Climbing days are simply better than book-school days. We kinda forgot this close to us place was here, but now have been back and forth to enjoy it several times in the last couple weeks of hanging on fall. I’ve trusted in the benefits of risky play for my kids for a lot of years now, but sometimes my breath still catches as they climb, the shout to be cautious falling silent just as it is about to be shouted out.
Not that book school isn’t important, but my kids sure do learn a lot on these rocks, as well as in open fields and along riverbanks and up in tall pine trees on the back corner of our in town lot. I need my kids to have literacy and numeracy and I mostly use books and games to teach them those things, but most of the truly important stuff is taught while climbing something.
Trusting yourself is harder to learn from a book. Listening to the cues in your body and from the world around you is more difficult when staring at a screen. Building confidence in your own abilities is just not the same when you weigh math facts against knowing where to put your foot so you don’t slip down a rock wall.
So often I hear people state how learning can only happen in a classroom or can only come from a teacher. Others say that learning can happen in structured activities outdoors, but the child will need to be led or the activity facilitated. I want to just stop with this; Learning happens. It does not depend on me, or you, or us. It simply happens. There is no more needed in that sentence.
I write this down as a reflection for the days when kids need naps more than fractions or snowball fights more than sign language. The days when I doubt what I’m doing here, I will look back and remember that my kids are learning. That they are learning exactly what they need for their lives at this moment and for who they will grow into.
Look at me trusting myself a teensy bit. I must’ve learned that up on that rock pile with my babies.
Lake Superior was kind enough to remind me this morning. We’ve been vacationing for nearly two weeks now, every morning my children have allowed later and later sleeping. It has been so wonderful. Even though I’ve still been up in the night with the teensy I have felt much more rested. Probably more so than I’ve been in years.
But I needed the sunrise.
Even though I get a very small piece of the suns rising through my view at home, I still see it more mornings than not and I suppose I missed the familiarity of it, the comfort in it.
When I told my family I’d be up before the sun today they all agreed there was no way they’d be joining me and I was rather pleased to know I’d get this hour or so to myself. When I was re-tucking the tiny into her camper bed at four AM I peeked out the skylight and smiled quietly to myself to see a sky full of stars and the prospect of the sun rising over Superior.
Well, as I am so frequently reminded…you can’t do anything once and assume it will be perfect.
Though I am sure the sun did rise, as it has done so every morning from the beginning, it did not shine over the lake and burn off the fog as I had so hoped. No, at some predawn point the clouds rolled in heavy and lay on the lake as a blanket of grey cotton. The waves crashed in, angry to be awake so early I can only presume.
Still, time outdoors is rarely wasted. I found a sheltered rock, back from the lake a bit, sat with my coffee and the quiet. Not even the dog had been willing to venture out with me. I watched the waves for a long while, tried to comprehend how they had been shaping the rock on this shore since before I can imagine. The waterbirds came and went; a pair of Loons, a family of Grebes, I wondered over their ability to overcome the cold sloshing of the lake.
While I was reminded that I can not expect a beautiful sunrise on the random morning I decide to wake up for it, I also remember that the good is in the seeing. Though the day dawns grey, the beauty was still out here, if not in the way I thought it would be. The quiet hour I sat by Lake Superior was worth the wind and the clouds and the cold of August morning this far North. Was even worth an alarm clock ringing while on vacation.
Mushrooms and other fungi are always interesting to me, recently my AJ picked up this curiosity of mine. He will now grab my phone and snap pictures of all the mushrooms on all of our walks. He is fascinated with both the taking of pictures and the way mushrooms hide in all of the best places. I leave this note here as a reminder that the curiosity of childhood will follow a child far, if we will just let it, not spoil it, or force it, or lock it into a room.
A couple of days ago now, I fell in the Mississippi River. Thankfully there is no photographic evidence of this event. It was a hard fall on rocks that bruised my shins and knees and ankles. It hurt. I wanted to sit down and cry, mostly from the physical pain, but also just to release all of the emotion that I’ve been regulating inside my body for so many days. I didn’t cry though, instead I walked up and down the river with my three littles, letting the cool Summer water ease the ache I could feel forming in my body.
I’m writing this not because I want you to feel bad for me, but because I’ve been writing a lot about how quickly my littles are growing and how much I’m trying to not skip over any of the days with them. Which maybe makes you think my life is easy and always fun. Hear me when I say that I would’ve skipped this fall had I known it was coming, but I would’ve missed a lot of good had I done that. Like tiny arms hugging me as I stumbled up and out of the water, childrens voices asking if I was okay and what help did I need.
