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Joy of the Month Excerpt (October)

"If spring came but once in a century instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change."
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Adult: Flat, green, tilted mountainside darker greens, rocky mountaintop grays -- I drink these in as the plane descends to land in Jackson Hole. Half an hour later I'm fishing in a clear brook. To my back stretches the soft, morning-lighted forest. Long, late-July grass carpets the ground below the large spruce; a smaller fir grows to my left. The downstream surface of the brook faintly flickers, reflecting light green trees at the back, dark green mountains in the middle, and blue sky in front of me.

Across the stream lies the Snake River Valley, and behind it, the Teton range. White, midsummer glaciers mark the crags and shaded spots in the jutting rock. A hawk floats, wing-tip feathers spread, across my field of vision. To my right, upstream, rise the Grand Tetons themselves, drawing the eye with an excitement that speeds the heart. They push through the only clouds in the sky. (A lonely cloud often sits there as if caught and held by the peaks.)

When I shut my eyes to make more of my brain available to my ears, I hear two ripples in the stream: one just upstream in my right ear and the other down-stream in my left -- stereophonic sound!

Joy and opportunity lie in the appreciation of the earth's beauties. So often we miss these joys -- not because the earth lacks beauty (for indeed, every part of it is beautiful) but because of our apathy, our failure to see and to notice, our tendency to take it for granted.

Child: Our son Josh was fifteen months old and it was April. The summer before he had been too small to be outside much, so, on this first warm day of the year, he was seeing the backyard for the first time. I watched him in silence from the window. He started with the grass, first feeling it, then sitting down in it, moving his legs back and forth, so delighted that he laughed aloud. Then he lay down, mouth open with an expression of anticipation, as he felt the grass with the back of his head and neck. From that position he noticed the sky and the clouds. He lifted both arms, pointed both forefingers, formed a round O with his little mouth, and said, with a tone of reverence and amazement, "Ooooh!" There was a spring breeze moving those fluffy clouds across the deep blue sky. He watched almost motionless for two or three minutes until the wind started to gust a little and he became more interested in the cool, feathery breeze on his skin. He stood up, turned his face into the breeze, squinted, gritted his teeth, and uttered his second descriptive sound, "Eeeeh."

Turning in a new direction, he noticed a small patch of tiny white and yellow flowers in the grass. The stem was fairly stiff, and as it broke, he fell back on his bottom into a sitting position. From there he held the flower close to his face and pulled off one tiny petal with his thumb and forefinger -- a use of his hands he had recently discovered. When he had finished, he threw his little arms up, let the rest of the flower go at the top, and brought his hands slapping down on his knees with a contented sigh.

Then a bird chirped in the nearby tree. Josh cocked his head, a little startled, not sure where the sound had come from. The bird chirped again. This time Josh saw where it was. He stood up and toddled toward the tree. The bird swooped down, floated twenty yards or so, and landed on the lawn. Josh followed the flight with a look of delight and utter amazement. As he watched, motionless, the bird began his staccato pecking at the grass and an instant later pulled up a squirming, wiggling worm. Josh shook his head, as if in disbelief, and started shuffling toward the bird. The bird fluttered back up into the tree, chirping all the way.

Josh repeated his earlier cloud gesture, pointing up at the bird with both hands and saying, "Ooooh!"

Parenting Methods and Ideas

  1. Look together at large picture books of animals, trees, and flowers. Point to a picture and have the children say the name, or you say the name and have them point.

  2. Focus attention on one small sight or one small sound. Have the children look through paper tubes (from paper towels or toilet tissue) so they have one small field of vision. Ask, "What do you see? Can you describe it? Isn't it beautiful?" Now have the children close their eyes. Pick out small, individual sounds and ask, "Can you hear that?"

  3. Take nature walks. You don't have to be in the woods or mountains; a vacant field or a park will do. Point out things, but without too much explanation let the children explore. If you find an ant hill, stop to watch. Ask what the ants are doing. Ask lots of questions to help the children figure things out. Take nature walks to the same place in all four seasons, and ask: "How have things changed?"

  4. Make a see-through "growing bottle" by putting wet, crumpled paper towels into a bottle with seeds between the glass and the moist paper. Set it where it gets sunlight. Watch as roots grow down and leaves and shoots grow up.

  5. Fill a box (such as a produce box with low sides) with sand or dirt. Make a pond in it with blue paper, and use small twigs with leaves or evergreens to make a little forest. Talk with the children about how different parts of the earth are used for different animals' homes. With the children's help, place small toy animals or pictures of animals mounted on toothpicks in their appropriate homes in the box.

  6. Play a question-and-answer game about the uses of nature: "What can you do or make with a tree? with sand? with a cow?"

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