Words in the Wilderness
I have decided to make this post verbal. Normally I include my own artwork to illustrate my words, but this time, I think I’ll let your inner eye fill in the visuals. I will do my best to allow your imagination enough details to be able to paint the pictures. I just finished the book The Glass Castle, for the second time. Here is a link to the author talking about the book and her mother describing some of her own artwork.
The book is a riveting memoir by Jeannette Walls, who describes her childhood of living on the skin of nature in the western desert and in a soggy eastern coal town; participating in her family’s obsessive intellectual thinking and reading habits; living their disastrously ill-considered adventures; and suffering unbelievable negligence on the part of their parents. Jeannette and her siblings had such extraordinary experiences, mostly alarming, that no one can imagine such a childhood free of recriminations, resentment, and blame; yet, Walls gives such insightful descriptions of her own feelings and the actions of her family, neighbors, and class mates that we see the discomforting patterns of her life in full perspective, including the few piercingly beautiful parts. It is hard to imagine that the author could have become the grounded and fascinating person she seems in any other way. Yet, it was surprising that she even survived to adulthood.
In my mind, I link some of the underlying messages in Jeannette Walls’ book with the overt message in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. You see, I believe that the four things that supported little Jeannette in her journey to adult competence are 1) intimacy with the natural world, 2) familiarity with a wide variety of ideas due originally to her parents’ appetite for reading and the life of the mind, 3) her parents’ insistence on qualities of self-sufficiency in their offspring, and 4) love, however incomplete or defective. All aspects of the benefits of nature exposure are identified and examined in Louv’s book, subtitled Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Not only do we grow intellectually from running our own experiments in the original laboratory of nature, but we draw perspective from the enormity and impersonal nature of nature. Our spirits are formed to be calmed and consoled, as well as stimulated, by nature. Louv gives examples of studies from many disciplines, including psychology, medicine, education, and biology, which demonstrate the necessity of close-up nature in the lives of children, and he also presents us with an array of solutions, none of them one-size-fits-all, to the problem of our divorce from the natural world. The way my mind links these two books is in assuming that Louv really is right, and nature is necessary for the proper development of our bodies, minds, and spirits, and the Walls children were largely saved from their dire circumstances by their familiarity with nature and the self-assurance that comes from figuring out how to survive in an impersonal natural world.
Here is a link to Richard Louv talking about his thesis from Last Child in the Woods:
If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know how much my nature experiences from the present and the past have formed me and supported my art-making. It is no surprise that I value my nature experiences growing up as equal to, or surpassing, my family’s love or my classroom education in forming my heart and mind.
Yesterday was a perfect day in my town; blue sky, sunshine, moderate temperature, and no mosquitoes. (Here, mosquitoes should be part of the weather forecast.) After removing dead plants and branches, rearranging potted plants, and re-distributing drifts of dead leaves in the yard, I settled in for a bit of reading in my back yard. I followed this with more backyard-sitting after dark. I hoped to see some of the night-time critters that populate my part of the world; foxes, opossums, raccoons, and bats, but instead, I was entranced by the sounds and sights of plants. The live oaks drop their oval-shaped leaves in the spring, and the soft, dry landings of leaves on their fellows tapped irregular rhythm in the darkness. The light from a neighbor’s window showed up the fluffy fullness of a shrub which blooms fuchsia for several weeks in the spring, and its spectacular daytime display was shown to be subtly showy in the dark. The stretching, twisting trunks of a cluster of live oaks next to the cedar elm against the night sky emphasized the lines of the trees more than when they are overshadowed by the brightness of foliage in the daytime. Even with the city lights flowing into the night sky, I could still make out a few stars and a planet or two, letting me know that our fashions that come and go, our worries great and small, and our individual preferences, are infinitely small next to the workings of the universe.