This week we finally got around to visiting Walden Pond. None of us had ever been there, although I have read Walden several times and admire Thoreau, Emerson, and Transcendentalist philosophy in general. While we were a military family, we moved every two or three years, and often had difficulty finding a church community where we felt at home. During those times, we attended the Cathedral of the Outdoors. On Sundays while living in Hawaii, we often packed a picnic and went to a favorite beach or park; Moanalua park was one we frequented. The children had a favorite Monkey Pod tree that they liked to climb, play under, and sit quietly to reflect on whatever was happening in their little minds. I would set up my blanket and book, and soak in the sun and quiet. Here my soul felt nourished. I felt at peace with whatever was happening in my life, and felt part of something infinitely greater.
We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
This past brutal winter in Boston, we were trapped inside. Some days we couldn’t make it to the next house to play. Being cut off from nature, fresh air, and sunshine made me feel only half alive. This recent visit to Walden Pond marked the first real week of spring time weather, and everywhere you can sense the unmitigated joy of people who are glad to put winter in the past.
In our educational experiment, I make sure the children get outdoor, unstructured play time as often as possible. We stomp in puddles, dance in rain, make snow angels, play on the beach, make mud pies, collect sticks and rocks, and in general attempt to create a real relationship with the natural world. The goals I have for them as human beings who respect the natural world, appreciate the sciences, and are sensitive to beauty, require this time with nature. It is not an extra to be pushed aside for scheduled classes. Wonder is the most valuable learning tool that they are born with. It will cause them to question and seek. We keep that wonder alive by feeding it the beauty and majesty of the sky, friendship with trees, care of caterpillars and curiosity about the world around them. Some day they will study Astronomy, but first they should spend time looking at the stars.