Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nature-Study Prime Time

Horizontal Fringe in Sunlight
"Nature-study, as a process, is seeing the things that one looks at, and the drawing of proper conclusions from what one sees.  Its purpose is to educate the child in terms of his environment, to the end that his life may be fuller and richer. . . It takes the things at hand and endeavors to understand them, without reference primarily to the systematic order or relationships of the objects.  It is informal, as are the objects which one sees . . . It is therefore supremely natural.  It trains the eye and the mind to see and to comprehend the common things of life; and the result is not directly the acquiring of science but the establishing of a living sympathy with everything that is." 
--Liberty Hyde Bailey (Leaflet 1.  What is Nature-Study? 1897)

The beauty of Liberty Hyde Bailey is not simply his scientific gifts, but his gifts as a person of wonder.  He was supremely knowledgeable in his field, having written and published over 30 horticulture books and dozens upon dozens of scientific and practical articles.  The amazing thing about Bailey is that he was so much more than that.  He was a student of life and a gifted teacher.  Bailey knew that the first step in learning is observing and appreciating the world around us.  It is the development of a sense of wonder that is at the root of a good student.  This is the gift that he shared so generously with the world.  His sense of wonder is reflected in his photography, poetry and ongoing thirst for knowledge.  Bailey never lost his sense of wonder and he shared it with all those around him.  He taught us who he was (not just what he knew) and he was a man of great wonder. 

Summertime is nature-study prime time.  Its a time of natural and easy wonder.  You don't need a guide or an expert to find yourself face-to-face with a dragonfly at the water's edge or perhaps a frog hanging out in your window well or a snake sunning himself on the bike trail.  And one does not need to know the name of the snake to appreciate its form and structure.  (A snake is an amazing animal and one that gets all my attention whenever I cross one's path.)  All those encounters stir up, however momentarily, a sense of wonder.

I've been riding my bike on the Kal-Haven trail.  I used to wear headphones and rock-out as I rolled down the road.  Learning a bit more about birds this year I've stopped listening to my music and have tuned into listening for birds and frogs and other creatures along the way.  I don't usually know what I'm listening to, but I am listening and wondering about the sounds.  I can pick out a few frogs and a couple of birds.  That's nature-study.  Lately, I have been admiring grasses.  When given time to go to seed, grasses are amazingly diverse and interesting.  The grasses above were alongside the bike trail.  They were so beatuiful in the sunlight.  I named them "Horizontal Fringe."  I know they have a scientific name and probably a common name, but to me, they are Horizontal Fringe.  And when I see them, I think of them as a grass that I know. . . I see them, admire them and recongize them.  They are part of my memory bank and forever known by me.  That's nature-study. 

I will never be the gifted scientist that Liberty Hyde Bailey was, but his gift was not simply scientific knowledge, it was reminding us of something even more valuable . . . that the world is amazing and everyone is invited into the wonder of it all.           

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer School

Rock and Sand Beach Art, Covert, MI
School is out for the summer.  Most teacher-types and a great number of student-types are breathing a sigh of relief.  Text books are put away and alarm clocks are reset.  The tests are over and the grades are in.  What has been done, has been done.  What has not been done has not been done.  And in the wisdom of the Beatles, we can "let it be." Summer goals include spending time on the beach, riding bikes and family cook-outs.  It is time for a new perspective.  It is time to take time and form hearts in the sand.

Education in the formal sense may have stopped, but summer is a time for questions, the real root of education.  Why are we here?  Who do we serve?  Where did we come from and where are we going?  What brings us joy?  Who do we love?  Summer gives us time to ponder the big questions that form us and ground us.  It is also a time that affords us to think of the little questions that grow us.  What was that bird?  Who made the sand art?  What are those seagulls thinking?  Why are some of my flowers thriving and others barely living?  Some of the questions may have answers found in books, but many of them are found in the living and observing of everyday life.  Some questions may have no answers, but stay with us nonetheless in that ongoing quest for understanding.  I would like to believe that knowledge comes from taking the time to form questions.  And wisdom comes from letting the questions stand, when there are no answers. 

I wish for all of you, good questions and a few answers along the way this summer of 2012.