Oxford defines belonging as an affinity for a place or situation. Webster says it means a possession or a close or intimate relationship. I’ve been reflecting on what it means to belong this week. I am getting older. I could and have said this at any age, but now approaching sixty-five, now it is a very true statement. I feel it, especially with the holidays upon us and my family members quarantined and scattered across the country. Actually, I have yearned to belong since I was quite young. It’s a human thing. We all need connection. And I have found innumerable ways to do it. Teaching was the perfect profession for me. I am very grateful for that. This week, I sent off a small army of 4th grade girls with shoe boxes filled with junk for them to explore. For the last few days, I’ve been receiving emails and even a video recounting the fun they have had and the wonderful inventions they created from their personal trove of junk. This is what is important. Creativity connects us. Imagination is key.
I’ve also had time this week to reflect on just how I belong in the world. This place, this place I’ve known for six and a half decades is becoming increasingly complex and enigmatic. I try hard to make sense of it, but I feel the world’s tug. I feel it pulling me down. Then I realize the political and social world is just a human construct. It is not the true world. Our Earth is the true world, and I’ve lost the connection to it a bit allowing myself to get too busy teaching and managing daily life. So I reminded myself that I must go back to the woods: search for the turkeys, gaze at the ravens wheeling in the gray sky. Nature has always been a healing place for me; a place that encourages my curiosity. And this too I will share with my students. Maybe we will collect items for a nature box: acorns, sticks, smooth stones, dried flowers and leaves, and a wild assortment of other bracken. I have already spent the better part of an hour this week standing in a parking lot in the dark under some honey locust trees collecting their long, gently curving, velvety, deep purple seedpods. I’m imagining all types of things the children can make with them.
It’s more critical than ever that we help children connect to the living world. It is integral to them becoming whole, healthy people who can manage stressors and show compassion. I’ve been a long-time proponent of eliminating nature-deficit disorder,” a term coined by author Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Over the years, I’ve provided experiences with nature to my students, even my students who lived in New York City. I made sure they had regular contact with trees, flowers, and animals. I knew that these connections were important for both their intellectual and social-emotional growth. Indeed, one parent quipped one day that the best part of 3rd grade for her son was that he learned to climb a tree! The once timid boy became intrepid and had a powerful sense of himself.
More books by Richard Louv:
- Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life
- The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life int he Virtual Age
- Our Wild Calling: How connecting with animals can transform our lives and save theirs
A Dozen Nature Picture Books for Children:
- A Stone Sat Still by Brendon Wetzel
- Butterfly Park by Elly Mackay
- Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
- Pax by Sara Penny Packer
- Rocks in his Head by Carol Otis Hurst
- The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
- The Hike by Alison Farrell
- The Hugging Tree: A Story about Resilience by Jill Neimark
- The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith
- The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes
- The Tin Forest by Helen Ward
In our regular weekly phone conversations, my friend, Molly and I ponder the possible. We talk about teaching, art, and healing. She tells of a walk she recently took with her brother at a nearby nature preserve. She describes an old bathtub she found on the trail, and my poet mind start running. I’m already composing as she speaks. Then she says she has taken photos of it and would like me to use it as a prompt for writing with her Kindergarteners. I promise to do so, and we ponder why a bathtub would be sitting serenely in the middle of a trail. When I get off the phone with Molly, I know the bathtub poem is in me and will come out in a couple of days. It sits in my mind, constructing itself in various ways: a branch here, a new shoot there, a winding vine curving and turning until it is ready to come out onto the page.
We Belong Here For Molly I At the nature preserve Right in the middle of the cleared trail - The red path, not the blue one, There is an old white rusted bathtub, My dear friend tells me. Right there in the middle of the path, Right there with nothing else around it Just woods on either side, Thick, thorny undergrowth, Mounds of fall leaves Now becoming muddled and colorless, Skeletons of themselves really. What is the bathtub doing there? Who would leave a tub in the woods? We ponder and wonder. There is a small shack nearby, But it stands on the bank of the river And the bathtub sits squat In the middle of the trail On a ridge overlooking the river. Most times the tub is filled With a puddle of rainwater Or an assortment of leaves, seeds, and acorns. It has been there a very long time. It has no intention of moving. It has planted its rusty feet firmly in the ground. It belongs there. II I have a sudden urge To run full tilt down the path - The red trail, not the blue one, Breathing in the trees, All the musty ancient smells, Hear the gurgle burbling of the river. I rush down the path, Leap with all my might, Hurdle myself toward the tub, Landing gently into its abundance: Soft pine needles and dusty leaves, Landing softly in the autumnal spa, Covered in its natural warmth Almost up to my chin, Sinking down into the tub Soaking in the woods, the air, the river My head tilted up to the blue sky, Every one of my muscles relaxing. I have no intention of moving. My feet are firmly planted. I belong here.