A body in search of …

Feb 2013 045Children 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.

Take the hands that are stretched seriously

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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 today?”


 “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. 

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Anthropocentric and Biocentric Reasoning

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?

A Field Trip to the Toronto Zoo


What are these children looking at?

Yes, a tiger! The symbol of power, beauty, and independence. One of the fastest runners on our earth. But an endangered animal which only about 3000 of them are left in the world. I looked at his eyes and I felt a shiver. They told me to respect, to not forget who he is, or perhaps who he was… I remember how much my brother as a young boy loved them, how he knew everything about them, how their pictures were covered the wall of his bedroom … but he never saw one so close when he was a child … he read about them in books, he saw their pictures, and sometimes documentaries about them, in black-white … but he imagined them as wild, brave, and beautiful. In his fantasy they were not for  entertaining humans or raising their pity. Tigers were on our earth to be admired, to be dared to be one, and to hope never face one in a dark jungle …

But today, he’s in a cage in the Toronto Zoo right under the feet of these children. I wonder what they learn about him when seeing him so quiet, so bored, so under control, so inactive, …. To me, he’s just an illusion of what a free tiger is or should be …. What if the image that these children are building today is emphasized by the images that the Disney cartoons are building for them: images of funny, silly, pet-like and humanized tigers?

In my romanticized image of a tiger, I wish Rauz and these children would have never seen him so poor, disengaged, normalized, so un-tiger.

I wonder who is protecting who? Are we really worried about their endangered species? Or are we worried how our earth would be without them? What could then be the symbol of power, beauty, and speed for us? Who or what is replacing them?

A New Life, A Returned Heron, And Our Tangled Lives

Every weekend, we went back to our favorite  trail hoping to see the geese with their babies. Finally, this Sunday we found them on the same pond but this time with their little baby chick. A new life emerged and is developing, a  miracle. We approached them quietly but they were so aware and cautious of their environment that they quickly went into the water. We put some bread for them on the ground hoping to show them that we’re friends. But they didn’t come close to us at all this time. Rauz asked me why and I said perhaps they are worried that we may hurt their baby … now their parents and have a stronger sense of protection. It was surprizing to see how difficult it was to take a picture of the baby chick because he was moving so fast and I couldn’t get a good shot ! Another active baby who desires to explore the richness of a new world inviting him to touch, listen, smell, and taste. Rauz loved to watch how the baby chick was walking behind her mom and pecking for food and I enjoyed noticing how  the chick stayed closer to her mom all the time while the dad was following them from a distance. We were both wondering how the chick would look like when we come back next week.

While Rauz was searching in the bushes far from me, this beautiful heron popped out of his hiding spot. Rauz was surprized by his very quick reaction but then seeing him standing so still right in front of her. She stopped to watch. I took this picture. His color, long neck, and curious and cautious eyes make me think about what he is good at, what role he is playing in this world, in what ways I’m connected to him … Camouflaging is a key ability to survive in the natural environment, to hunt for prey and not be hunted as a prey … How about humans? Do we we camouflage?

This is what Rauz calls a ‘bridge’ and kept asking me to take her to this spot. She was fascinated by how the vines are wrapping around the tree and bending its branches, she couldn’t take for granted the natural design and structure of this ‘bridge’ or arch. She loved to stay under this ‘bridge’ and looking up to see the fresh new leaves. We looked together to see how and if the tree can survive this invasion. It was a young tree and all its main

branches were wrapped and bending down by the weight of the vines. We decided to check this tree again later to see how it looks like in a few months or even years. … our curiosity about things that we’re developing intimate relationship with now gives us reasons to come back … to not forget … to care … to be interested … to wonder.

I looked around myself and was surprized to see how everything in that trail is wrapped and tangled: leaves, branches, bushes, dead trees, soil, broken sticks, weeds, flowers … one may just artificially separate them from the another, but in reality there isn’t any one,  there’re only tangled lives all in a constant struggle to survive, to stay, to become stronger… while one life depends on other’s lives … so symbolic of our humane social lives … we’re wrapped around each other, there’s no one of us .. it’s always us/we. I’m taking with me a question … a quest to know what this piece of nature is telling me.

Children and Photography

Children are curious observers who often see things with fresh eyes, from different perspectives and of course lower heights. Photography is a playful tool to invite them to share with us what they find interesting when in nature.

