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A Natural Sense of Wonder

A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    A Natural Sense of Wonder
    Book Description:

    The technology boom of recent years has given kids numerous reasons to stay inside and play, while parents' increasing safety concerns make it tempting to keep children close to home. But what is being lost as fewer kids spend their free time outdoors? Deprived of meaningful contact with nature, children often fail to develop a significant relationship with the natural world, much less a sense of reverence and respect for the world outside their doors. A Natural Sense of Wonder is one father's attempt to seek alternatives to the "flickering waves of TV and the electrifying boing of video games" and get kids outside and into nature. In the spirit of Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder, Rick Van Noy journeys out of his suburban home with his children and describes the pleasures of walking in a creek, digging for salamanders, and learning to appreciate vultures. Through these and other "walks to school," the Van Noys discover what lives nearby, what nature has to teach, and why this matters. From the backyard to the hiking trail, in a tide pool and a tree house, in the wild and in town, these narrative essays explore the terrain of childhood threatened by the lure of computers and television, by fear and the loss of play habitat, showing how kids thrive in their special places. In chronicling one parent's determination (and at times frustration) to get his kids outside, A Natural Sense of Wonder suggests ways kids both young and old can experience the wonder found only in the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3860-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. prologue
    (pp. ix-xvii)

    I RAN AWAY WHEN I WAS TEN. Things were fine at home, fantastic really. I had all that an American boy could want, but that day I must have grown weary with the clutter of toys and wondered where I would go if I ever did need to clear out. I hopped on the sparkly banana seat of my green Schwinn and pedaled down River Drive to where Grant Street crossed the Delaware and Raritan Canal and our little town met the highway. There was only one problem: I wasn’t allowed to cross this two-lane road. Where the street intersected...

  4. walking to school
    (pp. 1-8)

    KIDS WAKE TO THEIR OWN ENERGY. They shift from restful sleep to screaming run in seconds flat. No caffeine required. If we were surviving off the land in some faraway jungle, they might as well shout, “I am food!” As their parent, I rise too and make sure the coast is clear, and that they have nourishment to start the day.

    Most mornings we walk to school, an activity that seems to take into account their natural tendency to play and explore. “Some unwonted, taught pride,” writes Annie Dillard, “diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the...

  5. the places i’ve lived, and the ones i live for
    (pp. 9-16)

    BEFORE I ACCEPTED A JOB teaching English in southwestern Virginia in 1998, we lived in a “carriage house,” caretakers of a family estate in the outermost suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. We resided in the village of Gates Mills, an official bird sanctuary, on a plain above the ravines that feed the Chagrin River. Across the street was the 389-acre Squire Vallevue Farm, a green leafy outpost nestled between the gridded streets of the suburbs and the windy trails of the metroparks, the “emerald necklace” of Cleveland. We lived there three years. At present we are sojourners in another place.


  6. beautiful scavengers
    (pp. 17-26)

    THE VULTURES HAVE COME BACK. They swirl and mix above me as I ride my bike home on Sundell Drive, though not much sun reaches this shady street and there are no farmers in this dell. Only vultures. And deer. And skunks and raccoons and other animals unwelcome in town.

    I declare their return when I enter the house at about four o’clock. This is the hour of lead, to use Emily Dickinson’s phrase, that lazy hour after school when the kids could be outside playing, exploring, but they are watching Arthur and snacking in front of the tube. It...

  7. scorched earth
    (pp. 27-35)

    “WE ARE LEAVING IN TWENTY MINUTES,” I announce, making clear our intentions to get out this winter Saturday on a hike. I must declare our time of departure early so as not to spring it on the children or surprise them, even though they know this moment is coming. Earlier in the morning I had asked if they wanted to go on a hike today, and the kids agreed but didn’t want to leave anytime soon. They first wanted to play and have the morning to themselves. I try to justify why leaving early is a good idea, but my...

  8. nordic fun
    (pp. 36-39)

    ALL WEEK IT HAD BEEN NEAR 60 DEGREES with rain, downright depressing weather for skiers. But the snow report at the Whitegrass Touring Center website is positive. “Still snow on the ground,” owner-optimist Chip Chase reports, “and more on the way.” We leave before dawn on Saturday morning but are dubious. It continues to rain as we head north and west, but when we cross one final, ropy pass, 3,500-foot Allegheny Mountain in West Virginia, rain changes to sleet.

    And when we pull into the parking lot at Whitegrass—a mecca for southern and mid-Atlantic cross-country skiers, telemarkers, and snowshoers...

  9. skating pond
    (pp. 40-43)

    THE ESSAY THAT WAS SUPPOSED to go here won’t. Since getting kids out during winter can be most difficult, I wanted to chronicle our attempts to find a skating pond. We were going to find the right one, learn how to test the ice, and feel our way on skates. From the car, I had marked several nearby ponds to try when winter came, and I knew of a good, still spot on the Little River. We would bundle up in the late afternoon, build a small fire at pond’s edge, and bring a thermos of hot chocolate. But the...

  10. Weed eaters
    (pp. 44-54)

    I ATE MY LAWN THIS YEAR. I also ate its roots. Probably a little dirt too. It was the first of April but no foolin’. We added dandelion and Pennsylvania bittercress to the greens that over-wintered in our glass-covered cold frame and ate them with a side of boiled yucca root. My daughter asked for more. Neither kid said yuck. Not even once. It was the ultimate economy: what would be discarded was on our dinner plate.

