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?