When we were coming back from school in a warm afternoon, I gave Rauz our small digital camera and invited her to take pictures of anything she liked. She started taking pictures of trees in buds, tiny dandelions, dried leaves on the ground, and bushes. Then she decided to make some arrangements before taking a photo. She put pine cones, big pieces of barks, and leaves on a cut tree trunk and then took pictures. From those pictures, she chose this one and asked me to post it in this blog. I asked her why and she said, “I took this picture because I wanted to see how this pine cone is going to drawn or I wanted to see how this pine cone is going to grow or die next year.”

Rauz gradually became more excited about the experience moving from one flower or tree to another while we were walking. She liked to see the pictures on the camera’s screen right after she took them. I noticed that the experience is challenging her to sit and look carefully at tiny corners, holes, and details that otherwise she would’ve not been very interested in. So on that day, photography became one way to engage with nature and investigate it.

We also became surprised to see how city garbage is tangled with our natural environment. So Rauz also asked me to post this picture and said, “Is this a very nice picture? No! It is not because you see a picture of an old plastic piece of garbage bag.”

She said she wants to go back to this place to see how these things may change in a year.

 

Where the wild things are!

There is a trail close to our home, where we go for biking, walking, and playing tennis, a familiar environment … in the middle of our big city … where nature is fighting with the city pollution here and there … where the birds and the river are competing with the noise of  a huge train passing every 10 to 15 minutes.

It`s always a different experience when we go for a quiet wandering and wondering walk, we slow down and we go left and right, pause, touch and feel … that`s when I feel I`m able to deeply connect to the natural environment … when Rauz has the time and space to encounter surprises, throw stones in the river, pick sticks, walk on the dry leaves, spy ducks, and breathe in the fresh air …

On one of our quiet walks, we see the geese who are just back to our city early in spring. We walk closer to see what they are fighting for … yes, territory … four geese, two couples, are marking loudly their spaces-homes-lands

We`re exciting to see them from such a close distance. They`re not scared from us. We sit watching them while eating our sandwiches … the two who won the fight come close, we start throwing bread for them but are not sure how  close they would get to us, or how much closer we should let them get to us!

As the time passes, we all feel more comfortable to enter into each other`s spaces … I`m on alert thinking they`re wild animals and of course strong … look at their wings, beaks, and the noise they can make … But none of us can resist the temptation of this closeness … I feel good thinking we are  building this trust relationship in which these geese are coming so close to us, looking at us for food, … but what else?

Would they also take the bread from our hands? Yes they do … at the end,  Rauz feels comfortable to let them eat from her hand … and they do …. feels strange, extraordinary, … to me, they seem powerful, vulnerable, beautiful, scary all the the same time …

Rauz starts asking us for the camera to take their pictures, she feels so comfortable with them now … happy, proud, and curious … We talk about wild animals, she`s wondering if we should be scared from them, or when we should be scared. We talk about how we can read their thoughts, guess their intentions, feel they`re alarmed. We both agree that they read us too, they can understand if we`re going to harm them, scared from them, not liking them… We plan to go back again to see if they`re nesting.

A unique experience for a child who`s growing up in a city … and whose mom is resisting her request for having a `pet!`

What does being outside mean?

I’m taking the subway to go to work and the ride is about 40 minutes. On the subway line, there are two stations that the train comes on the ground for about 2-3 minutes. I love these two stations because for me this is the time to look out of the window, check the weather, and enjoy the beauty of our city before going underground for another half an hour or so. When my daughter was a toddler, I had to occasionally take her  to the work with me. She didn’t like to be on the subway for such a long time and I used many tricks to make the ride interesting to her. These two stations were her favorite too. She could stand on the seat and look at the world outside. We talked about what we could see, houses, cars, birds, sky, and the sun.

Yesterday, I was surprised to know that on the ground stations/lines have other benefits too. I was sitting and there were 4 teenage girls standing in front of me chatting. As soon as we get on the ground, they all said with lots of excitement, “Yeah! We have service!” and took out their mobile phones! I loved their spontaneous and sincere reaction. Under the ground, there’s  no internet or phone service. For those girls to be on the ground means to be connected again to the virtual world, to send a text, check messages, surf the internet.

For me and my daughter, it means “Yeah, we’re outside again! We can see the sun and the sky.” I know from Louv’s book, The last child in the wood, many young people think about their environment as how much it allows them to be still connected to the virtual worlds. Is there any wi fi service?  Where are the plugs? Can I still text if we go walking down on that trail?

It is not easy to unplug from the rich virtual worlds that are just a click away from us. I don’t know if I can live a day without any “connection.” But I also hope that being outside doesn’t lose its meaning and relevance to us. I love to see the excitement of seeing and tasting the snow on a child’s face, the desire to be adventurous on a  biking trail, and the passion about getting messy in the mud.