Into the Woods

There’s a rail trail in the woods behind our house. It’s about a half mile down a steep and rocky bluff so there’s not really an easy way to get there. We’ve always loaded everyone into the car and driven to an easier access point, but it’s always felt like a shame to do that.

Our neighbors have a twisty, muddy path to the rail trail that we’re trying to hook up with. It’s not a perfect solution for us because my middle bug needs a stroller to discourage flight risk and dangerous behaviors; a stroller would be nearly impossible to roll in and out of there. But when it’s just me and the baby? Or my oldest? It’s possible.

I was energized to find more ways into the woods by two writers: Wendell Berry and Charlotte Mason.

I read Jayber Crow a few weeks ago and fell in love with Port William. Each novel in the Port William “series” is told from the point of view of a different resident. The characters overlap throughout time, but each installment is a deep dive into that person. I’m told that the books can be read in any order and am hoping it’s true because this book was published more than 40 years after the first!

Jayber Crow was the barber in Port William – a town on the banks of the Kentucky River. He was born before the first World War and this tells his story until about 1986. Jayber and I are kindred spirits – he asked a lot of the same questions that I find myself asking, we have the same bull-headed rebellions, and we sometimes devote ourselves to things in strange ways.

I envied Jayber for his abilities to recognize and appreciate the beauty of nature and to ignore the pull from the outside world to strive for a certain idea of success. Instead, he was happiest puttering in his garden, wandering through the woods, and taking naps by tree stumps. He always lived in extreme poverty yet managed to have the richest experiences and thoughts.

There was a lot to unpack in this novel and I’m not planning to do a full review, but it was incredible. I savored each word and continue to think about it every day since reading it earlier this month. I keep trying to find ways to incorporate Jayber’s lessons into my own life, including how to drown out the noise of expectations and sink into a life of utmost appreciation.

My other inspiration right now is Charlotte Mason, an education advocate from the Victorian era who has become a role model for homeschoolers. She emphasizes the importance of being outside in the natural world, sharpening your senses of observations, and gaining all we can from what nature has to teach us. She has a highly religious outlook on education, but her goals for homeschooling can be easily adapted to embrace a secular family.

I’ve purchased the Blossom and Root Nature Study Curriculum for my oldest. We work through it on the weekends and he really loves it (so do I). It emphasizes studying the natural world with lots of drawing and art. Paired with the Burgess Animal Book for Children, it’s a fun story and activity time. But of course, he’s sharpening his senses of observation, gaining hand/eye coordination and strength while drawing and painting in his field notebook, learning how to find answers to his questions, and admiring the awe and beauty in our own backyard. We use field guides to identify birds and trees. We practice identifying north, south, east, and west based on the sun and time of day. We find slugs, caterpillars, spiders, acorns, cool sticks, mushrooms, and anything else hanging around out there. It’s fun and I feel so lucky to be able to do it with him.

I spend hours outside with my two youngest every day, but my oldest misses out on that time when he’s in school. We haven’t made any decisions about homeschooling yet, but I think you can tell which direction I’m leaning. These decisions are so hard!!

Until then, I’m going to try to keep sneaking into the woods, sweeping the leaves off the porch, and enjoying this autumn weather.

How about you? Do you manage to get outside as much as you’d like? What’s your favorite thing to do outside? Are you a birder? A tree lover? Someone who likes to spend time in the hammock?

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8 thoughts on “Into the Woods

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  1. Thanks so much for this, Katie. I think I will love Jayber, too, and love the idea of having a whole series to explore (in any order). I love Wendell Berry’s poetry, and am just so happy to know that this series is out there. And I loved reading about your outdoor explorations. I love walking in the woods and, now that we’re entering the darker time of the year, especially love walking at night — a different world (and one that offers me excellent practice in NOT freaking myself out). Thanks for your post – a happy morning gift!

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    1. I love that you’re such a poetry lover! You are a brave reader! Let me know if you get to any of Berry’s novels and what you think about them.

      Enjoy your walks with your headlight! You are also a very brave walker!! šŸ˜€

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  2. How did I not know about these Wendell Berry books!? Thank you for leading me down this “path”! And, yes – I have made a focus of getting outdoors every day! It is easy when the weather is sunny and warm – the true challenge is to find things of beauty in the days that aren’t sunny and warm!

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    1. Jayber Crow was so wonderful!! I can’t wait to dive into more of them. I’m glad to hear that you’ve been able to get outside lately. And you’re right to say that the true challenge is coming as the days become shorter and colder. But it sounds like you’ve already made a great habit of it so I hope it sticks!

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  3. I love this post, there should be a love button. Painting is so good for so many things. I love to see children draw and paint, especially if they continue and you can watch them grow, not just in skill but mindfulness as well. you learn a lot about a person when they choose their own subject to write about, draw, or paint. I love the outdoors and no living in an apartment we don’t get out as much as i’d love to. I do it all paint out doors, watch wildlife, and observe nature in general. It’s refreshing for the soul to slip off your shoes in grass and just breathe.

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    1. When we lived in an apartment we didn’t get out very much either. And it’s taken us a few years to feel settled enough to really explore the woods around our house! I agree with you though – there’s nothing like being outside for a little while to relieve some of the tensions and push the reset button. I hope you make it outside soon!

      My oldest has been painting a LOT lately, so that’s been fun. He’s always enjoyed painting but when I was working, it was so hard to take everything out and to have yet another mess to clean up. I’m so happy that I have the time and energy to help him do these types of things now.

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