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Naturalist Notebook

Sense of Wonder

sense of wonder

One of the books I treasure the most and has made a lasting impression on me is Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder. This short book (originally written as a magazine article) is chocked full of memorable quotes and inspiration. For all of us navigating this new “normal” it is a poignant reminder of the wonder that surrounds us every day if we just look. And for those with children in our lives, it is a gentle reminder of the power we have to provide them with the building blocks for a long-lasting sense of wonder, long after childhood is over.

Carson writes, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder… he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." I would be willing to wager that if you ask anyone who works in an environmental field if there was someone who helped them discover their passion for nature, they would say, “yes”.

For me, that person was actually two. My Grandpa loved growing things, particularly vegetables. He loved being out in the sun, watching his huge garden grow and flourish and he allowed a little girl to tag along and get down on her hands and knees in the soil to watch a pea plant break through the soil. Later, picking a fresh pod, opening it and eating those fresh new peas right there in the garden. Who says you can’t get kids to eat vegetables? The other person was my Dad. When we moved to our twelve acres of woods, he and I would hike through the woods exploring. Stopping to admire the sunbeams streaming through the leaves, listening to the call of an unidentified bird and breathing in the fresh crisp air. What I remember the most is not the facts of which plants we saw or what bird was singing but the feeling of joy and wonder that both men brought to the experience. They saw the amazing in the ordinary.

Indeed, Carson goes on to write, “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.” She stressed the importance of paving the way for the child to want to know rather than “put[ting] him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”

Now is the perfect time for us to rediscover that sense of wonder and share it with the children in our lives. Not sure where to begin? Think back to when you were a kid, did you lay in the grass and look up at the clouds? Wondering, or perhaps seeing “objects or animals” in their shapes. Try that now and see what happens. Have you ever looked at what is under a rock or branch on the ground? Turn one over and see what you and your child discover. Don’t know the names of what you find? Don’t worry. Names are not as important and sharing the experience and the feelings.

“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused—a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love—then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning.” (Rachel Carson)

And if you still want to know the name of what you saw. Take a photo, draw or write a description in a journal and look it up together later. iNaturalist is a great tool for identifying an unknown plant or animal. So go and explore, discover your own sense of wonder and maybe while you are at it, you can share the feeling with someone else.