Monday, May 27, 2013

Wordless in May

Mid-May, life strums, filling up on light and lives of others. A child does not need to live on a farm to see what all the fuss is about.

The animals watch us, as we used to watch them. 
You've known this since you were a child, but you've chosen to forget.

Allow yourself one early morning watching life without your preconceptions--observe a bird or a squirrel for a few hours. If that's too taxing, follow a beetle as it wanders around a patch of earth or a caterpillar munching on a leaf. A few minutes will not do.

You need not look far, but you need to look if you want to see.
You've also known this since you were a child, but you've been encouraged to forget.

If you'd rather be cerebral about all this, think about your connection to the earth. Think of your drive to the grocery store, the huge trucks docked in the back, just hidden enough to ignore, back to warehouses, back to airports back to the hands of a man picking and picking and picking.

You can then have a moment, feel bad for the poor picker or feel great about the efficiency of the system, but neither moment lasts, because both are myths--stories whose truth depends on words and what we choose to believe.

Last spring I saw a red-tailed hawk struggling to fly with a writhing baby squirrel in its talons. The baby's desperate mother chased the hawk as far as she could. I watched, wordless. (And still I said "desperate,"  our myths mold our views.)

We need language to share our observations, of course, but words mostly get in the way if you want to see something new in the familiar. For most of us, the familiar offers shelter and food, safe ideas, but at the cost of compliance with a worldview that leaves a few of us unsettled.

We have stories that help us sustain our belief in the unsustainable, and drugs for when the narrative fails. We slide from valor to Valium.

The world is bigger than our stories.

I teach science, or what the state says is science, but we're losing our way. That hydrogen bonds hold strands of DNA together may be true, but the model is a human conceit, a myth.

Laguna Design/Science Photo Library, via Nature

It is a very good myth, an essential one in biology, but when we strive to "teach" children about hydrogen bonds before we teach them that our living requires the death of others, well, they quickly figure out that if they mumble a few words about the catechism of hydrogen bonds, they can get back to their glass screens.

It's easy to condemn children hiding in their virtual worlds inside tiny boxes, but we have been living in a  virtual world for generations in this part of the world. Until we offer them something better, until we expect something more from them than obedience to an unkind culture, we will fail to teach them science.

Science starts where our words end.
Get them outside.

The stories of many cultures includes the voices of animals, of plants, of the stars and the seas.


John Spencer said...

Children are drawn toward the off-screen world, but I think it requires some guidelines at a young age. People chastise us for limiting screen time when they were really little. Now, they have permission to use devices and they use them on occasion. But they're draw to the trees and the playground and the dirt.

It wasn't until I had kids that I realized how much life existed in my backyard. Micah recently pointed to a few blades of grass and said, "There are too many bugs to count."

I don't have a problem with being cerebral in observation. I don't mind counting the bugs or asking why they move in a certain pattern or why they show up only during part of the year.

My mind can never be as still as yours. But I can sit and watch and observe and delight in the process.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I think having several concussions in my past helps. It's not so much as stillness as wordlessness, if that makes sense.

Barbara said...

Get them outside...Amen
I saved an earthworm yesterday from suicide on the asphalt driveway. I can't say though that it was entirely altruistic...since his work in my lawn is appreciated. I watched for a longer bit than "necessary" as he found his way back down between the blades to the good earth. I wonder what my neighbors were thinking as I stood looking at a spot on the grass in the middle of a hot day. Yep, mindless. I have no concussions to blame it on though. ;)

doyle said...

Dear Barbara,

With any luck, we'll all be outside on Saturday!

Earthworms fascinate me, too--just a matter of paying attention. )