    On one of the first warm days of spring, the grass finally green again, we dug out a row of yuccas to make...

  11. creek walking
    (pp. 55-61)

    WE CALL THEM STREAMS, rivulets, branches, and brooks. In spring they can be freshets. They are tributaries until you get to either end. This one is a run. Connelly’s Run. Named for surveyor Connelly who laid out the Wilderness Road in advance of Daniel Boone. But when you are talking about playing in a “small body of running water,” only creek will do. And when you hop across stones or hunt crayfish in a creek, you call that creek walking.

    After school one breezy spring day, I ask my seven-year-old son, Sam, what he wants to do. Fly a kite?...

  12. holy land
    (pp. 62-73)

    WHEN SAM WAS LEARNING TO WALK, we ventured out in expanding concentric circles. Eventually we journeyed beyond our backyard, across the gravel alley, through a hemlock break, and into our neighbor’s yard. It had something bright and colorful that our yard did not yet possess, a swing set. But next to the swing set was an even better find, a green plastic sandbox in the shape of a turtle. Sam squatted down to look inside, and I helped him remove the bricks holding the lid down. Water drained from algae-stained pools. The inside hadn’t seen daylight in a long time....

  13. bridge 33
    (pp. 74-80)

    IT HAS BEEN A GREAT SUMMER FOR FISHING. With a blood worm and a split shot, seven-year-old Sam showed up the guys and their surf rigs on the Virginia Beach pier and caught the largest flounder of the day, its sixteen inches only half an inch under the limit. And he beat all other fishermen one day at the lake in the Poconos, including his grandfather, by landing a sixteen-inch pickerel, the only non-panfish brought to shore. He also caught the largest bass his cousins had seen in the pond across the street from his uncle’s house in Syracuse. Though...

  14. field guides
    (pp. 81-91)

    THE GREEN, VINYL-COVERED North American Reptiles and Amphibians published by the Audubon Society was probably the first, followed closely by the yellow North American Butterflies. Both are thumb-worn, their color plates pulling away from the binding. We added them to those my wife and I already owned: the brown North American Trees and the Field Guide to the Birds of North America by the National Geographic Society. They put out a good My First Pocket Guide series, and we have some for mammals, reptiles, and fish. An older friend cleaning out her bookshelves gave us the Golden Guide to pond...

  15. swimming hole
    (pp. 92-103)

    I BEGAN THE SUMMER with two simple goals: grow a garden and find a place to swim, a place to cool down and clean up after hoeing and weeding, a watery area to call our own, a swimming hole. We live on the New River, one of the oldest rivers, flowing north out of the Carolina mountains and through Virginia on its way to the Ohio. The New is the cleanest mainstem river in Virginia by all accounts, but rarely will you see people swimming in it. They mostly paddle and fish, sometimes tube on this stretch, but few swimmers,...

  16. false cape
    (pp. 104-112)

    “TICKS AND BITING INSECTS are numerous, insect repellent and sunscreen are a must. Beware, too, of eastern cottonmouths, a poisonous snake also known as a water moccasin.” I had been warned by the website that camping was “not recommended for young children or inexperienced campers,” but we were experienced, and why should young children be deprived of one of the last undisturbed coastal environments on the East Coast? We had been to the beach, to the Jersey Shore and the Outer Banks, but I had hoped for a camping and coastal experience outside of an air-conditioned condo.

    False Cape State...

  17. tree house
    (pp. 113-121)

    MOST OF THE GROUNDS on our lot have been explored, corner to corner, compost pile to fire pit, front yard and back. Time to go up. We’re going vertical, building a tree house, a skyward play space, an aerial porch.

    Our project began with a trip to the library. We checked out Tree-houses: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb. The cover shows a well-lit, watertight log structure high in some maples. Inside, Peter Nelson describes constructing a circular building that surrounds a 150-foot fir in British Columbia, propped up on six-by-eight beams fitted into custom metal...

  18. seven days
    (pp. 122-127)

    WHAT DO YOU DO when your seven-year-old son tells you he wants to take a seven-day trip? I think he got the idea by reading about buckskin explorers such as Lewis and Clark, but he had it fixed in his mind that we would go, for seven days, me and him, outside. We would fish and hike and camp, like they did a long time ago.

    He told his friends and his teacher, and when it came time to draw a picture of what he would do that summer, he filled his with animals and wrote: “I am going on...

  19. tide pools
    (pp. 128-139)

    CONSIDER THE LIFE of an ordinary shell. It harbors and protects a soft body within. It may come in different shapes and sizes, cone or conch, scallop or clam. It may be discarded, washed up on shore, ground down into sand unless recycled, when a new life may move in, may itself move on like a hermit crab.

    Consider a car. It houses tender bodies that will cram the available space within, taking on the shape as their own. After long periods of time, it may also seem too small, other life forms taking over, becoming smelly, as when shells...

  20. dirt world
    (pp. 140-149)

    ONE EASY STEP toward getting kids out the door is to keep shoes close . My kids are old enough now to go out on their own, but if they can’t find their shoes, they might not go. In fact, if anything distracts them when we are making our way out, the moment may have passed. One solution here is to emphasize that they don’t need shoes. Though I’m a hopeless tenderfoot, I still love the feel of grass under my feet. But if it’s cold out, we’ve solved the problem of keeping shoes handy by building a shoe shelf...

  21. notes
    (pp. 151-162)
  22. acknowledgments
    (pp. 163-164)