I fell because a small girl was holding both of my hands and when she slipped I righted her at the expense of my own balance. I am glad that she didn’t fall, it would’ve been harder for her to have a good day if she were banged up and frightened, but it was difficult for me not to blame her, to not be upset that I was sopping wet and hurt. This is a part of my mothering as well, not just recognizing that they won’t be small forever and joining them in their everyday, but sacrificing myself over and over again to improve their experience, their lives. In big ways and small.
My fall was a small sacrifice for sure, but it was a big reminder to me that there will be harder days to come. Not everyday will find the beauty in the legos and leaves scattered on the living room floor. (Check out my Facebook page if you missed that photo.)
When we got back home the dog drug her leash across the front of my ankle, giving me a rope burn. It didn’t really hurt, but I cried. Big gasping tears, so much that I had to go inside and calm down. This morning my teensy said; “Momma, that was the first time I saw you cry big…”, this is untrue, I have let tears slip down my cheeks in front of my kids more times than I can count, but I am glad that she saw this time, and that she was aware of the hurt behind the tears. So that she would know it’s always okay to cry, and that it’s often good to keep enjoying the day, even though you are hurting.
In the days since I fell I have been sore. My shin is bruised deep and throbs when I take even gentle steps. It has slowed me down even more than my already leisurely pace. The teensy said something like; “you prob’ly shouldn’t do any work for a few days momma…”. Yes tinygirl. Yes, you’re right, of course. Though the work still needs doing. The littles still need caring for, raising up… Yesterday I snuggled into our camper bed with a sleeping tiny, we rested hard and long, listening to the wind outside in the oaks. It was enough, just what was needed and nothing more.
It’s simple to make my heart smile. I’ve realized this so clearly over the weeks spent at home.
Let me drive away.
Let me walk aimlessly through nature for hours on end with the people I love (or even alone).
Stop by my front yard with your kids and their smiles and talk for twenty minutes from a relatively safe distance.
Let me do some small, kind thing for you.
A full day spent working hard in my garden…
My sweet husband came home one day after two friends had made short visits and he said that he could see it in my smile. He knew that I’d seen friends and was happier because of it. It was true that I couldn’t stop grinning.
Yesterday my littles and I drove away, took the advice of a good friend and made the trek to a new-to-us state park. We wandered for four hours and could’ve stayed much longer, but the teeny was spent and the oldest had blisters from a bad shoe choice. We loaded back up and took the long drive home. My joy felt bubbly and full in my soul.
What are the things that are bringing you happiness during this messed up time? Have you stopped for a minute to think about it? I know there are more, many more, small things that I find goodness in everyday, but these are the big things. The things that make an obvious difference in my behavior.
I write them here as a simple reminder that there is still goodness and happiness and joy. And so I remember that I have the power to make these things happen. Joyfulness is not dependent on some outside force, I can actively seek out the joy that I am looking for.
…as I sat with this knowledge I ached for the collective child who will never know the beauty of the earth for themselves, but more for the child who will never even have words for what she sees…
They are removing words like “wren”, “acorn”, “bramble” in favor of more modern words. I question you now; does my child need to know “encryption”, “keystroke”, “megapixel”? Does yours? At what age should the viewing of Windows (or Mac) be considered as above what is outside of actual windows? The loss of this natural knowledge will hurt our children, will damage our own fragile connection to our place in the world, will continue to disconnect us all from the soul of the earth, from a higher power, from our very selves. By taking these words from children, and more so by taking away the moments and places these words depict, we are robbing them of deeply expressive experiences. We are taking the voice from a piece of ourselves.
“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – fading away like water on stone. …” -Robert Macfarlane in The Lost Words
If anyone is interested in words, nature, the connection that comes from the soles of your feet in the muddy earth in late spring…there is a book for you. I will get no kickback for posting this, there is no affiliate link notice needed here. If we are friends in real life you know that beauty sets my soul afire. Beauty, as in; the barest reality of nature. Not only that. Also the clear descriptiveness of the written word. I’m a little jumbled here…let’s see if I can find my way.
I heard recently, that a prominent publisher was, and has been for some time, softly swapping words out of their children’s dictionaries. Taking words from the natural world and replacing them with words from the world of technology. I could feel the weight of this in my soul and as I sat with this knowledge I ached for the collective child who will never know the beauty of the earth for themselves, but more for the child who will never even have words for what she sees in dusty books, on travel blogs, in the paintings of the someday long forgotten artists. Taking these words from the children is doing them a disservice.
Is it so terrible that our young children can distinguish between grackle and raven and crow? Does this somehow stall their knowledge of technology? Does first leading children into meadows and marshes ruin them from one day becoming scientists or sociologists? Can we, for a few short years, a decade perhaps, keep our children primitive? Could we let them outdoors, lost in mucky streams, drenched in sunshine and rain, lost to technology and the modern world?
