The Snowy Owls have come to the outskirts of Bellingham this winter. They have traveled far from their arctic tundra home in search of food. As I clean out my cupboards and feel disgruntled about the amount of waste and excess I find there, I reflect on the goals of my family’s journey.
Journeys provide lessons and magic. The journey of the snowy owls brings us a glimpse of wildness and courage. These owls have come to our rooftops from a place so remote that few people ever venture there. By traveling into new landscapes and facing unknown dangers, they exercise bravery and adaptability in their necessary quest to survive. Our house is nearly packed and we plan to leave this week. We are not seeking food for our bodies, there is much more than we need here. We must then be seeking food for our souls. To find a patch of wildness, to experience the richness of personal discovery together, and to share our society’s wealth with others also takes great courage. In these moments of preparation, I have found that courage in snowy owl magic.
I hope that on our journey we will lighten our load of consumption and reduce our environmental footprint. I also hope that we can share the abundance of our privileged American life. I want to give special thanks to Crystine and Brian from Uprising Organics (www.uprisingorganics.com) for donating A LOT of organic, heirloom seeds to share with people in the Bahamas. I also want to thank Rowan for visiting the owls with us on a blustery, snowy afternoon and for helping me to contemplate the enriching process of creating art with children.
Rowan's Snowy Owl
Pearl's Snowy Owl
As we get closer to our departure date, I am becoming increasingly excited for the time I will have with my kids in the natural world. The boat is small, but the air will be warm and the beaches are vast. I have always needed to spend time in the outdoors. This need has become even more pronounced with children in my daily life.
With children though, the quality and focus of time spend outdoors has shifted a bit. I no longer try to see how far I can make it on a trail. I cannot be attached to preparing a garden bed AND getting it planted in the same morning. Instead, I have learned acceptance. I have been given an opportunity to learn how to be more present and aware in the here and now. As we walk in the woods, we stop to play hide and seek, finding special spots to be still and quiet. We marvel at millipeds and search endlessly for owls. In the rivers, we look at rocks and fill our pockets with treasures. In the garden, we search for worms and beetles. We take frequent snacks on garlic chives and kale, all the while singing songs and listening to birds.
Aldo Leopold said that “when we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Perhaps to build this sense of community with nature, we must start by thinking like children. How rich we may become, if we can all spend time each day outside, thinking like a kid, and experiencing the beauty of the present moment.
How do you put your kid hat on? How do you develop and foster a connection with the natural world? We love comments.
We get mail from almost every conservation group in the country. I often question the efficiency of these mailings, but that could be the subject of a whole other post. Today we got a map of the country from the Sierra Club. I’ve been meaning to take a look at potential routes across the country for our upcoming road trip. Luckily, this one had all of the major highways and cities labeled. I eagerly called Pearl in to take a look with me. She quickly become bored as I verbally weighed the options of spending the night in Albuquerque versus Santa Fe. She wanted to see the map on the other side with pictures of beautiful endangered animals in their native regions. She started asking questions, the likes of which I can’t fully remember because I was honestly thinking about skiing in Colorado. All of a sudden I heard myself respond that “they” were worried about these animals. Well, really I heard her ask, “Why are they worried about the polar bear?” And there it was, what for me is a really big topic.
Before working with young children and having my own, I thought all knowledge to be good knowlegde. I always wanted to learn as much as possible, especially about the natural world. As I switched gears from being an environmental educator for high school and college kids to working with young children, I realized that some things are better left unsaid. Young kids need the warm and fuzzy. They need to feel safe and good about the world. They need reassurance that bad guys don’t win. Sadly, today’s environmental issues, such as hyper-rapid climate change, food security, and wildlife habitat loss, don’t really fit that bill.
