Saturday, December 04, 2010

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
Childlike wonder is still part of my life, but I have definitely had to nurture it. The nurturing and cultivation of it started long before this year, probably going back to the years just after my father's death, when music became very important, when my first marriage was disintegrating slowly, when my underlying depression revealed itself. I returned to something I had known very well as a child: that I loved to be outside near trees, birds, and water; that daily contact soothed me; that the extra exercise would be good for me. I started taking half-hour walks every morning.

At first I took them during the summer days when it was light out, but one winter I decided that I didn't want to give them up, so I started walking first thing in the morning, to be able to fit them in before I had to get ready for school, before my children were up, before the world got in the way. When I say first thing in the morning, I mean it: I walked at 5 AM for many years in the late nineties and early zeroes. In winter, of course, that means I walked in the dark. I obtained the proper equipment, by which I mean that I found, at the big flea market in Conklin, a fluorescent-orange insulated jumpsuit perfect for the coldest, snowiest, windiest weather, especially when I also found an orange pullover hat/face-mask.

Walking on the coldest, clearest winter mornings meant that I saw some spectacular starry skies. Many mornings, I was simply awestruck from the first step, gazing up at the Big Dipper, following it to the North Star in the Little Dipper, watching in my periphery for delicate shooting stars. I was also able to observe the moon in fragile crescent or ponderous fullness, lighting the entire landscape, rivalling the clarity of a sunny day with its mysterious shadows and fascinating chiaroscuro. I still walked often during the day, marveling at hawks, pileated woodpeckers, in sight and sound, or amazing varieties of mushrooms (including edible ones). I would often walk in rain, but I especially like walking on windy days, bundled up so that I did not have to feel the annoyance of someone who is not dressed for such weather.

This past year I enlivened my awe-struck wonder as I walked, more often during the day, by composing haikus in my head that would reflect some of what I saw during each season. I also began to take pictures, sometimes with just my little cell phone, other times with John's digital camera. I have begun to feel some of the wonder and excitement my father must have felt about composing just the right combination of elements. My father was a photographer and an expert on chemistry for developing film. He took many photos when I was a child, and I grew used to seeing them. I never really wanted to take pictures of my own, having had his to enjoy for so many years.

That has changed this year. I have begun to enjoy finding new scenes to share with others. Yes, I also discovered the fun of sharing my haikus and photos with others on Facebook. My haikus provoked much commentary, as did my accompanying pictures. I had an audience! I felt like my students did when I posted one of their illustrated poems (for this was a requirement when students wrote poems in my classroom -- to publish them with an illustration cut from a magazine, back in the olden days, or retrieved from Google Images, and hang them in the hallway above the lockers for others to read). Someone was responding to my words, to my pictures, and conversation sprang up, indeed erupted, sometimes, depending on the topic or the slant I took (either in words or images).

All this emanated from my simple habit of walking each day to be in touch with the elements, and with the natural world. This year it was especially important, as I was immersed each day in a sea of words, reading, studying, and writing for doctoral classes on topics far removed from hills and fields and woods. I cultivated my childhood sense of wonder with nature even as I continued to feed my wonder at new ideas and new philosophies and new approaches to the human phenomena of society, culture, and education.

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