Learning from the Locals

Today, Saturday, I spent four inspirational hours participating in a guided hike in our area. The hike was arranged by a lady who writes a column about nature in our local newspaper (that's how I found out about the hike). And it was co-led by an author who published a book about the lime kilns in our area (which we saw on the hike) and our new local head of conservation, who served as our plant expert.  The setting was idyllic amidst towering redwoods, an ambling stream and the songs of the winter wren (one of which perched for a rare picture, which my camera didn't seem to save!).  But the environment came alive through the enthusiastic knowledge of our guides ably passed to us in stories and the gentle planting of living ideas.  

I chose to spend my Saturday afternoon this way, despite a list of other items on my weekend to-do list, for two reasons.  First, because I have realized that I am prone to learning from books and being content to engage in solitary activities.  So I am making an effort to learn from persons in groups as well.  Second, because I have taken to heart Charlotte Mason's admonition that we must know our local area in all its richness, including the names of the flora and fauna.  Although this idea struck me and took root when I first read it several years ago, I have had difficulty pursuing the names from books alone.  So when I learned about this free hike, I made a commitment to participate.

As I hiked, the fact that I wanted to pass on the information and ideas to my students (my sons) made me especially attentive to every detail.  I listened, asked questions, took pictures and recorded notes.  I became an historian, botanist and biologist-in-training for the day.  And I loved it!  I even brought along my watercolors with which I painted some forget-me-nots while we paused for lunch.

As I shared my experience with my family at dinner this evening, I was struck by how recent the knowledge I had gained became the source of inspiration for others.  But this is not a new experience for me, especially since starting to educate my sons.  I learn.  I teach.  I grow.  I inspire.  And when I don't learn and I don't grow...well, I hinder my children.  It takes extra effort to put myself in the way of living ideas and real persons, but the reward and the privilege is a deeper sense of connection and meaning within the bounds in which God has established for me.  I encourage you to learn from your fellow locals!

I would also like to offer a few practical pointers:

* Evernote (www.evernote.com) is a wonderful (free) way to record notes, snapshots and audio while out in the field.  

* I have found that my local nurseries are excellent sources of information in the local flora and fauna.  For example, my sons and I found a plant this past year that we could not identify.  We took it to the nursery.  We were taken to the back office and invited to sit down while they scoured old botany books ("the older the better").

* Make a point to paint at least one thing that you see on any nature walk, even when not with your students.  This helps to hone your habit of attention, increase your love of nature (which will be caught by your students), and requires you to pause long enough to soak in the surroundings.

* Find books written by local authors on plants in your area.  And keep searching till you find a good one!  I have searched for three years but found out about one today that I had never seen and is, according to others on the hike, the definitive guide for our area!

* Watch your local newspaper for local outings for walks, birding, painting, etc.

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