Ann Pelo’s memoir of spending the year outdoors with a one year old (Dylan) is not the professional development I expected. It isn’t the sort of book that you carry in your school bag, back and forth to class, chock full of ideas you can implement in your classroom the next day. It is more a philosophical treatise on how much time we spend appreciating the environment and how to actually instill environmentalism in young children. I found it more meditative than instructive. And that was a good thing.
I thought I would simply record important passages here for easy access wherever I am and perhaps a comment when it seems relevant.
…wild Earth, our first instinct is to know it. The instinct too quickly becomes buried beneath the rip-rap of contemporary life: beneath plastic toys and alphabet drills, beneath homework and housework and blue-glowing screens, beneath numbing commutes and smart phones and long days at work. But the instinct to know the Earth as animals know their home grounds is essential to a full human life, and must be safeguarded as birthright in young children, and received, rekindled, and renewed in us as adults.”
“There is wide-ranging inequality in children’s opportunities to meet the Earth’s humming life, a disparity that is token of and testament to the unjust organization of our society. That unevenness of opportunity demands bold community action aimed at remedying the inequality of environmental racism and classism.”
“Rather than contribute to a sense of disconnection from place by writing off our most urban environments as unsalvageable or not worth knowing, we can instill in children an attitude of attention to what exists of the natural world in their neighborhoods. The sense of care for and connection to place, then, can become the foundation for critical examination of how that place has been degraded, as children grow older…. “As it became my home, the wounds that were being inflicted upon it – the insults – became my own” (Rick Bass).
Pelo writes of the dispositions at the heart of ecological literacy and then goes on to say that when we help strengthen this disposition in children, we strengthen the capacity within ourselves:
- Pay attention
- Be curious
- Open your heart
- Be modest and humble
She goes onto describe a ‘pedagogy of looking and listening’ p. 48
- walk the land
- practice silence
- learn the names
- embrace sensuality
- explore new perspectives
- create stories
- make rituals
and these then become the headers for the next few chapters of the memoir as she fleshes out these approaches.
We live in a culture that dismisses the significance of an ecological identity, a culture that posits what we make home by the simple fact of habitation, rather than by intimate connection to the land, the sky, the air. Any place can become home, we’re told. Which means, really that no place is home.
(emphasis my own, above and below…)
Pelo offers a beautifully written commentary on Dylan’s discovery of apple trees and blackberry bushes yielding their fruit, a first snowfall, both swimming and dead fish, warm water puddles, caterpillars becoming butterflies, and a great blue Heron fishing for lunch, the floating of leaves in a river that demonstrates upstream and downstream motion…
WALK THE LAND…
Time is intimacy. When we visit a landscape again and again – visit and notice, consciously, what we find there; visit and talk about what we notice – when we visit a landscape again and again, we come to know its particularities: the changes in light and shadow, the life and death of the green things, the movement of the lively things, the way rain slicks across rock and slips into dirt.
“We speak such a lot, we humans. Especially adults to children. Talk, talk, talk: we describe, we question, we instruct. We talk to exchange what we know, what we care about, the gossip of the day. When are we silent? In church, synagogue, mosque. In meditation, in yoga, in solitude. In the presence of majesty. In the experience of awe. In the face of a miracle. Which is to say, in witness to heron and spider, flight and web, storm cloud and jewel -backed beetle, blackberry and dandelion and worm.”
LEARN THE NAMES…
Psychologist and naturalist Elaine Brooks says that, “People are unlikely to value what they cannot name.”
Richard Louv reports that a 2002 study found that the average eight year old in the United States was better able to identify characters from Pokémon than the native species in the communities where they lived. I wanted Dylan to value pine trees and penstamen more than Picachu. I learned the names. I taught Dylan the names….
I didn’t start behaving like Dylan… But I certainly relaxed more fully into my body, and, more importantly, I learned to give Dylan ample permission to bring every sense into her encounters with the world.
Five senses illuminate the world for us: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Neuroscientists add five more senses: temperature, kinesthetic sense, balance, pain acceleration. Other current nominees for consideration as sense are time, direction, and thirst.
EXPLORE NEW PERSPECTIVES….
“We think by analogy, we speak in metaphor – …Shifting perspective as an act of participation in the world, yes! We don’t look through the window – the instructions for how to paint with perspective have it all wrong. We step through the window, like Alice into Wonderland, and marvel at what we find: barefoot dogs and crows, warm – water puddles, on clear -sky days.”
“Analogy invites us to look through the lens of relationship to see the identify of a thing more clearly. Our experience and knowledge of one thing inform how we come to know another thing. This re-aligning of knowledge and experience opens into stories and hypotheses, into revelation and renewal.”
“An ecological identity is anchored by dispositions to pay attention, to be curious, to open our hearts. Which is to say: an ecological identity is anchored by empathy.”
“Empathy: the awareness of another being’s feelings; the ability to take up another being’s point of view. We nurture empathy when we practice seeing the world from new and unfamiliar perspectives….
Empathy is cornerstone in an ecological identity. Empathy turns us toward the living world with imagination and curiosity, with courage enough to let go of our habitual and easy understandings, with willingness to experience the vulnerability of disequalibrium. Empathy sizes us in right proportion to others, not more-than, or better than, or worthier than, but connected by the shared capacity for joy and suffering.”
from Scott Russell Sanders:
“Stories entertain us. They created community. They help us see through the eyes of others. They show us the consequences of our actions. They educate our desires. Stories help us dwell in place. They help us dwell in time. They help us deal with suffering, loss and death. They teach us how to be human. And stories acknowledge the wonder and mystery of Creation.”
“We know the land better because we told stories about it. Stories bind us to place.”
“Storytelling begins in observation, unfolds into language, and opens finally, as an offering, an outward gesture anchored by the inwardness of experience.”
“Ritual lifts us out of the mundane and habitual, and calls our attention to what matters to us.”
“… when a ritual becomes stale, or forced, or pro forma – an echo rather than a song – it is no longer useful, and best allowed to fall away…”
“We create rituals to remind us of how we hope to behave.”
She ends the book with a Coda that includes a letter to Dylan, and before that a chapter entitled, A Call to Come Home, which was powerful for me to read, as someone who is always questioning her sense of belonging and, like Pelo I have accepted being ‘displaced’ for long periods of time.
“What changed was my long acceptance of being displaced – my willingness to live on hold, gazing at the far horizon for home – somewhere else, somewhere more suited to me than the gray cool place that I lived….I decided to shift my gaze… I decided to reside here, for as long as I lived here – which might not be forever. But while here, I wanted to be here fully. Walking the land, learning the names, filling my senses with this place. Making ritual, learning the stories, coming to know the goodness of rain. I decided to make this place home.”
I’ve truly savoured this book and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have worked out all the important pieces and to have found the time to record them here.
March 19, 2017