Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Curiousity of Children--and Grown-Ups?

This morning, as I hauled the trash around to the curb, I noticed a boy walking down the street. He had a backpack on his back, so I assume that he was on his way to school. But he was in no hurry. He stopped to pick up something; I assumed it was money or some other kind of treasure.

It was a stick. He trotted up to the flower boxes that are near my neighbor's porch (he's not their kid, mind you). He peered in. He walked over to the side yard, which has a shrine like area, with a small wall, and a statue of the Virgin Mary with outstretched hands, and a flower box. He stared at the statue. He looked at the wall. He looked behind the wall.

I wanted to stay to watch him exploring the world, but I also didn't want to intrude. I didn't want him to feel like I was accusing him of anything. He was approximately eight years old, and if his intent was vandalism, he was not going about it very efficiently. I did worry about a small kid getting into trouble with antsy property owners, but most of my neighbors have already gone to work, and I thought he'd be O.K.

I felt a sense of wistfulness and longing for my own long-ago childhood, where we'd explore drainage ditches and vacant fields and construction sites. In my grown-up life, I don't spend much time exploring the natural world, or any world, truth be told. I think that may be one reason why I feel this urge to move. Moving to a new place triggers my explorer's nature: what's that tree, what's the history of this place, where are the museums?

When we moved to the South Florida area, we had a summer where we didn't have to work very much. We went everywhere. We felt some trepidation about going into Miami, because it wasn't very far away from its criminal high point (now most of those high crime areas have been transformed into high end strip malls; they don't feel threatening at all, well not in the criminal sense). At one intersection, a car pulled up, and the windows rolled down. I felt a bit of tension. Were we about to be shot?

A young woman stuck her head out of the window and said, "Welcome to Miami, sir!" Imagine that said with a heavy accent, Cuban or Central American. We smiled and waved as the car pulled away.

I don't have those kind of magical encounters as much these days. I'm in an office 40 hours a week, which cuts down on my exploring time. Still, I try to remember to pay attention. Yesterday, as I exited a stairwell, I looked up into the deepest blue sky, a sky intercut by the view of the top of the glass building and palm fronds. I felt my rib cage open up, and I stood there for a few minutes, watching some fluffy clouds float by.

My friend in England has been embarked on an experiment. Every day, she goes to the same spot to observe it. I think it's in a nearby park, but she has a park-like yard, so she wouldn't have to go far to have a similar experience. Each day, she spends at least 5 minutes watching this spot. I think she also records what she finds.

I think of the teen-age daughter of a friend. This daughter plans to be a naturalist of some kind when she grows up. Their house backs up to a small lake, and one summer, she went out every day with her notebook to make notes on the ducks and the plants she found. Again, I felt that sense of envy as I watched her paddle the kayak out on her daily round.

Today is Rachel Carson's birthday, and I give her much credit for preserving our natural world through her writing and her warnings of what our chemical consumption is doing to our world and ourselves. Today, even as oil continues to wash ashore and we wait anxiously to see if BP can do anything to stop it, today, in honor of Rachel Carson, we should observe our little postage stamp of earth and appreciate it anew.

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