With my kids, I try to foster an intimate relationship with the natural world. We spend time outside every day. We find beauty in the swirling clouds, the caw of the crow, the sharp scent of rubbed sage, the softness of moss, a newly germinated pea plant emerging from the soil, and the sweet taste of a perfectly ripened strawberry. Our list for all things beautiful in nature is infintite. At their young age, I do not burden them with the knowledge that our climate is changing at such an accelerated rate that habitat loss is inevitable and the polar bear is likely doomed. Where is the beauty in that? Their lives are long. There will be lots of time for them to worry, ponder, and hopefully find solutions for these harsh realities. So, I was a little shocked to be on the edge of such a big conversation. I sat down and took a deep breath and remembered that keeping it simple works best, always.
“They are worried that there are not as many polar bears as there used to be,” I say. “They want people to help the polar bears.” She proceeded to ask how people can help polar bears. “By riding bikes,” I tell her. She giggled and giggled and giggled some more. Finally she calmed down enough to ask about ways of helping the other animals on the poster- keeping trees by streams for the salmon, buying food from local farmers to help the whooping crane, taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store for the Kirtland’s Warbler, and keeping hotels off the beach for the Hawaiian Monk Seal. She’d heard enough. She walked away giggling to herself that she could help polar bears by riding her bike. It seemed for her silly, fun, exciting, and BEAUTIFUL.
The day is grey and I am struck with the reality that Joey leaves tomorrow for work and I have not completed my to-do-while-Joey-is-home list. I’m forcing myself to ignore the bins of fabric that I meant to go through and I’m finding ways to laugh off the discouragement I feel about publishing a book. Going through my emails I am reminded that this week is about remembering to give thanks. My mind races back in time to a night I was sitting in a bar with Joey when our relationship was newly forming. I recall sharing with him my belief that the secret to a good life is to be always thankful. Gratitude, I realize, is what I desire to be the foundation of our life together as a family.
I then stumbled upon a link to the making of a gratitude tree (from the blog This Cosy Life). Walking outside with Juniper to gather branches for our tree, I looked around and inhaled the majestic beauty of this grey day- the towering trees, crazy wind, and swirling clouds. I felt blessed to have this awesome child in my life with her sweet hugs and happy disposition. I realized I am thankful that I finally got my garden put to bed for the winter, better late than never. As I prepared dinner, Pearl cut out leaves from previously painted paper. I was struck by her developing abilities- to cut, to diligently finish a task. After dinner, we wrote from hearts to leaves and put together our gratitude tree. I was thankful we could celebrate while Joey was still with us. Trip preparations and publishing books no longer mattered. They will happen when they need to. What matters is that we are present with one another, feeling thankful.
Posted in art, children, community, crafts, fulfilling dreams, gardening, holidays, living simply, mindfulness, nature, parenting, publishing, reading, travel, Uncategorized, weather
My daughter likes to observe nature. And then she likes to put it in a jar. We have several jars now with holes in the lids filled with caterpillars, roly polys, and worms. However fulfilling it may be to watch my daughter appreciate the natural world, it seems that boundaries need to be set. Ladybugs- that is one bug I need to see free. And if I’m ignorant of the bugs role in the kingdom of life, then it’s captivity is limited to a mere twenty four hour observation.
When it came to the caterpillars making skeletons of my collard greens though, I was happy to see her fill her jars to her heart’s delight. I felt smugly content that she could fulfill her desire to develop a live bug collection, while ridding my garden of unwanted pests. I reminded her to supply them with the necessary greens to sustain their voracious appetite if she wanted them to live, and then my mind drifted on to seemingly more important matters. Days later while cleaning, I noticed a caterpillar jar apparently empty except for a pile of poop at the botton. Wondering if their disappearance was due to caterpillar cannibalism, I opened the jar and discovered they each had made a beautiful spiky chrysalis. “Will they become butterflies?,” Pearl eagerly questioned. If they don’t mold first, I thought to myself and silently shrugged.
After a short two weeks, Pearl was playing in her room with a friend, when I heard exclamations about butterflies hatching. Sure enough, two cabbage moths perched on the sides of the jar fluttering their wings. Another was ready to come out, and we watched in amazement as it unfurled its wings and pumped them with blood. As I noticed the sense of wonderment on Pearl’s face, I realized I had no choice but to give amnesty to this particular population of garden pest. Besides, I could buy collard greens at the grocery store.