On a beautiful morning walk in one of our favorite trails in Toronto, we got to this small but ecologically diverse pond. This is the place where we took our pictures with geese last spring and my daughter’s favorite “tangle tree”.
Here we found 2 frogs and my husband took this amazing photo that when we uploaded it on our computer and carefully looked at it, we noticed that we can see three of us in his eyes! From right to left, my daughter standing and holding a stick, my husband with the camera in his hand, and me on the left side. He took this picture with our Canon digital camera with a regular lens. The quality of the picture and camera is surprising.
And this is becoming our wish … to take a picture with this “tangled tree” every spring. I have another picture of my daughter and this tree on my posting on May 10, 2012 from last year. I’m thinking how she perceives and interacts with this environment differently as she grows. In her last picture, she was trying to reach the top branch to pull it down. In this picture, she is holding a stick (this is the first thing she looks for when we walk in this trail) but is posing under the tree. It is also important for her to visit this tree in each of our visit. Specially now that we half moved from Toronto to London, Ontario and we come to this trail less often.
It is interesting to see how this environment including the tree is changing over time.
Her level of comfort and mine make me think about the value of connecting to natural environment close and relevant to us. We both love to come to this trail every weekend, to find out what has changed and what remained the same … to discover what we haven’t discovered so far … to know that we know it but to get surprized about how much is left to be known … to feel secure that we’re safe and our environment is stable while everything around us seem moving and changing every second. This what matters when we walk in this trail … the natural environment embraces us … we’re at “home” … to me, it’s more valuable and needed comparing with a visit to some far, exotic, “picture-perfect” natural places. It takes time to be there and connect to nature there … but in this trail I’m already connected … it’s like going to my grandparents home to be with them, have food, chat, and laugh with them … each visit is new but familiar
…. and I’m advocating for connecting to nature where ever it’s close to us, to our children, to our everyday life … and there are many chances for this. Find yours.
At 6 on an October morning my 4-month old daughter was crying and did not want to go back to sleep. The fall sun was raising and she was looking out the window of the beautiful Georgian Bay cottage that we were staying for 2 nights.
Not very happy, my husband and I put on our coats, get her ready and left our warm and comfortable beds to step into …
A quiet world from distance but a harmonious busy environment in a close contact. The weezing of insects, the chip calls of birds, the wind, the water, the fish, the sun ray … and the world was waking up.
My daughter was calm, my husband and I were in awe. We all stand quiet by the water and watched, listened, felt, and smelled the beauty of the nature around us … we were becoming a part of that silent, busy, waking world … we were wondering how the day would unfold …
I often share my home pictures with early childhood education students, early childhood educators, teachers, and colleagues. This picture is often a favorite. It captures the possibilities of making deep connection through observation, listening, and desiring. It talks about the desire of children in making meaning. It talks about the rights of children to rich experiences. It challenges us to revisit our connections and understandings of nature. A revisit that invites us to remember the complexity of our connections.
And I’m wondering what can “replace” this experience, for her, for me … for us.
Children cannot resist snow. Their whole body is searching for sensory experiences. Curious eyes follow snowflakes as they fall on one’s jacket, a wide open mouth desires to taste the coldness, hands design snowmen, feet stomp, and the body makes a snow angle. What’s the magic? The texture, the temperature, the color, the shape, or the power of changing the color of a city, slowly but steadily.
The beautiful silence that snow gifts to a city reminds me of the mornings and evenings that I walked on snow in my home town … when whiteness embraced me
Biophilia suggests our innate affinity for nature … but this love and attachment need to be encouraged, supported, strengthened, and role modeled … or it can get lost in the business of the 21st century.
I see curious hands, eyes full of questions, and strong desires to feel the softness of a rabbit. Children are reminding us that they’re interested in nature whenever the opportunities are provided. When they feel safe (in accompany of an expert), when invitation is sent (by creating the context), and when questions are pending to be investigated, children wish to be a part of the exploration too.
Edward Wilson in his biophilia theory is suggesting that humans have an innate affinity and emotional attraction to nature. That is, we are born with genetic coding and instincts to love nature and to be connected with nature. So is there any need to be worried that some children are disconnected from the natural world? If that’s genetic then there’s no need to be concerned.
This can be the old nature versus nurture debate. Wilson argues that our genetic disposition is weak and we need lots of contact to nurture our innate love, care, and interests.
A few days ago we visited the Children’s Museum to participate in a creepy crawly show where I took the above picture. I call it a show as it was still a show/display of animals, where the great presenter was bringing frogs, tarantulas and snakes out while sharing some great information about each with the audience. He allowed children to touch or see them from a close distance while the adults took pictures on their smart phones. We had been to his shows a couple of times and my daughter loved the last part the best, when the show was over, the big crowd had left, and only few children stayed to get closer to the animals; those who were not quite satisfied with the first part; those who wanted to hold each animal; those who were deeply curious and wondering how it would feel to let a tarantula crawl on their hands….
