An outdoor art exhibition

 

On a sunny warm and busy day at Distillery District in Toronto, the opportunity to paint on big white panels, outdoors and with others, quickly intrigued my daughter and her friend.  They were offered blue and purple colors with small paint brushes. The fresh air, sun light, and freedom of space sustained their interests and helped them to calmly focus  on contributing to the rich mural that ‘strangers’ together created on that day.

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We took our ipod with us …

INature walk 001 need to admit that a digital camera is a digitalized technology that I have less concerned about and even encourage my daughter to bring with when we go out for a walk in ‘nature.’ But when she asks to bring her ipod touch, I often say no and feel that it’s going to get all her attention and dominate our experience in nature.

So when we went for a walk in a natural trail close to our city apartment on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I was not very happy to see my daughter was holding her ipod, in its beautiful blue case that looks like a fancy little purse with her. But parents always compromise.

While we were entering the trail I told my daughter that I’ve not been posting on my blog for a long time and asked her for ideas to write about. Suddenly my husband noticed a tiny white dot in the blue sky right beside the moon. Yes, it was a satellite moving fast and close to the earth. “Look at that satellite Rauz!” I said. Holding her ipod towards it and with a happy gesture, Rauz cried with excitement, “Oh, I have to tell it thank you for my ipod and the internet!”

So I decided to stay positive and be thankful for the ipod and its possibilities in adding joy to our walk.

Nature walk 004 Our young children are growing up in a digital culture where you can take a photo with many devices while ‘real’ cameras are becoming less visible and relevant. So although I kept reminding her that I brought my very great digital camera  and she can use it, she was more excited in trying her own ipod where manipulating the photos and videos are so easy, interactive, and fun.

 

Nature walk 006Her ipod offered many opportunities for paying close attention to microscopic details in nature and taking photos with various purposes (such as, to show daddy, to share with friends, to use to make a video later, to add special effects and make funny pictures, to revisit those photos at home for further conversation about our experience and then plan for our future walks).

Nature walk 009Many of us agree that these small devices are multipurpose and very easy to work with comparing with bulky technology of for example a camera. The irony is that these advantages are sometimes the problem! We all had an experience of losing track of time (and ourselves) using an app, downloading a game, exploring a new feature, or searching through the endless number of our photos. We do all of these things while talking to a person, eating, sipping our coffee, reading to our child, watching a movie, sitting in a meeting, waiting in a bus stop, shopping, walking, biking, driving, and the list is as long as our everyday activities.

 

So recognizing, celebrating, and being thankful for all the opportunities, I’m cautious about the challenges that a cute little ipod in a blue purse can offer us in our quiet search for nature in a city trail. Nature walk 032

In search of beauty in our city natural trails

So, our winter is over and as it is often the experience in Ontario, our spring comes very fast and with a magic wand changes our dead grey cities to green parks of trees that are exploding with pink and white flowers and tulips and daffodils that are sneaking out of the ground in every little corner, and freshly green grasses of the front yards.
With our camera and in our t-shirts and running shoes we went to our secret spot to renew our vows with the tangled tree.

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I invited Rauz to choose the pictures for this post. She and I went over a few pictures that she took on Saturday and here are the two pictures that she liked best.

Other than birds that have migrated back in March, we had not seen many other animals in the last 7 months. And so Rauz was so excited to photograph this turtle exactly where we saw one last year. Revisiting this picture, she said, “Mom, look at the orange dots on his shell. Isn’t he cute?” And I answered, “It’s so interesting to see that even he wants some colors to dress up for spring. Not just plain black or dark brown. He’s like a flower.”