The book, you ask, oh yes. The book that set this post to scribbling. It is no small thing for a book to cause me to get lost in it’s world. Typically it takes a fantastical work of fiction for me to lose myself in it’s pages. The images and the prose in this book had me lost to this modern age as I turned its pages. In fact they drove me outdoors, seeking a silence that is found in only in oak forests, listening for the rush of icy water over stones, and the tromp of my boots through deep, slushy snow. Isn’t this what books should do? Inspire us to experience for ourselves that which only the world around us can provide? Sure, there may not be actual faeries in our fields (I do believe in faeries, I do believe in faeries…), but what is so wrong with wandering slowly along the back fence watching for mushroom rings at the edge of the forest just in case? When did it become so unfavorable for our children and ourselves to be lost to our imaginations?
Einstein is credited with saying, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
And while we can’t know for certain that Einstein actually said this, it does not make the words any less true. The descriptiveness, the nature, the imagination and creativity in fairy tales should inspire us all. Not just cause us to be more intelligent by increasing our imagination, but cause us to notice more. As we are more aware we will need words for the things we are seeing. Where will those words come from, if we take them away from our children? First by taking the physical experiences and then, by removing those words from the books they would seek out to put a voice to some feeling or expression they would like to share?
There is a link in the back of this book to John Muir’s website (pretty sure y’all know he is my nature inspiration); johnmuirtrust.org, I was lost in this site for quite some time, look for more on what I found soon-ish. I’ll have to drag myself out of bed earlier as I am not giving up any more minutes outdoors in this early Minnesota Spring to sit at my screen. I recommend checking out the site of course, but more? I recommend going outside, as I’m sure Mr. Muir would himself advise. Follow the nearest path, dirt is truly best, to where it leads. Sit awhile. Listen. Maybe you were deprived of this in your own childhood. If you don’t have words for what you hear and see, search them out. They are back there, deep in your subconscious I believe, though you may need an older copy of Merriam Webster to find them.
After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season.
Okay, okay, okay…I know what you’re all going to say about this post before I even write it. I know it hasn’t been “that” cold this season and I know that I have been here hating the misery of winter for eternity so my sudden decision to mostly embrace the misery seems almost comical. Please, let me type it all out though. February can be relentlessly long and bitterly cold, I need to have proof that I can make it. Here it is; my winter joy (thanks for that one Brooke) in 2020.
This week I initiated an outdoor activity with my children three times.
Please, do you know how amazing that is for me? First let’s remember that it is January and while the highs had been in the 20’s, I am a firm 30 degree “low” kind of girl. We have a foot or more of snow on the ground too, which is lovely to look at, but toes freeze even in boots when you’re standing around in it. One day we went out it was only 18 degrees…eighteen…who even am I?
A couple of times this winter I have asked a friend if her kids wanted to come skate at the rink near our house before open gym. The days have been mild if grey, and I was pretty confident that I’d be able to deal with the cold for the good of the children, and I did. It was only an hour and it was actually fun. Then another friend invited us to skate, we stayed out longer and I may have later whispered to my husband how much I enjoyed skating.
Cut to this week.
This past week was a hard one for me. My babygirl turns twelve in four days and that feels bigger than I am ready for. She gets to go on a great trip, one that I am firmly not ready for her to go on, which takes her away at a time of year when I need sameness. It’s been dark, cloud-covered, frigid. The littles have been bickering endlessly. The teensy has been trying to sleep better, but it’s up and down. My seasonal dip toward depression has been nearing it’s low point…plus we are closing in on a mental season that is hard for me. Six weeks from now marks a tragic anniversary that brings an almost physical weight to my body. This next month will be marked in a countdown of memory.
As you read that I want you to feel it, like really, really. This past Wednesday I was done. I had gone to my room, shut the door and lay down to cry. The endless fighting, the back talk, the rudeness in my house was too much on top of the mental load I carry around this time of year. I couldn’t do it and I knew it. I knew that I could not stay in this house with my people and make it to the end of another winter. I was angry with myself for choosing to stay here when I could have made the choice to go somewhere, anywhere, else.
And then I did it.
I wiped my eyes, mostly. I went back out to my children, told them that there were things that needed doing whether we wanted to do them or not. Then I told them to put their snow pants on. I took them to the sledding hill in town. It was the middle of the day and we had the hill to ourselves. It was gray and cold, but we slid down the hill fast and trudged back up together slowly for nearly two hours. I looked down at the teensy once and said; “who knew your momma left her smile out here in the snow?” and I almost cried again right there.