What have these children learned by being a part of this experience? What is left for them to further explore? What have they probably misunderstood?
How about the adults in the audience? I will not feel comfortable even to look at some of those animals when they’re in their natural environment; even after being a part of this show, I’m still scared touching any of them on my own. But I’ve learned about some of the magics in their struggles to survive in this small planet that we all share; I’ve learned which one could be dangerous to human; I became aware how some of my behaviours, actions, and choices can have a positive or negative impact on their fragile lives …That’s a lot for a half an hour animal show in a city museum.
“Mommy do you have gym (lesson) today?” This is the question my 6 years old daughter asked me this morning when we were leaving home for school and work in the morning. I was putting on my highheels and she was wearing her running shoes. She had gym lesson and I had to teach my “managing project” course. She was wishing to be able to wear high heel shoes and I was the one who actually could do that.
I responded, “No mommy. I teach today”.
Rauz added with a big surprise, “You mean you have to work at your desk all day?” Now that she’s in Grade 1, she knows better what working at desk all day means.
So I explained, “Yes mommy but I go outside for fresh air.” which often is not true. The only time that I leave the building is when I walk to my car which is for about 3 minutes!
Rauz looked at me and quickly but surely said, “That’s why I don’t want to grow up!” I felt as if I had to say something to defend the grownups, “But you can’t help it. You’re going to grow up.”
She was smart and had the answer ready, “But if I don’t eat food, I won’t grow!” I have a quick answer too! With a tone as if I knew everything in the world, I said, “Even if you don’t eat food, you still gonna grow.” and we left home.
For the rest of the day I felt sad that my life is so indoorized these days. I had to look at some summer photos to remind myself of “good old days” and plan for them to be “good new days.”
So I take her wisdom that if growing means you need to “work at a desk all day”, even in fancy highheels, then it’d better to stay a child forever. Nothing really worth the trade, for running, rolling, jumping, and going up and down the slides. I hope Rauz keeps this feeling and perspective. And I’ll go for a walk tomorrow, with my college students.
I knew I contradicted myself when I was passing through our park right after I posted “A field trip to the Toronto zoo”. The spirit of the caterpillars flew to me to question me: “Why is it okay for us to be tamed, to be controlled, to be manipulated by humans’ children but not for a tiger?” I couldn’t ignore their question, very true question. It took me back to the chapter 2 in my dissertation … to the dilemma of an Anthropocentric and/or Biocentric reasoning when talking about, studying, manipulating, managing , and discussing sustainability. Anthropocentric and/or Biocentric?! Two big terms. In an anthropocentric approach, people’s interests and wellbeing are situated at the center of human-nature interaction and inter-relatedness. For example, nature is valued, respected, and protected because it has the potential to satisfy our mental, physical, and spiritual needs and desires. In contrast, a biocentric approach attempts not to commodify nature as merely our possession but as something that has its own rights and values.
The line between these two approaches is not always clear-cut; rather, a definition of our relationship with nature often sits somewhere on a continuum between these two approaches. However, it seems to me that it is hard, or I may even say impossible, to distance ourselves from Anthropocentrism.
I was walking through that park thinking what has made me to think that to look, touch, and keep a caterpillar is less problematic than doing the same to a tiger. Is that the size, the memories, or the way we, humans, romanticize nature? Or is it because one is considered being endangered and the other not? Are the dignity and rights of tigers different from those of the caterpillars? This question takes me to the novel of Animal Farm, where it say, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others!” Am I trapped in the same dilemma/contradiction too?
When I go to the talks about nature, some basic questions often come to me “Who defines what is a flower what is a weed? Who can decide if a mosquito can be killed but not a butterfly?” These questions are important to disrupt an instrumental idea of nature which considers nature as an object to be intellectually possessed and physically manipulated and exploited to satisfy someone’s version of human’s needs and wants. Human being is at the center of asking and then finding answers for these questions. Very difficult questions that I wish there was some easy answers for them … So when we advocate for connection with nature or protecting nature, we must not forget that we are at the center of deciding what can be connected to and what needs to be protected …. The key questions remain: who’s protecting who from what?
This is of course not to deny the tight interconnection between humans and the rest of the nature. I still believe we need to think about our (including nature’s) physical and emotional health and well being rather than humans versus nature. It is us/we that I’m interested in learning more about.
So what do you think? Where do you position yourself in our connection to nature?