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Skating to the Edge of the Night
April 8, 2018Posted by on
As uncle Bob led us across the snow-covered pasture, I looked up and saw Venus shining brightly just above the lavender and pink-streaked horizon. I took a deep breath, and as the cold night air surged into my lungs, I felt a sense of adventure. Down the hillside we slid to the edge of the pond. My brother Matt and my four cousins and I began strapping on our ice-skates as Bob began to gather a kindling for a fire. The full moon was rising behind the pines across the pond from us.
Soon I was gliding along in circles, as the moonlight glistened on the smooth black ice below me. Meanwhile, flames from the fire danced in the darkness. I skated in and out of light beams and silhouettes. I felt the winter air against my face. I was in a new world of luminescence, mysterious shadows, crystalline air, and primeval flames. I felt a visceral, organic connection between myself and the natural world. Strangely, as stark and raw and cold as it was, I felt a sense of security and well-being. I felt at home. I was existing inside a feeling of total freedom, which kept expanding and expanding.
Stopping to rest, we gathered around the fire. While we’d been skating, uncle Bob had wrapped potatoes in tin foil, punctured them with holes, and placed them in the hot embers. Now we carefully unwrapped the steaming potatoes, cut them in half and slathered them with butter. I got big morsel onto my fork, cooled it down enough, and put it into my mouth. The mélange of steaming potato, charcoal, melted butter and bits of dirt was transcendental. I felt as if I had never really tasted a potato before – so pure, so distinct, so rich was the experience. Meanwhile, I looked out across the moon-lit ice pond. I felt happy – alive.
To experience life directly, head on, without any buffer, is what skating on the ice pond provided for me. The feeling of gliding freely in the winter night, beneath the light of the moon, lives deep inside of me. I can still taste that fire-roasted potato from uncle Bob as if it is right in front of me. There is a beauty to the rawness of life experienced in the wilderness, and that beauty can stay with us forever. These experiences were common in my youth. Now it seems such experiences must be sought out with intention, especially amidst our world so influenced by technology, and where most of live removed from natural world.
In the modern world, with our dominating interest in machines and technology, we have harnessed the forces of nature and made them work for us. But it can be easy to forgot that we are not the source of those natural forces, the source of that power. The source of nature’s power and beauty is what sages from time immemorial have contemplated. It prompted ancient priests and priestesses to describe Earth as a goddess – as our Mother. It inspired poets like John Keats to say, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” It’s what drove Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh to tirelessly fill their canvasses with the ever-changing mystical light of southern France.
The idea of allowing our children to experience the natural world sounds simple enough, but it carries with it a deeper significance. Nature is a reflection of our own spark, our spiritual essence. The natural world is like a mirror of all of the beauty that lies within us. And as such, the more we can bring our children into contact with nature, the more our children can experience a reflection of their own inner selves. Nature is a refuge where all of us find ourselves again. Its puts us all back in touch with the greater cosmic harmony in which we all participate.
Maria Montessori felt that the experience of awe and wonder is the primary goal of education – and by extension of childhood. And the natural world is where awe and wonder live. When our children look at a flower, hear a bird sing, touch a turtle’s shell, see a snake slither or spot a butterfly, these experiences become touchstones of their spirit. When our children roll in the grass, jump in the creek, play in the mud, skip stones at the lake, catch a fire fly or poke the embers of the campfire, they are embracing first-hand the essence of life. Those experiences fill them with a joy we hear in their exuberant squeals of laughter and we see reflected in the light of their eyes.
So as life seems to speed up, slow it back down. For a day, live organically not virtually. Become fascinated again by the little miracles of nature – whether it’s in the woods or on a farm, on the mountain or in the river, at the lake or at the sea, on the ski slope or on the ice pond. Be intentional about finding experiences of the natural world with your children. Grow a garden. Go for a hike. Or get on the bike. Pick some apples. Make a plan. Put it on the calendar. If you live in the city, get creative. Visit the arboretum. Find the local community garden. Go to the natural science museum. Nature is closer than you think. Be like the bees and seek out the flowers. For like the bees we are pollinating the next generation, so they too will seek the nectar of life. In so doing, our children’s lives – and ours – will be enriched.
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.“ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Activity: Go on a mini vision quest.
Take your child to a creek. Walk to a place along the creek where you cannot see the road or hear the cars – away from the trail and other people. Tell your child that you just want to sit quietly for ten minutes along the water without talking; that you just want to watch the water flow, hear the creek ripple over the rocks and the birds sing above, feel the sun and the breeze on your face, rest on the rocks or moss beneath you.
If you want, you can share the idea that native people would do this kind of thing to get in touch with the earth, to feel reconnected to nature and to even hear the messages from the animals and the plants – messages even from the water and the stones.
After the ten minutes is up, take a deep breath and stretch. Ask your child how they liked the experience? What did they hear or see? Was there something special that drew their attention? Like the native people, did they receive any messages while sitting by the creek? Was there an animal or plant or insect that spoke to them?
As a follow up, you can have notebooks or drawing pads with you – and spend some extra time either writing / sketching what’s in front of your or describing the experience you just had. This has the added advantage of creating a permanent memento of the experience.
The activity suggested above is for one parent and one child. Of course, you can do with more members of the family, but try it first with just two of you. Be sure you won’t get interrupted by the ring of your phone – or distracted by checking your messages. Try to be fully present.
If you like this experience together, why not make it a tradition? You can go to a different part of the creek each time – or go to a different nature place altogether. You can also expand the amount of time you sit in silence. These mini vision quests can become an important bonding opportunity – just you with your child and the natural setting you choose.
Uncle Bob was a shaman of sorts when it came to building fires, cooking potatoes in the embers, pointing out planets in the night sky, finding the best fishing holes, showing us hidden raspberry patches, spying the hawk on the branch of the oak tree, finding an owl feather on the trail, or telling tales of olden times. I will always be grateful to him for spending time with us during those formative years of childhood and putting us into such direct contact with the elements of life. Those experiences formed who I am and instilled in me a deep love for the natural world and an appreciation for the small things in life.