"It is this timeless sense of a joy which is almost fear that many people -or so it has often appeared to me- find they cannot feel, even when alone in a wood or by a stream. Perhaps they are still thinking too much of their own affairs. Or they may be trying too hard- having decided that they want to discover some particular thing which a book has told them is rare. They may have made or been given a list of things to look out for, and they hope to be able to tick them all off, if they can. This is the wrong approach -or so I believe. Nature is not a competition. It doesn't really matter, when you go out, if you don't identify anything. What matters is the feeling heart, and the only point of identifying things is to help you (if it does) to derive more joy and pleasure from them."
So begins the introduction to Richard Adams' Nature Through the Seasons, a wonderful thrift store find this weekend. Of course, as a Christian, I would go farther and say that the joy and pleasure we derive from nature is something that glorifies God as the Creator of all. But what a lovely book this is!
Richard Adams is well known for his novel Watership Down. I had never heard of Nature Through the Seasons before, which is a collaboration between himself, scientist Max Hooper, and illustrator David A. Goddard. Adams provides the conversational nature appreciation. Hooper goes more in depth into the scientific questions that could rise from your observations in each season, though he is also very easy to read. Goddard provides quite a few full-page spreads very similar to the cover on the book (above). More fascinating to me, though, were the detailed drawings that showed similarities and differences between species, and the life cycles of different organisms. My favourite so far is "The Life of the Honeybee." (p. 48-49) This is a British book, but so far I have not found the plants and animals foreign to me. If we don't have the same species here in Canada, we seem to have similar ones.
Flipping through this book, I am reminded of why nature study is important to me as a mother and home educator. My goal is to gently guide my boys into this kind of appreciation for God's Creation. I myself grew up with the freedom to explore in nature, and I feel that it was one of the best aspects of my childhood. My boys are still young, but they are already learning to be quiet so they can listen to the birds, to observe details carefully, to identify our home species by name. This is not done in any forced or unnatural way, but simply as we go about our daily lives. To be sure, we do have to be somewhat intentional about it...I need to make sure that we, or at least they, go outside every day. I have to be ready to identify things, or at least to look them up. (SA is very keen on knowing what things are called.) I need to be ready to gently stimulate their observation of details in the moment. I believe the right moment is important. Chirping at them constantly about details when they are simply enjoying a walk would be counterproductive. But when they come running to me with a broken robin's egg shell that they found, that's a good moment to ask lots of questions. (Such as, "What is that smell?")
I think I will probably use this book as part of our nature study when the children are a little older (maybe aged 10-12?). I can see myself taking it in my backpack on a nature walk, and after we've observed and chronicled, reading an appropriate portion. Not only will this add to our enjoyment of an already enjoyable pursuit, but it will serve as an excellent example of good nature writing and art. I highly recommend this book!