Tualitin Wildlife Preserve, early July
*Photos mine unless I credit Alan
Ezra climbs onto a tree stump and points out the rings and the tiny tiny pores lined up along the wavy lines. He stops short at a tree trunk with a mysterious crevasse and peers in. He fiddles with the padlock on the bird blind door for long moments; how does it work, can he get it to open? He might run past things I point out, following his own inner compass. A pile of gravel brings him to an unbudgeable standstill, so unexpected and with qualities only he is privy to. He stops at the wildflowers along the path; his magical thinking intact, a dandelion calls out to be plucked and blown. There are few shoulds or shouldn’ts, cans or can’ts out in nature. Up-close examination has been his super power all his short life, and I try to learn from him.
To walk with children is to slow down and see differently instead of the movie that plays in my head – you know, the thinking, projecting, dreaming, remembering, planning, spinning. Children are awake to the present moment, curious about things I no longer attend to or things I think I already know about. Closer to the ground they catch details I might miss, or deem insignificant. They run full speed ahead for the joy of it, or else take a Zen slow walk – lingering, gazing, receiving, accepting. When I take the time to sit beside them or trail behind or just wait a beat, I get a glimpse of a magnificent inner journey.
Rosa too is a sharp observer, and shares whatever she sees. When I commented on how she had noticed something that I hadn’t, she replied, “Nana, I’d make a much better scientist than you.” Then she relented. “You’d be a good scientist, but I think I would be better.” She is right, I say, and it’s why I became a teacher instead. I struggle to just slow down, as Mary Oliver instructs, to pay attention, be astonished.
With a quieter observer like Ezra you can only hope for an occasional revelation of a mind and heart at work. Sometimes it’s a poop joke, but other times it goes deep. When he was five, Ezra asked me, slowly and precisely, if the Mariana Trench is as deep as Mt. Everest is tall. And what I want to know is how does the brain do that in a young child? Or no, actually, I don’t want to know how or why – clearly I am no scientist. I just want to be there when it comes out, and marvel at the inquiries and wonderings and imaginings.
I’ve recently stopped Googling for answers as soon as the grandkids wonder about something, allowing their questions to take root and blossom. It can be powerful to just sit with the curiosity, be at home with the awe and simply wonder or puzzle out answers for themselves. Fact finding can come later if and when needed.
To have uninterrupted thoughts is a gift in this noisy world. To be out in nature is to hear your silent thoughts echo off the forest floor or the placid lagoon or the mossy basalt rocks, and let them resonate and ripple out. Mary Oliver again has it right, “I must really love you to take you into the woods with me.”
Hiking and bird watching are different for each kid so one on one time opens up an experience that’s right for each. While they feed on each other’s experiences when they come together, and riff off one another’s ideas and observations, the world opens differently when they’re on their own, and the drummer they march to takes them in unique directions.
Ezra complains that he’s tired, then inexplicably takes off at a dead run. Near the end they both spot the parking lot and run off – so tired!! – but then stop to check in at the wetlands overlook for possible new bird sightings. I arrive behind them and Rosa crows, “I spotted a Spotted Towhee!” a hilarious joke for her, and a perfect end to our hike.
My life is richer for having and being around children. It’s always, always, worth the end of the day exhaustion, the busy hours, the interrupted thoughts, and the occasional battle of wills. While I am sometimes mystified by them, children make more sense than most anything else, and have helped me get through this otherwise puzzling life, crazy world, and tumultuous past year. I’m grateful for moments when I can see what they see, and when I’m allowed in, even when they’re puns and poop jokes.
“In a result oriented culture like ours, it is easy to get hung up on endings, on figuring things out and finding precise solutions. But a true fascination continues building with each new piece of information, making new connections, revealing new patterns and opening new perceptions. The exploration of natural miracles is a fundamentally open ended and curiosity driven enterprise. It reminds us that science is not always about the answer, it is about the questions.”
― Thor Hanson, Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle