A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Once, I thought it was enough to be clever. I led them into woods and wilds and told them where to step or stop, when to look or listen. I expected they would pay rapt attention to my artful anecdotes about plants, animals, geology, history, ecology. I was the consummate guide, sure of the terrain with or without a map, spouting facts and canny patter, the nature savant. Smell this leaf, I said, or hear the hammering woodpecker. I came to understand I’d been a bad example. I’d brought the lesson out of doors, freed from walls and ceilings, but never dropped my mantle of authority, didactic beside the oak tree instead of the blackboard, the wise preceptor of truths and facts, as my charges followed dutifully, or pretended to. What happened to the verve that first drew me to nature – the fun and adventure, discoveries waiting to be made, the joy, the hands-on engagement, the wonder of it all? Why was I screening these children from the opportunity to sharpen all their senses, learn for themselves, light upon something utterly new, different from what anyone else, myself included, had ever seen or heard? I have since learned to do more by doing much less. By just heading out the door, my job is close to fully done. I start exploring wordlessly, without expectations. I share my delight and surprise, talk to the trees, press my hand to them, or my ear, and the pleasure I take in all of it is all the children need to be informed …and happily so. I may lead at first, or at random, but more often than not I drop the reins and hold my tongue. Nature is the master here: boundless, unpredictable, full of astonishments. The children come next. I follow.
Ed Bieber is the founder and director of The Nature Place Day Camp.
Copyright 2020 Ed Bieber. From Outside/In: On Loving Nature & Living with Parkinson’s (Ragged Sky, 2020).