Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Natural Sense of Wonder--Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons by Rick Van Noy

“Imagine if they (kids) knew plants and animals the way they knew brand names and logos, if they knew mountains the way they know malls.” writes Rick Van Noy.

Yes. Just imagine.

Just out this month from the University of Georgia Press, Van Noy’s new collection of essays, A Natural Sense of Wonder, considers many of the same themes as Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods—Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005, with a newly expanded edition out this past March).

Van Noy considers his children, in nature, through the seasons. All of the usual villains are here, of course—television, fast food, materialism, television, bad development, strangers, television. Still, as a father of two small children—children whom I want to grow up outside camping, fishing, hiking, wandering, exploring, reading, loafing, and safe—I enjoyed the way that Van Noy related his stories and observations through his kids.

There were a number of other reasons that I liked this book. Chief among them was the author’s thorough trashing of yard work and, in particular, Godforsaken weed eaters. I hate the damn things. It’s a mutual hatred, too.

“It is downright un-American not to fawn over our lawns,” writes Van Noy. I gave up weed eaters two summers ago, and went back to clippers.

But I digress from the main points of the book.

I also liked the book because it mentioned Slovenia. My wife and I had the opportunity to live there for much of 1999. Slovenia is a very green and very healthy place. The Slovenes have a real passion for the outdoors. They walk everywhere. This is probably to offset their love for and consumption of so much German-influenced food and Italian-influenced-coffee and desert. A word or two about Slovene beer—they take it quite seriously. The national brewer, Union, actually built it’s main brewery in the country’s capitol of Ljubljana over a vortex—a geographic location that draws in all nearby positive energy and focuses it into one big happy spot. It’s a good story. It is also a very good beer. Apparently, hops from Slovenia are sought by brewers from around the world.

Regarding the country’s “greenness”, is there another capitol city in Europe—or anywhere—in which one can look over the rail of a bridge that crosses a river that runs right through the city…and see trout?

Another digression.

Van Noy also explores the benefits of tree houses, swimming holes and fishing, among other things.

Finally, I also liked the fact that, though the author explores the more complex issues of kids in nature, his essays are all firmly grounded in the reality of actually having and raising kids.

“As I write this, I’m granted a little writing time because the kids are finishing a movie.” Van Noy confesses.

On hiking, he adds, “But we have finally crossed that most important stile a hiker with children must cross: just getting out the door.” Amen.

And, on fishing, something near and dear to me, he notes that, “And when you fish with children, you discover that fishing tangles have their own laws of physics. On a good day, the number of fish we land is greater than the number of trees we catch.”

True. But he adds, with regards to fishing as teaching medium, “Patience is what people commonly say you need to fish, and perhaps that’s it if all you do is watch your bobber. But persistence is what it takes. If one thing doesn’t work, you try another, or you move to a different section of the stream.”

I’m already seeing the truth of this in the slightest hints of its taking hold of my own two little ones, ages five and three. They seem to be figuring it out, and all on their own.

Van Noy addresses some of the same issues as Louv. There is the danger—real and perceived—of nature itself, and of strangers lurking in it. There is the natural parental concern that one’s offspring might get hurt.

On the subject of getting hurt, Van Noy, like Louv (like me) sees kids’ time in the outdoors as a means of acquiring confidence born of experience—and being given the leeway by mom and dad to gain that experience.

“If they fall, they learn to pay attention to those conditions that made the fall happen.” and, “—pay attention or you could get hurt.”

Like Louv, the emphasis is on “pay attention”, not “Be careful!!”

Yeah. I know. I’m a big talker. Be careful!!!

It’s a hard thing to do. There’s water, fire ants, ticks (we’ve had two in a week). There are strangers out there. Lions, tigers, bears and, etc. Van Noy understands a dad’s worries, and eloquently addresses them in his essays.

“Spend time with your children and experiences intensify, take on a special poignancy….Not too much is new as we grow older, but with children we rediscover the newness and brightness we once knew, the potential in a pile of wood shavings. Blink and they will pass you by—reach summits before you do.”

—Rick Van Noy, A Natural Sense of Wonder.
Georgia Outdoors by Victoria and Frank Logue (a couple of friends from my college days at Georgia Southern). Published in 1995 by John F. Blair.


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