I came home that day and I knew. It all added up. There was joy out there on that hill in the snow. Joy in how we played together and laughed together. There was just as much fun in the snow as there had been hiking last Autumn. Just as many smiles as swimming in the lake last Summer. Just as much squealing as splashing in Spring rain at the end of the driveway….we were having fun. In winter. I posted to my Facebook about how odd it was, if you follow along over there you’ll know how little I post and you’ll recognize some of these photos, but I needed to get it out of my head quickly and down on paper that I really, really, had fun!
We skated again with friends on Thursday and on Friday we went back to the hill with more friends. In just three days I spent close to six hours outside. That may be more time than I have spent outdoors voluntarily in January ever. And I loved it…weird.
There was no big change. No sudden realization. It seemed like an acceptance more than anything else. This is where I choose to live. These are the people I choose to do life with every day. This (being stuck inside or feeling forced to go outside) is no way to live. It is simple survival and I do not want to model survival for my children, I want to show them how to thrive. More than that though, I actually want to thrive, not just for them, but because this is my only life, my only chance.
So I went outside.
Yes, in January and yes in the snow and yes at 18 degrees. And despite literal years of protestations; I didn’t die. I had actual fun. At the end of each of these three days I felt like the girl that I am in Summer when we are snuggled into our camper bed after a full day on a state park trail. I felt infused with joy. The fresh, cold air had filled each particle of my being. There is a great deal of grace here. Do you know? After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season. This is quite unexpected.
I know this is only a small window into my days and a minute peek into my vast wintertime experience. I know that next week there are highs forecast in the teens and my own preteen will be far away and I may feel that tug toward darkness and sadness. The desire to hide under blankets may overwhelm me once more. That’s why I had to write this down, I need to be able to see that I felt good with afternoons spent outside. Not just a little better. I didn’t just make it through the day without yelling. I wasn’t only able to survive because I got some fresh air. I was able to thrive, to lighten, to breathe…
That seems a smidge dramatic.
As a sort of closing to this ramble I am placing a challenge here. Not for you, though you could choose it for yourself as well, but a challenge for me. To continue out in all weather, regardless of it’s perceived goodness. I may be cold. I may get wet. I may not love every minute of it, but I can see now how I need it. Like really, really. Just as much as I need my toes in the dirt and the sun on my back I need the icy air in my lungs. I am not merely a child of sunshine, but of outside, I can see how being indoors wrecks me. I will give in to this knowledge and not remain stuck in the lie that inside is safe and warm and somehow better. I will force myself and my people out the door into the wider world because I am better when I am out here. There is no longer any doubt.
If you need a push to get out, may this be a gentle encouragement to you. I have honestly hated winter since childhood, if I can go out and find some sense of self, some bit of internal sunshine, then I know it can come to any of us. The winter is long dear friends, maybe we needn’t be sucked into misery for it’s duration…maybe.
Say that I am doing well. Filling the Summer to the brim with what I love.
There are thoughts I don’t speak, feelings I don’t share, my life is a gift and a blessing and I know it.
And I dig another row of sod out of the backyard. Move plants. Smile at new growth. Listen to the wind in the trees and the cars in the road.
And wonder if it is enough. Always wonder.
Why there have been so many “no’s”. What God is holding behind His back for me. What better is to come. Is this goodness that I need…more than the goodness that I want?
And I dig another row in the earth. Scatter plants to friends and neighbors alike. Cut the grass, drown the sound of the world with the music in my head. Watch the dog rest in the freshly turned soil. This life is a gift…
Yet…I frown at the work I create for myself. Busy my hands with growing, lifting, supporting. Both children and perennials. The occasional smile as something tender blossoms under my care.
How am I? I sit with this question and dirt under my nails. Really, really good. This is true, but in choosing to stay the ache has not disappeared. The desire to run still so strong somedays that the tears blur the words I try to scratch out.
Today is one of those days.
As the press of Autunn weighs heavy on my calendar and in my heart.
There is still time I tell myself.
Time to wander in the woods. Time to get lost in the fields. Time to disappear into the surf…someday.
There is time.
Today is for digging. Perhaps tomorrow there will be something different. Either way this day, this life, this moment is a gift and I know it.
How long does it take to grow a garden? Can you rush it along and hurry it to it’s final, beautiful stages? Can you drop store bought plants into the ground, mulch heavily, water and then sit back and relax away the rest of the season? Is it possible to work diligently for one solid season and enjoy for the rest of your days? This is not just about the garden dear ones.
I can assure you it takes a very, long time.
