Monday, November 24, 2014

The Faith of a Naturalist: a Book Post

Darwin Book

Today is the anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin.  As I regularly make it a practice to find good resources for my congregation and put them into calendars that mark dates like these, last month I checked out a bunch of Darwin books from the library.  Many I was already familiar with (One Beetle Too Many and The Humblebee Hunter are my favorite picture books, and I really like the YA novel Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith), but I also received a stack I had not read before and I had to choose just one as I didn't have time for them all.  My choice was a fortuitous one, and I am happy to say that Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a most fascinating book.

Unlike other books about Darwin that I have read, this book focuses on the inner journey and his growth as a naturalist through the daily writings he kept on his trip aboard the Beagle.  Haupt is herself a student of ornithology, so she admits to focusing on his work with birds mainly because that was the part that interested her the most, but also because she thinks birds are one of the more accessible areas of nature study for the general public.  As I also like to casually watch birds, I found myself agreeing with her.

While there is a great deal of interesting science and history here, in the end it wasn't the science or the history of the book that was the real take-away for me.  Haupt describes what she calls "the faith of a naturalist" and uses examples from Darwin and from her own life and studies as well as a few interviews she conducts that were in some way related to her topic.  She weaves between the historical and the modern, the scientific and the philosophical, and it was a lovely and thought-provoking progression.

A few quotes:

In our own lives as homespun naturalists, the moments we do manage to spend becoming educated by our native places can wend their way into our daily lives, making it more and more difficult to see ourselves as individuals, self-sufficient and cordoned off somehow from our humus-y ground.  We begin to see, rather, our lives as embodied, unseparate, inseparable, rushing forward with the whole of wild life.
Yet it is here, in the spaces between what can be seen and what can be spoken, that the naturalist's faith often lies.  This is why it is called faith.  Intimacy, residence, patience, a sense of dwelling alongside wild nature, earthen insight, gratitude, affection, kindness, a kind of grace, a kind of joy - all of these unutterable things find a place in the naturalist's task.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Large Doses of the Outdoors


This year we found a wonderful program for my son to do, attending the "Environmental Connections Outdoor School" which is a once a week full day of nature study, free play, and exploration outdoors.  They meet in a local park, and they do have a picnic shelter with a roof but otherwise they are really outdoors all day, all year.

Yesterday was a rainy and blustery day, which my daughter and I spent indoors (at church and at home) and still felt the need to go out for steaming hot bowls of pho for lunch.  As we looked out the window at the rain, we said "poor buddy, he's probably all wet and miserable".

When I picked him up, however, the sight that met me was not a bunch of bedraggled children huddled under a picnic shelter.  Instead, the children were playing in a shelter they had built in the woods, playing tug of war with an ivy vine they found that was apparently indestructible, and sliding through mud puddles and pits.  Yes, my son was all wet and dirty, but he was decidedly Not Miserable.  In fact, he said he had the best day ever and couldn't wait to do it again.  He had spent the rainy day carving sticks, building a fort, dissecting owl pellets, hearing local history stories (about the first peoples of this land and the settlers who came later), and generally having a grand time. 

We all belong outside, but children especially should be outdoors.  The connection with nature, the survival and resiliency skills learned, the healthy benefits of fresh air and plenty of physical activity - these are precious and valuable aspects of outdoor education. 

I'm so glad that 20 % of my son's schooling time is now spent in this way!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christmas just keeps running over Thanksgiving

ornament making at church

It's hard to keep Christmas at bay right now.  We've put away all of our Halloween decorations, and the little box of Thanksgiving decorations is always a disappointment to open compared to the multiple bins I have for Halloween and Christmas.  The kids are already working on Christmas songs for their music lessons, I've ordered my cards, made my plans, and we had an ornament making party for the Giving Tree project at church yesterday.

ornament making

I'm torn on this issue - on the one hand the Christmas Machine is just such a monster that it does need to be contained (and a simple Thanksgiving focused on gratitude for what we have is such a lovely thing it shouldn't get sacrificed to the beast) and then on the other hand the To Do list for December gets overwhelming and getting a jump on it makes it all much more manageable.

So I've done a few Christmas things.  But now,  to focus back on Thanksgiving and just tuck those things away!

Back to the Turkeys!

handprint turkeys

Monday, November 10, 2014

More Books (my new hobby seems to be posing books where I was sitting when I read them)

2014-11-08 14.04.31
Over an anniversary weekend away with my husband, I had some time to read in the Lodge lobby by the great big fireplace.

Last week I hit a milestone: 100 books read for the year.  And yet, that leaves 75 to go if I want to finish my 14 x 14 in 2014 challenge (and only 2 months to do it in - it seems not humanly possible).

Since the 100th book (which was Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie), I have read a few more:

  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (Poetry category)
  • Slow Family Living: 75 Ways Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy by Bernadette Noll (Parenting category)
  • Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems edited by Roger Housden (Poetry category)
And then, on my weekend away I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Around the World in Alphabetical Order category).

This "epistolary" novel (meaning it is written in the format of letters and telegrams sent back and forth between the characters) is the story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands and how the people survived and recovered, as well as a most delightful love story.  I'm using it for the G letter of my Around the World in Alphabetical Order category.

The rules of the Reading Challenge do allow me to apply a book to more than one category, so if I pick the books with care I could finish the challenge in less than 75 books - but still I need to get cracking with my reading!