Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Gardening of Life and Learning

Zabulon Skipper on Rattlesnake Master
"There are two parts to the common day, --the performance of the day, and the background of the day.  Many of us are so submerged in the work we do and in the pride of life that the real day slips by unnoted and unknown.  But there are some who part the hours now and then and let the background show through.  There are others who keep the sentiments alive as an undertone and who hang all the hours of work on a golden cord, connecting everything and losing none;  theirs is the full life;  their backgrounds are never forgotten;  and the backgrounds are the realities."  --Liberty Hyde Bailey (1928)

The above quote was taken from a book Bailey wrote entitled The Garden Lover.  I first heard this quote when John Stempien (former director of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum) shared it during a lecture (Breakfast at the Bailey's) he led several years ago.  I liked the quote so much I wrote about it in a former blog post entitled "The Background of the Day" (July 2011).  John reminded me of it last week when he gave me a copy of the book from which the quote was taken.  What an unexpected and wonderful gift!  Thank you John!   And here I am again; pulled into writing about this amazing sentiment written by Bailey so long ago. . .  

In that former post, I talked about the background of my days when my family spent time on the south shore of Lake Superior in our cabin surrounded by woods and overlooking that amazing and wild lake.  Those background days have colored and enriched my life and I'm forever grateful to my parents for sharing such natural wonders with me.   

It may seem odd that the above quote is taken from a gardening book, but Bailey draws us into a larger picture of the gardener and of gardens in his writing.  His use of these words is much more expansive than simply taking care of flowers in a yard.  He clearly sees the natural world as a garden and essential to our lives.  And when we let that background show through we are enriched (theirs is the full life; their backgrounds are never forgotten; and the backgrounds are the realities).  What I hear in his words is a metaphor for both learning and living.  I hear the deep calling to grow and learn as a gardener and to tend to the lessons learned in the garden of your life.  This is what I think he means when he writes, "There are others who keep the sentiments alive as an undertone and who hang all the hours of work on a golden cord, connecting everything and losing none. . ."  Imagine learning as the tending of a garden and the lessons learned as the plants and flowers and trees of our life.  It seems the perfect metaphor for teacher and student.  We are always growing and learning.  

I have the privilege of teaching elementary school.  I spent several years in kindergarten, first grade and now fourth grade.  Through these many years, I've learned perhaps more from my students than I have taught.  Young students (kindergarteners and first graders especially) learn by play, observation and experimentation.  Learning is as natural as breathing to them.  It is who they are.  They don't categorize and separate the different fields of knowledge; they are simply filled with wonder and that wonder is the basis of their education.  When they are engaged in this way, it is amazing the amount of learning that they are able to acquire.  My job was simply to reveal the joy of learning and present the material.  The children took it from there.  It really was like preparing a garden with rich soil and a few seeds and watching the real miracle of growth take place.  It was always a wonder to participate in this process, like a gardener delighting in the plants that grow.  And every day it was surprising and full.  I was never sure what amazing discovery a child might obtain or what might blossom in the sunlight.  As students mature, they lose some of that natural wonder, but I believe that my job is to remind them of that instinct (we should never lose) and to continue to be a gardener. . . to give them the opportunities to find joy in learning and to remind them that learning is foundationally about joy and discovery.  It is who we are and what we are called to do in this life.  If I can share that, it seems that they too can hang all the hours of work on a golden cord, connecting everything and losing none . . .  Happy learning to those students and teachers out there in the world preparing to head back to school to blossom and grow!    

The following photos are from some of the gardening I've been doing in my life this summer . . . planting native species, looking for butterflies and enjoying the beauty of the day.                

Eastern Swallowtail
Cabbage White