This is our seventh Summer living in the midst of my garden. Each year, except this one (so far), I have carved away more and more sod to lay garden beds. Lilies, Iris, Lilac, Hosta, Coneflower, Borage, so many more now spill out everywhere. Happily thriving in the rich, heavily composted soil. My sweet husband once replied to my request to extend a bed with something like; “Well, it’s less to mow.”.
Y’all know how hard the winter is on me here. The garden itself and the work done in it is what saves me from deepest depression. Oh sure, there are myriad other contributing factors, but really, the garden keeps my soul above water. I can see it now, this year as I have faced walking away from it. I can see that I did not just grow a garden, I have grown a place for my soul to sit with God and find rest amidst all of the work it has required of me.
I have grown the garden for the riot of color, for the produce, the herbs, the smells, the feel of the dirt under my nails and on my knees…but there is so much more. When you pour yourself into something, like a garden in Minnesota, you get to miss it and think of it and dream of it for several months of the year. It is something to be desired, longed for, ached over even. It is not just a space to sit and sip rum ( I wrote about this once) or a pretty place to rest; though it is that as well. For me at least, though I know not for all of you, a garden is a place to straighten out my thoughts when they are more scattered than daisy seeds on the wind. A space to pray the darkest, scariest, most fear-filled prayers while surrounded by light.
As I mentioned, this is my seventh season in this garden, and this year for sure it is a little out of hand. We were enjoying ourselves at the beach for the month of June and so the garden at home was allowed to run wild. I have been gifted truckloads of mulch twice and that kept the weeds down to a minimum, but the flowers (and the wild-flowers, aka weeds that I allow to grow in my space) took the month to explode and grow and soak up all that my absence allowed. In the old testament it is required to let the fields rest in the seventh year, I wonder if the Jewish people were still able to collect some sort of harvest from those resting fields? Did the fields still provide something of value to those people as my garden has provided for me even as I have given it (part of) the season off?
I wonder about this as I wander among the raspberry brambles collecting as many berries as I ever have in the well-cultivated years. I don’t know how this matters to you, but it matters to me. I can’t help but assume that whatever seeds fell to the ground in those ancient fields would have grown up in the season of rest, even without tending. Sure, there would have been weeds and wildflowers too, but…
Provision is a word that I can not help but associate with my Creator as well as with the garden He allows to grow up around me. He provides all things in their season. He allows all things at their most perfect time. He gives good, good gifts. I see this clearly not only because I grow a garden, but I see it amongst the flowers and herbs more than most other places. This Summer as I look around our yard, trying to decide what to do next (both in the immediate and life-altering sense) I have found my rest, I can see the provision ever-more obviously. This is not what I expected to find here.
This morning I definitely planned to write about the garden, to reveal to you in some small way that it takes a lot of time, effort, and passion to grow. I wanted to examine a bit how the garden has shaped me as I have worked to shape it. Somehow I have lost that track. Now as I sit, I can only see how the Lord has provided so many, many times for me. There has never been a moment that I have strayed from His care even when I ran hard and fast away from His will for me. I’m not really sure I can finish this post well.
I have been sitting with a decision this past week. Well, really we’ve been working on this for the better part of a year now, for me though a lot of it became real in the past couple of weeks. I wasn’t really going to tell you how I have realized that I could not ask all of my people to do something “just for me”, even though they were willing. I wasn’t going to write out how selfish that made me feel or how I knew at once the words were spoken that we could not follow through with our plans at this time in our lives. I was not intending to let you know that we changed our plans and were moving hard and fast toward a different end, yet here I sit typing it all out.
And now that plan is changed as well.
The garden is where it began and this garden is where I will stay. I didn’t come here this morning to tell you that we were not going to move away, but I suppose maybe I did. I wasn’t completely sold on the plan to stay here in this house, in this neighborhood, in this garden. Typing this out though has made me realize more than I would be willing to tell you. I now realize that knowing your family is willing to move across the country for you, in planning to do just that, and then choosing together to stay. That is not the abandoning of a dream, but the realization that you are truly loved, there can be no fear there.
The garden. Provision. Goodness. Peace.
Someday I will go friends, though it seems that day is far off. I’m a little sorry for dragging you along on this emotional journey, but not too much so. Over the year of planning to leave and the last couple of days and weeks in deciding how and where to stay, I have seen how loved I am. How connected to community we are. How leaving this village would not benefit any of the people I love enough to do it. I had felt that there was too much concession on my part, but that’s just not true. I am not giving up a dream, merely postponing it. And I completely trust that wanting this one thing and receiving another will work together for our good. I have no fear and no regret, only peace…though it did take some time in the garden to get there.