Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the mind made attentive



"Martin Martin, the traveller and writer who in the 1690s set sail to explore the Scottish coastline, knew that one does not need to displace oneself vastly in space in order to find difference. 'It is a piece of weakness and folly merely to value things because of their distance from the place where we are born,' he wrote in 1697, 'thus men have travelled far enough in the search of foreign plants and animals, and yet continue strangers to those produced in their own natural climate.'
So did Roger Deakin: 'Why would anyone want to go to live abroad when they can live in several countries at once just by being in England?' he wondered in his journal. Likewise, Henry David Thoreau: 'An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours' walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey.'"

~ Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot


spring growth colors from our cedar tree on a rainy day


I always thought something was disturbing when some disinterested party rained on another person's excitement over a nature-spotting of any kind. And even more so if the disinterested person was a professing Christian who would sing Isaac Watt's hymn, I Sing The Mighty Power of God, or Maltbie Babcock's This Is My Father's World on a Sunday and be apathetic by Monday.

But then I read Anthony Esolen's words a couple of years ago.

We might think an ordinary flower is just that; but to the mind made attentive to the works of nature, the most ordinary things are steeped in their own peculiar ways of being, and are mysterious.

Two paragraphs later he lampoons commonly held views on nature.

One way to neutralize this fascination with the natural world is to cordon it off in parks and zoos, and then to act as if only the parks and zoos were worth seeing. Persuade a child that a giraffe he sees once every couple of years is really impressive, but the wren on the fence post is only a drab little bird--though he warbles out a love song in the morning, cocking his stubby tail, and is in general one of the bravest and most cheerful of birds. Persuade the child that the Grand Canyon is worth seeing, or Yellowstone National Park, or Mount Rushmore, or the breakers of the ocean on the Florida coast. But ignore the variations of hill and valley, river and pond, bare rock and rich bottom soil, in your own neighborhood. Children should be encouraged to think they have "done" rivers or bird sanctuaries, or botanical gardens, in the way that weary tourists are proud to have done Belgium. (I could go on and on quoting his words. Read them for yourselves in his book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.)

Now I understand that it is an undernourished soul, a dead imagination that has no time or concern for what is noticed by others around them. It is the 'cool aloofness' begun as early as elementary school, but certainly well in place by middle school that slams the door on a fascination with the already known, the already named, the already seen. And yes, I am generalizing.

I could go out everyday and stare at the river flowing outside our home and never grow tired of it.
I would post a photo everyday, but if you can't see it in person, the photos would probably seem alike by day four no matter which angle I tried to capture. But we all have something in our neighborhood that deserves our time and attention to study it, to know it, to enjoy it in various weathers and seasons.

three geese disturbed by my early morning visit to their river.

11 comments:

  1. Wonderful quotes from Esolen. I've never heard of that book, but I'll be looking it up after that!

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    1. I hope you like it as much as I do. Esolen is a solid writer who does not hide behind vagueness.

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    2. 10 Things is a great book!

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  2. I realized I was an "undernourished" soul and am trying to reawaken the wonder in myself and my kids. This is an excellent reminder to celebrate the everyday. At our new house we have lots of squirrels to watch and they make me smile every time.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this, Pilgrim. I like to watch squirrels too, even if they are a nusance sometimes. :)

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  3. Yes! As you've seen, I have a persistent love affair with dried corn stalks and windy streams. It never gets old.

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    1. Jo, you have a seeing eye for all sorts of beauty. I learn from you. xoxo

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  4. I love the Esolen quote so, so much. His words are new to my mind, but ancient and familiar to my soul. Thank you for sharing.
    xx,
    Molly

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    1. Molly, your posts inspire closer and careful looks at the world around us. Thank you for coming here and commenting. It's great to have community.

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  5. I'm hoping to start a study of Wisdom Literature and began the commentary this morning. In the introduction, it talks about how we've worked so hard to control our world and environment and have all these devices that separate us from natural events (i.e. a clock radio vs. the sun to awaken) that we cannot understand the Wisdom Literature; our sense of wonder at God's world and its nature is deadened and so we struggle with those parts of the Bible. It is an intriguing argument and I think relates to the locality and variety withing your regular sphere that you are talking about here. Thanks for linking in!

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  6. Anonymous8:01 PM

    I am so thankful to have read Esolens book .. and thank you for sharing it with all of us!
    love lia

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I enjoy reading your comments and try to reply as much as I can. Thanks for reading here.