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Rauz kept asking, “Have you ever seen pink tulips mommy? They’re so beautiful and have to be on you post.” “I saw many pink tulips but I agree with you that they are important and look great for this post.” I replied. And I’m thinking about how so many parts of nature are carefully and intentionally paying attention to beauty … and for some of us beauty is the language that invites us to look closely and with awe at nature. So my search, and our search, for beauty shouldn’t be taken for granted or high jacked by limited understanding and interpretation of it. It’s a deep and meaningful search. It is a humane right and now that spring is reminding us of this right, let’s not forget our children in child cares and school settings. The search for beauty should be a pedagogical search too. Margie Cooper asked a provocative question: “Is beauty a way of knowing?” And I love Vea Vecchi’s interpretation of the value of aesthetic dimension in our lives when she describes it as “an attitude of empathy towards things around us, perhaps come first, an aspiration for quality …. an attitude of care and attention toward things. So perhaps the aesthetic dimension could be defined as the opposite of indifference or conformism and it could be defined as the opposite of the lack of participation and involvement.”
IMG_3065 So for this post today, beauty is our right to engage and embrace spring in our cities with great care and attention and with the responsibility and respect toward its fragility and its “rareness” as we know our human experiences are different and not all children are privileged to enjoy the pink tulips as my daughter is.

A Winter With No Picture

It’s strange to realize how I feel ‘blank’ when I have no picture to reflect on and write about… This was a different winter with me and my child being indoor for hours and hours … being cold and disengaged when outdoors and feeling there was not much to photograph when everything seemed grey and cold. I’m searching all my computer files to find a picture to write about Rauz’s engagement with nature in the last 6 months and have to confess there isn’t any, or there’s any that can inspire me to write a post on. So, I’m pushing myself to think and write without a picture or to write about a winter with no picture …

My undergrad students had to develop an outdoor curriculum experience for young children (0-5 years old) in their field placement over the past winter semester. Less than a month into the course, they started complaining that the kids were not spending time outside at all and so how they could have observed them outside and developed a curriculum plan based on children’s interests. And even if they had planned for an outdoor curriculum, there would have been hardly any day during the week that children would go outside to experience it … the reason being that the weather was too cold for too many days. So I adjusted and adjusted and finally gave up on the idea of creating an outdoor experience . And by the time that we got into April, and it was still cold, it hit all of us that this is serious. We need to seriously think about the consequences of the ‘cold/bad weather’ on the physical and psychological health and well being of our young children in our city, and perhaps in many other cold cities in our country.
Are we, human beings, becoming more vulnerable losing our capabilities to tolerate the coldness of our climate? Or are our indoors becoming too comfortable making our outdoors significantly irrelevant, ‘unreachable’, un-livable? I’m thinking about our big SUVs, big couches, big TV screens, big coffee mugs, and small bungalows turning into big triple-door garage houses with small to none back yards but big basements for entertainment centers and games.

Let’s get back to our young citizens in childcare centers and schools, where many of them spend about 6-9 hours a day, five days a week, often year around. We need to question the environments that we have created for them and the kinds of connection with the natural environments that we’re defining for them. The restorative power of time outside and the impact of green space on children’s emotional well being are currently being extensively examined. But put this aside, for children aged 0-5 physical development is significantly important. It is a shocking reality that many of these centers don’t even have a gym or any big indoor room where children can at least get opportunities to develop their gross motor skills crawling, walking, running, climbing, pulling, or throwing. I don’t need research findings to be alarmed. The experience of 20 field students in 20 different centers is enough for me to draw the result that this is not ok … lack of outdoor time (even in asphalt and fenced playgrounds) cannot be overlooked … it is serious. I add to the data from my students my own professional experience of working with young children for many years at different capacities, and my personal experience raising a child and talking to many parents of young children. Our experiences are not unusual. And let’s face the reality that it can be cold for many many months in Canada and then it can be very hot and humid with high UV index for some other months.

Answers? Humans were always outdoors regardless of the harsh weather. We had caves but we didn’t hibernate, we were strong to tolerate the heat and the chill. While for our survival needs to be need to constantly develop new skills, it is not wise to lose those that we already have and are so valuable. If the kind of life in the movie Wall E is not the future that we wish for our children, then we need to question our practices if we’re taking that path to the future: To pollute our outdoor environments, to create too much fear and anxiety towards any exposure to the natural environments and the outdoors, to make such a connection irrelevant and meaningless and then to fully channel our interactions through devices, while becoming too obsessed with control and risk-free life styles where not humans but corporations and insurance companies are making our choices.

Let’s go outside and feel the cold with the children

It’s been a very cold and snowy winter. Two snow days when schools were closed and many bus cancelations so far. And this is in our city, rural schools had many more closing and bus cancelation. Days after days of indoor recess at schools because of cold temperature.  -25C degrees, gusting wind of 40 km or stronger, snow, and it’s been for months now.

