The trip is over, the gear is packed away, Will and I head back to school in short order. Is this the end of the road for Postcards from the Outback? I don’t think so. After returning home, I got to reading A Natural Sense of Wonder, by Rick Van Noy, another father’s account of trying to get his kids outside, and I realize I have (or will have as the boys get bigger) some of the same sorts of stories to tell. (I’ve also come across and am inspired by Van Noy’s blog.) Our narratives shape our culture, and so if we are going to reverse in any way our kids’ wholesale retreat into artificial (and virtual) environments, then I think it’s important that these stories get shared. I don’t presume to do it particularly well or have any radical new ground to cover; I’m just adding my voice to the chorus.
Moreover, I have some questions to ask of my profession. In my darker moments, I wonder why I teach my students the distinction between a tercet and a quatrain when they know nothing about tanagers and cardinals. Which kind of learning is more likely to help develop them into the kind of adults that will make our planet a more livable place? And the narratives that might help us at this point in our history, why are they not a part of the canon we typically share in school? In the early years of this new and uncertain century, what does it mean to be educated any more? Should young people be more familiar with Chaucer and Harper Lee than Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold?
For myself, I often think about the fact that I live a collection of half-lives–husband and father, teacher and coach, wannabe mountain man–rather than one whole. Some wise-ass (like my good friend Chris) will inevitably point out that my math doesn’t work here, but go with the metaphor. The times when I can get these worlds to overlap, these are by far my happier and healthier moments. Can this virtual world help refocus my real-world vision? (Or maybe spending more time at the computer is moving in exactly the wrong direction.)
Anyway, that’s the idea. Who knows. Follow-through isn’t always my specialty. When I look back through the naturalist journals I started keeping in 1999, I come across a number of embarrassing pledges to myself to journal more often followed by gaps up to a year in length before the next entry. Then again, I have filled two of these journals . . . if my progress has to be measured in geologic time, then I’m comfortable with that.
By the way, after dropping Will off at a day camp he’s attending this week, I carried (literally) Andrew down to the Chattahoochee this morning, plopped his butt on a sand bar for a while, and spent a nice thirty minutes with him before the day heated up too much. At one point I pointed out a resting butterfly, and he said “I wish we had your butterfly book so we could look up what kind it is.” Our summer adventure has left its mark.