Asking my students to write reflections about their connections with nature made me consider my own connections. A portion of the Literacy in Bloom course I am currently taking through West Chester University and Longwood Gardens has exposed me to the writing of Richard Louv who is a proponent of encouraging children to be outside, to play in nature.
When my students wrote about how their connections with nature have changed dramatically over recent years, even though they are only thirteen, I was really touched by their sincerity. So often, they believe that they do not have enough time for nature.
I thought of my own experiences as an adolescent and found that my relationship with nature as an adolescent was anchored in several truths:
a. grass meant athletics—dry, patched with clover, pocked with dandelion—the only time we came together was through baseball or football—which my mother had to pay for from the combined salaries of two jobs.
b. the air carried mostly disagreeable smells—my neighbor made homemade wine in his basement; the acerbic, pungent smell broke through the thin walls of our row home—on a twelve year-old nose that can be harsh—I remember the stale scents of pollution; the sour rot from sewers; and the chalky vinegary inhales of exhaust—I don’t recall flowers or dew.
c. we drove great distances to the beach--in stalled traffic, the excitement swirling all around the interior of a simple, economy car—we were so happy going to the beach together in that car in that traffic—I remember anticipating the smell of the salt air—as we neared the beach my mother would ask me after she inhaled, “Can you smell it, can you smell the sea?” I smiled with my face turned out through the window.
d. snow creates barriers in the city—it walls-in parked cars in and makes walking treacherous and sloppy—and the graying slush and the thickening skins of lumpy ice clinging to concrete for days and days always overshadowed the universal beauty of snow in a city. Snow in a city is a breathless invasion—everyone pauses, even a moment, when tired eyes first lay on the snow shook through the sooty sky.
e. My cousin, then a grandmotherly 80 years old from Reggio Calabria, Italy, loved a burgeoning fig tree in her claustrophobic concrete back yard—I climbed its branches--its canopy filled the yard and bore hundreds of brown fuzzy figs with blood red centers—reclining on a sturdy limb I plucked them and ate them right from the branch. She smuggled it with her on a ship at sea for twenty days and then through Ellis Island. They fled a typhoon and an earthquake that leveled the towns of Messina and Reggio Calabria 1908. Her family hid in caves high in the mountains—those who remained below perished. Not much withstood nature’s fury—all I knew was the fig tree survived and church records did not... anything I wondered about between those extremes she refused to speak of. In America, she still swam in the ocean but knew friends and relatives who would never place a foot in it—for the ocean was forever evil to them.
Even though I rarely set foot on grass and had to ride patient distances to feel the sand in my toes, I could climb and eat from a fig tree any day that I wanted. A fig tree that withstood a typhoon and an earthquake, an immigrant’s journey, and a replanting in an American landscape safe from typhoon, but severe with concrete, brick, and sun.