But it’s not easy to deny the beauty of the snowflakes on our hair, the awe moments of watching the storm from the warmness of our home, the worries and talks about the birds, including the returning geese (I don’t know what they’re doing here in the middle of winter!), and the invitations of big piles of snow to jump off, to roll on, to dig, to kick, to make snow balls, and to just lie down and look at the clouds.

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I have to say that there were few days that we spent more than an hour outside; but those days that we went for walk or play were exciting. Rauz likes most to snow fight, while Hamid and I pretending scared and running away. The role play can continue for the whole outdoor time. Her next best thing is to slide on the ice or walk knees deep in the snow. Or if it’s not too cold to lie down on the snow watch the clouds dances in the sky. These are the moment of peace, pure joy, and fast or slow heartbeats, when Rauz’s imagination is demanding attention and space, when her mind can be focused or wandering and wondering around.

For me, it is a pause to not question the nature for being too cold or too windy but to feel a unique unity between my body and mind and those of my environment.

Our connection to nature

Fall 2013 007Even if nature is the background of our wedding pictures, it is still important not to lose this connection. Here’s a photo that I took today of a beautiful bride and groom and their best men and bridesmaids. They made the effort to come to the park, walk on the rocks and grass on their wedding day to take pictures in this old park, where the trees are magical and the river is wild after a rainy night. They’re creating their own ‘memories’ of being in nature, breathing in fresh air, and walking relax.

I know with technology, you might not even needed to come all the way to the park to make it the background of your photos … but I’m sure the experience for this group of people could’ve not been the same.

Thank you for making our park so romantic, elegant, and unique today.

 

The power of Caspian Sea

Summer 2013-Iran 217Travelling with my daughter to Iran after 3 years, I was hoping to see her falling in love with my country … to enjoy being with her extended family (over 20 cousins, aunts and uncles) but also to deeply feel the beauty of this piece of land on “another side of the world” too far from North America. A country with a dry and hot climate but precious pieces of green  lands, waters, and unique mountains. I have to say it was not easy considering her coming from Canada, which has many beautiful natural treasures, with such a small number of people. Also, she hasn’t the opportunity to create the deep memories that I did while I was living in Iran, not only as a child but also as an adult. So no wonder the high mountains, the local parks, and the greenness of places we visited didn’t impress her at all. Until, we went to Babolsar, a city by the Caspian Sea in north of Iran. Caspian sea actually is a huge lake (and that’s why it’s called a “sea” in my country) and it is the largest salt water lake in the world (about 371,000 km2). We Spent 5 days there and she was lucky enough to see the strong waves of this lake and the power of its water pulling anything very hard into the water. People can drown in a shallow water because of these currents which sweep them out to the sea. So I let her to go in the water but had to stay very close to her although she was right on the shore. The very first day, while sitting where the water merging with the sands, she said quietly, “I want to stay here forever!” My heart stopped hearing her expression about the pleasure  of her experience. I was waiting for this moment, to hear this, for 20 days then! The waves and the warm water and the novelty of the experience … a pure moment of unity and harmony.

Now that we’re back to Canada, she has already memories to cherish, memories to keep her connected to Iran, to make her “wanting to go back.”

City parks and wilderness

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It often amazes me to observe people’s reactions and responses to wild surprises in their urban environments. To see a curious raccoon slowly walking up a busy street, a deer passing by a back yard, or a butterfly flying low. Many often pause: these animals don’t  usually show up on our over crowded  streets with heavy traffic and busy people. But when they do, it’s hard  not to see them, not to ask what they are doing here, in our/people’s territory. Our short pauses are important  … curious observations are even more valuable. Environmentalists believe “finding joy in just looking at animals allows us to have the patience to observe them long enough to see something of interest to science.” One doesn’t have to be a professional to appreciate their beauty, to look them curiously, to have a desire to get closer or even touch them … to feel happy that they are there, we’re not after all that lonely in this busy place.

No wonder that many adults and children stopped at this big puddle left from last night rain on a beautiful Sunday morning to express their surprise at seeing a snapping turtle in the middle of a city park on a busy morning.

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A Memory

Spring 2013 012On 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.

Spring 2013 005And 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.