year by his child’s mind, would mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he was losing.”
These moments in childhood, captured in time the way a camera captures moments in the ever changing light, are yours to share with the children in your life. Take the moments, whether they present themselves or you plan them, and allow them to be expressed to the fullest. Take advantage of the spaces in your life and allow time for these moments to present themselves. Today I saw a former student’s mother which reminded me of how when I was the eldest son’s teacher they captured moments so well. Her 6 and 4 year old sons, like many children, were early risers. Instead of spending the morning around the house watching cartoons or doing other odds and ends, this family went to the beach to look for sharks teeth. Not only did these morning beach outings give the boys a positive nature experience with which to start the day, it connected them to place, and sparked their wonder and interest in further researching the paleontological history of their local environment. So what that they showed up to school with sandy shoes! I’ll take it! They were energized and inspired for learning from their morning nature walks and they truly benefitted from nature’s ability to spark curiosity and contemplation.
I hope these stories inspire you as much as they do me. I hope over the next month as we head toward the winter solstice you are able to slow down into the spaces in your life or create space if there isn’t much. Listen to the wind blow the leaves from the trees, watch the sun or moon light cast shadows on your walls, and get out into nature at times you may not have considered before. Share your stories and inspire others to become more connected. Look to the children in you life for direction. With this inspiration, lets vow to create more opportunities for loving nature and preserving every child’s senses of wonder.