Bookworm: A Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

Part of my new job with TILT is to create four exciting kids treks, each with a distinct slant on experiencing nature/conservation. Each trek will have an unique theme to the day, but what they’ll all have in common is the simple (but always successful) pairing of children and nature.

As someone who grew up without cable TV (and who’s one eventual form of electronic entertainment was a Commodore 64), I learned at an early age that if I wanted some amusement, I needed to head outside. Self-amusement, I should say, because it never took much to get my imagination going once I was out in the great wide open.

And that’s what drew me to Silent Spring author Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder. Mostly a photo book, and written in memoir fashion, Sense of Wonder is an account of Carson’s summers in Maine spent sharing the wonders of the natural world with her nephew Roger. Carson shares the light-hearted games they would play in the woods together (transforming pine saplings into Christmas trees for the squirrels, for example), but also her thoughts on choosing to focus on the natural curiosity that children posses about the world around them, and not to “ruin” it with lessons and goals. When allowed to experience nature in an unstructured, natural, way, kids are more likely to carry that positive connection with them into adulthood, where they can then pass those experiences on to the next generation.

There’s also a related film A Sense of Wonder, based on the play of the same name, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee. I’m about two years too late to catch this on PBS, so I’ll be tracking down the DVD and reviewing that separately at some point. For now, enjoy some quotes from the book, and let them inspire you to get outside today:

“It was hardly a conventional way to entertain one so young…but…we are continuing that sharing of adventure in the world of nature that we began in babyhood, and I think the results are good. The sharing includes nature in storm as well as calm, by night as well as day, and is based  on having fun together rather than teaching.”

“I have made no conscious effort to name plants or animals nor to explain to him, but have just expressed my own pleasure in what we see, calling his attention to this or that but only as I would share discoveries with an older person…I am sure no amount of drill would have implanted the names so firmly as just going through the woods in the spirit of two friends on an expedition of exciting discovery.”

“We have let Roger share our enjoyment of things people ordinarily deny children because they are inconvenient, interfering with bedtime, or involving wet clothing that has to be changed or mud that has to be cleaned off the rug.”

“A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods. I always thought so myself; the Maine woods never seem so fresh and alive as in wet weather…Now I know that for children, too, nature reserves some of her choice rewards for days when her mood may appear to be somber….I was glad to find Roger noticing and responding to the magic change in their appearance wrought by the rain.”

“I should ask that [the] gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and detachments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in…it is not half so important to know as to feel…Once the emotions have been aroused–a sense of the beautiful , the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love–then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response.”

“Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you.”

“I never hear these [migrant bird] calls without a wave of feeling that is compounded of many emotions–a sense of lonely distances, a compassionate awareness of small lives controlled and directed by forces beyond volition or denial, a surging  wonder at the sure instinct for route and direction that so far has baffled human efforts to explain it.”

“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in  living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

“The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.”



One thought on “Bookworm: A Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

  1. Pingback: A Sense of the Past: Rachel Carson in Companion Magazine | A Green(ish) Life

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