April 15, 2010

Getting Intimate With Nature

A year or two ago, sitting on the beach, watching the children play in the waves, I picked up a couple of small rocks and tried to stack them on top of each other.  I didn't think much of it.  It was just something to do with my hands while watching the kids and the surf.

I looked at the rocks I had stacked - three rocks, each about one or two inches round - and wondered if I could stack more rocks on top of them, or if I could do it with bigger rocks.  I began experimenting with larger rocks and higher towers.  Eventually I ended up with a tower of some eighteen rocks which stood over four feet tall.  Looking at my tower, I had to laugh.  It looked so absurd!

However, other people I was with began building their own towers.  By the time we were done, we had a number of towers, which were admired by both humans and seagulls.

So I was not surprised last week when I arrived at the beach where my sister and her family were camping, and saw a rock tower.  I soon found myself once again building my own tower.  That night we camped on the beach, and the next day, several more towers were built.  Some towers were built for height.  Some were built for creativity.  And some were built, hoping that people would look at them and say, "How in the world are those rocks balancing like that?"

To me, it seemed like a fun, playful activity; no big deal, really.  But then a woman came walking down the beach at sunset, and began taking pictures of our towers.  I wondered what she saw in them.  It was just something we did for fun, really.  A part of me felt a little goofy stacking these rocks, like it was something children do, not grown adults.  I felt a little embarrassed at having other people look at something that I felt was so silly.  In fact, I feel a little embarrassed writing about it now.  The voices I hear in my mind keep saying:  "You did what?  Stacked rocks?  How ridiculous!"

I wondered what the woman taking pictures saw in our rock towers.  In her mind, were these oddities, or works of art?  Or, more importantly: were the creators of these towers oddballs, or artists?

I didn't ask her, so I don't know.  But after she left, I got out my own camera, and took a couple of pictures myself.

One thing I do know:  in stacking and balancing these rocks, I got to know these rocks in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise.  This "knowing" is similar to the way I "know" certain trees.  I began to notice the slight irregularities on the surface of the rocks, the dents and crevices that can make a rock good or not good for balancing.  Some rocks, it seemed, didn't want to balance at all, so I left them alone.  Others surprised me with their willingness to be a part of a tower, since at first glance they didn't look like they would balance at all.

I remember an activity that I learned once, to help children experience nature.  All the children are told to find a small rock, one that could easily fit in the palm of their hand, and then to come together and sit in a circle.  Next, they are told to study their rock carefully.  The leader then collects all the rocks, mixes them up, and begins passing them around the circle, one at a time.  The children are told that when they recognize "their" rock, they are to hold on to it.  When each child has his or her rock, the children are then told that they will play this game again, except that this time, they will play it with their eyes closed.  This time, they must recognize their rock by touch.

I remember being excited about such a simple activity that helps children (and adults) get to know their world on such an intimate level.... This week, I agreed to spend another week counseling children at camp, which I will do in July.  I have some ideas about helping the kids get to know the trees and rocks at camp ... and one day, there might even be some rock towers lining the stream.

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