Children in the Woods

Loon - Peter FergusonThis Saturday marked the passage into the first day of summer 2014, and, of course, I spent it outdoors in good company. I have the privilege every year of guiding interpretive hikes for Ontario Nature, usually for their inspiring Youth Summit in the autumn. This year I was asked to guide the members of Ontario Nature at their 83rd Annual Gathering at Geneva Park in Orillia, and the audience was chronologically a lot older.

I spent the day immersed in the wisdom of the elders – the 80ish year old birder who cycles 25km several times a week down to the Leslie Street spit claiming, "I'm not going to waste those fossil fuels – save some for the kids!" And the 80ish year old woman who showed up with her treasured paddle for a Sunday field trip by canoe through a local wetland. Oh, the Youth Council was there too, helping out as usual. Young leaders like Jayden, and Noa, and Moe – all selected as members of the Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25. But the vast majority of the group were silver-haired, moving a little more cautiously across the landscape, recalling decades of their love for nature.

My session was titled "Children in the Woods", after my favourite Barry Lopez essay of the same name. There is no age limit on wonder, or awe, or laughter, or love of a good story. We celebrated fungus and damselflies, salamanders and toads, vernal ponds and green leaves, birdsong and humansong, limestone and lichen. It was indeed a celebration of their 83 years exploring and respecting the natural world. They were the perfect example of why I continue to lead these jouneys through our landscapes and waterways.

Lopez wrote eloquently in that essay about the moving look he received from a child exploring nature with him, a look that said, "I did not know until now that I needed someone much older to confirm this, the feeling I have of life here. I can now grow older, knowing it need never be lost."

He concluded that story with the words that have become the foundation of my work in nature: "The quickest door to open in the woods for a child is the one that leads to the smallest room, by knowing the name each thing is called. The door that leads to the cathedral is marked by a hesitancy to speak at all, rather to encourage by example a sharpness of the senses. If one speaks it should only be to say, as well as one can, how wonderfully all this fits together, to indicate what a long, fierce peace can derive from this knowledge."

Amen

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon 

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