Where we live, I had every excuse this past winter to study nature from afar (ie. the comfort of my living room via Internet, TV, or whatever view the patio door afforded us)! Now that summer has finally arrived, I am determined to get out and see what we can see firsthand! But I must admit, for an avid Charlotte Mason fan and one who aspires to live out her philosophy of education in our homeschool, I struggle with “out-of-door life for the children.” As Miss Mason reminds me, “It is infinitely well worth of the mother’s while to take some pains every day to secure, in the first place, that her children spend hours daily amongst rural and natural objects; and, in the second place, to infuse into them, or rather to cherish in them, the love of investigation.” Hours, huh? Everyday? Well, we secured ONE hour this afternoon in the country, investigating natural things, and I am pleased with that. I’ve come to realize that at this stage in life the idea of the nature walk stands in stark contrast to the realities of the nature walk!
Firstly, it’s never a quick thing to get in the car and go. One kid wants to take their bike. Actually three of them do, but two of them can’t ride on the gravel path without their training wheels doing the “yo-yo” as they call it. We must deal with the ensuing disappointment and meltdown. In the process, the one who can bring her bike forgets to grab her helmet. One forgets a teddy and begs to go fetch it. Another wants to change her shoes. Twice! Can’t forget to slather on the sunscreen. Did we pack the stroller? What about snacks? No one brought water for the dog. What about water for us humans? Where is the dog? Did I mention he HATES car rides and goes into hiding when we load up? Oh, can we just get this show on the road already?!
Then there is the actual walk. The conversation goes from, “I think nature is my favorite thing in the whole world!” (during the air conditioned car ride) to “I wish I had a stroller like that to sit in! I’m soooooo hot and tired! You don’t understand how exhausted I am! I’m thirsty. I’m thirsty. I’m so thirsty!” (ten minutes into our walk).
We walk on. I determine to open my eyes, open my ears…even amidst the chaos and complaints (and the dog finding something stinky to roll in). And you know what? It was beautiful. It was soul-reviving! We saw fiddle heads in various stages of unfurled growth. We saw beautiful blossoms on trees, on the ground. We saw butterflies. We listened to the water flow, seemingly elated to be freely in motion after a hard, long winter without even the slightest of “January thaws.” C-Bear found a piece of a robin’s egg. Boo watched an ant crawling on a bridge. Belle practiced writing her name in the fine gravel with a stick. We spotted an abandoned nest and marveled at how painstakingly it had been crafted by determined little beaks. We couldn’t remember which species build their nests in the V of a tree branch like that but appreciated the construction just the same, knowing there was a definite method, an instinctual design! We heard bird calls that we’ve been learning this term. All those conversations between Jenny Wren and Peter Rabbit came tumbling through my mind as I listened to the familiar songs overhead. I couldn’t remember the names of all the singers, but I knew that we had been “introduced” over the last few months. These new friends felt like good, old friends, and my heart soared in thankfulness to God for the faithfulness of the birds returning year after year and not abandoning the true north completely.
That’s why, despite the sometimes exasperating realities of our nature walks, I am determined to push toward the ideal. I know that “an observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing.” And, to me, even one hour a week is better than nothing. Okay, maybe bi-weekly is closer to reality for us. And, that, during the seasons of the year when we are not buried under 549.6 cm of snow! (I told you last winter gave me every excuse.) I am learning that “a love of Nature, implanted so early that it will seem to them hereafter to have been born in them, will enrich their lives with pure interests, absorbing pursuits, health, and good humour.” I believe it to be so because I experience the very same myself when I just open my eyes and open my ears. It opens my heart! And “the child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the ‘print-books’ can teach” so I’m hoping for a summer full of those higher lessons!
“…she will point to some lovely flower or gracious tree, not only as beautiful, but a beautiful thought of God, in which we may believe He finds continual pleasure, and which He is pleased to see his human children rejoice in. Such a seed of sympathy with the Divine thought sown in the heart of the child is worth many…sermons.”
(quotations from Home Education by Charlotte Mason)