Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Simple Pleasure of Nature

One of Tim's favorite simple pleasures is to go for a walk to a nearby creek that runs through a park near our house. The place is so secluded that in the summer when the leaves are plentiful, you can't see any nearby houses or roads, and it could as readily be a scene 20 miles away from civilization as one within about 1000 feet of the nearest house. Except for the recent carelessness of litterbugs, and thoughtlessness of kids with spray paint cans who decided that some boulders and a tree were a great place for their messages. That has a tendency to telescope the place in a bit closer to humanity.
Still, it was a peaceful, tranquil place, and I sat at the edge on the root of a tree while Tim puttered about in the creek. He knows to look for crawdads; a couple of summers ago he found an adult crawdad and we put it in a mayonnaise jar and brought it home to observe for the day. We kept it overnight in the fridge so it wouldn't get too warm and die, and the next morning we walked back and put it back in the creek.
So yesterday he found another crawdad, this time a baby, probably less than an inch long. Very tiny, it took the patient observing eyes of an eager young boy to find it.
While he puttered and I sat, I listened to the world around us. Even in our house I don't find such a feeling of tranquility, even if everything is as silent as it can be. Even though there was much more noise at the creek than our home is if I'm quietly sitting in it, there's a peacefulness that the hum of even the quietest electric appliances can't match. The birds were singing, and the wind was whirling through the trees, easing loose the first yellowing leaves so they'd flutter down hesitantly to herald the fall season. It makes me wonder that I never ended up being the outdoorsy naturalist I think I imagined myself to become when I was growing up.
One thing that struck me while enjoying the quiet and calm surroundings was that the entertainment world that would attempt to present some of the natural world to kids, such as Disney movies, seems to completely miss the mark in shows like The Jungle Book, Finding Nemo, and Ice Age. Though I know that in nature there's a certain necessary amount of the "big fish eats little fish" scenario that causes all animals to be on some level of constant alert, there's so little of the high-tempo panic mode in the average natural environment that is everywhere in a Disney movie. To truly experience nature is to actually be there in it, not to see it on a screen anywhere or to use any man-made imitations.
I love the fact that Tim loves the outdoors. I love it too. My dad loved it, and used to take us camping every weekend that he could. I always assumed that we'd be campers, and yet it didn't happen that way. We tried, but the effort that went into camping just always seemed far too demanding; I wasn't one who could make it seem effortless. (Maybe it had something to do with camping in a tent?) All that effort, all that exploration and adventure ended up just getting choked out by the everyday chores and the inconvenience. I regret that. And our little Katie hated hiking, didn't care for being dirty, didn't muck about much in streams and in all the mysterious flora and fauna that you never find at home. I don't know if Katie's enthusiasm for the natural world would have grown if we had kept trying. I think, though, that as an adult she may have gained more of an appreciation for all that, more than she would have if it were forced upon her.
Tim seems to have received both of his grandfathers' inherent love of the outdoors, of tools, of mucking about. I hope that it will open doors for a love of science, and maybe of art and music, because I think all these loves may be connected. These subjects have something of the dreamer, the curious, the experimenter, the adventurer. Perhaps now that I am focusing more directly on him and his learning, we will need to pursue the trails and the backroads a bit more. I'll have to keep the mayonnaise jar handy.

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