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Some Random Observations – Danny & The Raccoons

June 11, 2010 1 comment

I know I have been bending your ear lately about the benefits of exposing small children and large children to nature, parks, and the woods. I have been saying how important it is to allow them to roam freely in nature so they may discover the exhilaration of discovery and the freedom of self expression. Thank you for your patience as I have expounded upon these important issues.

Now I want to share with you a story about Danny and the Raccoons. I am an interior designer in the day. This is my real job as writing does not allow me to earn a living. I was hired to renovate a home in the Smoky Mountains and I sent my Maryland crew down to do the demolition and construction. I met them down there one week into the job. We stayed in the home as it was large enough for all of us to have our privacy. There is a balcony on the second floor level off the pool room and their bedrooms. There is a large Mulberry tree growing next to the balcony and it is in full bloom and filled with berries, which drop to the ground and on to the deck. The berries are great food for the birds and other wildlife.

Danny is about 50ish, can’t tell for sure. He was born and raised in Baltimore. He has lived a hard life and has sad eyes. I like him because he has a soft heart. His life has been anchored to the concrete on the streets of Baltimore. He has not known nature with its glorious spaces, peace, serenity, and adventures. He is a city boy, who never fished, hunted, or hiked through the woods.

The second night I was there he was smoking on the balcony and he heard noise in the Mulberry tree. He looked up, and looking down at him were four raccoons. They were in the tall branches munching on the berries. He froze and watched for their entire meal. They kept their eyes on him while they ate. The next morning he told me how he couldn’t believe the raccoons were so close and so unafraid of him.

The next night he took his Oreo cookies up on the deck. Sure enough, the raccoons showed up again. Danny put a cookie on the hand rail, stepped back, and waited. The largest raccoon came down out of the tree and onto the handrail to investigate the smell he caught of the cookie. He looked at Danny, who was a safe distance, picked up the cookie with his 2 paws and ate it quietly in front of him. All was at peace on the deck that night.

Danny from Baltimore was beside himself with joy the next morning. This was his first experience with a wild animal. He could talk of nothing else as we worked the next day. The next night and every night after that, until we left one week later, he would disappear up to the deck and feed his Oreo cookies to the raccoons. They came closer, but not too close, and he communed with them. He would talk about it the next day telling us all the details. This was an experience he would take back to the streets of Baltimore. He was genuinely excited and touched.

Before we left he took the remaining Oreo cookies up to the handrail on the deck and spread them out so the raccoons would have something to eat that night as he drove home to Baltimore.

50ish Danny would never be the same. He had experienced the phenomenon of the natural world. His hard leather face softened a bit. We said goodbye as I left for the airport. I thanked him for the good job he did and he asked me when he could come back to Tennessee again to work on another job with me.

Nature softens and preserves human hearts, no matter the age.

Looking at Me

Where's my Oreo?

Children in Crisis; Preschools in the Forests

May 24, 2010 1 comment

Our Children’s School began in a garage, grew into 2 garages, then an art room, then an outside garden plot, then a small kitchen for cooking, and then into the woods surrounding our home. Our sons decided daily, weekly, monthly  what it was that interested them and this determined their curriculum. They dissected worms, a cow’s heart they got “FREE” from the local slaughter house, and frogs. They looked at the stars and studied the universe and its constellations. This brought them to Greek mythology and the Gods. Soon they delved into space travel and astronauts and then went on to Space Camp in Alabama. Dinosaurs were big and so they studied the Jurassic period and took a field trip to Utah’s Dinosaur Valley. They built a tree house on a hill with a tree in the middle of the floor that they insisted could not be cut down – after all, “that is why we call it a tree house Mooooom!”

All of their preschool education incorporated the outdoors and the natural world. I can’t imagine how it is possible to educate preschool children without the outdoors for that is what intrigues them most. They love insects, small animals, rainy days with puddles to jump into, snowmen and snowball fights, butterflies, and the woods. The natural world and the woods are a home to them. They are free to run, explore, conquer, and grow.

It is with great satisfaction that I read an article this morning about a “forest kindergarten” in Vashon Island, WA. The Cedarsong Nature School is a forest preschool and among several that have opened in recent years in the U.S. This is a movement that originated in Europe (and my garages 30 years ago, chuckling). The purpose is to get kids out from in front of televisions and into the natural world. The kids love it! They are outdoors all day, studying how life interacts with them in the woods. These children are different when they enter elementary school. They are healthier, livelier, curious, more mature, compassionate, and intellectually alive. They have an inner joy that is hard to explain, which I believe comes from their knowledge of the natural world and their comfort within it. They are fearless.

Erin Kenny opened the Cedarsong Nature School, after she read “The Last Child in the Woods”, which I discussed in my previous post. In the book, Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder” to explain a lack of connection between the country’s children and nature. He argues that the decrease in nature dwelling leads to a rise in childhood obesity, attention disorders, and depression. The evidence of this surrounds us. Go to the local mall on any afternoon after school and look at the children, who are usually obese, tattooed, “pants on the ground”, alienated, and looking for something to do inside an enclosed mall when the entire world is waiting for them to explore. They are an interesting comment on their parents and their rote education.

“We gain life by looking at life.”

Dr. Mardie Townsend, a researcher and associate professor  School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia

In the woods on a Balancing Bar

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