I’m a wimp in the cold. Much as I respect the Charlotte Mason “get out for a walk every day, no matter what the weather” principle, I don’t live by it. No well-bundled foul-weather treks for me, invigorating though they might be. The children are encouraged to get outside for fresh air every day, but if they want my company, they have to settle for the sofa, the fireside, and a good book. Preferably one full of heroic wilderness adventures in the elements.
But as soon as the weather begins to turn, oh, I’m there. Just try and keep me inside. Housework? Pah! The floors can take care of themselves. The kids and I have paths to tread, shoes to muddy, trees to meet.
In addition to field guides and the indispensible Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, there are a few other books that leap off the shelves at me this time every year:
Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals by Karen Skidmore Rackliffe
Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth
Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children and Sunflower Houses : Inspiration from the Garden – A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups
by Sharon Lovejoy
Mrs. Greenthumbs: How I Turned a Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can, Too by Cassandra Danz (for adults only)
Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyards and Planting Noah’s Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology by Sara Stein
Onward & Upward in the Garden by Katharine White (A collection of gardening essays by the wife of E.B. White).
These old friends keep us busy during the wet and chilly days of March. Come April, we’re outside living the adventure instead of reading about it. I am intrepid! I am daring! No breeze is too balmy, no creek too melodic, no backpack too full of snacks for this nature-loving mother.
That is, until the weather turns hot.
Early this morning, too early, while The Baby Who Scoffed at Sleep played on the bed beside me, I finished reading Willa Cather’s splendid novel My Antonia. The book was due back at the library yesterday, but I want to copy a few passages into my commonplace book first. This is one of them.
I can remember exactly how the country looked to me as I walked beside my grandmother along the faint wagon-tracks on that early September morning. Perhaps the glide of long railway travel was still with me, for more than anything else I felt motion in the landscape; in the fresh, easy-blowing morning wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo were galloping, galloping…
Many thanks to Kim Campbell for the nice write-up at her AHA Weblogs Blog. I enjoy daily visits to Kim’s sites, both her own family blog and her intriguing and vivid reviews of homeschooling blogs at the amusingly named Weblogs Blog. What a treat it was to see Bonny Glen there!
Ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned to the Gulf States. Are your feeders ready? Click here to see the latest migration map from Journey North.
The Floating House by Scott Russell Sanders
Our fabulous local librarians came up with a fun program for the kids: the library is sponsoring a “Read Across America” program. They have hung a huge map from the checkout desk, and every kid who reads a book from a cartful of selections gets his or her name written on the map. The map is filling up fast!
Rose’s selection was The Floating House by Indiana University writing professor Scott Russell Sanders. Fascinating book. It’s 1815, and the McClure family is one of many families journeying by flatboat down the Ohio River in search of a new home. As soon as the winter ice clears, they depart from the Pittsburgh area with everything they own aboard their small houseboat—including the horse and cow. They are headed for the tiny new community of Jeffersonville, Indiana, where land is only a dollar an acre.
It’s a good old American pioneer story—one of my favorite genres, which is probably no surprise to those who’ve heard me enthuse about Laura Ingalls Wilder. But this story is told from an angle I’ve never seen before—the view from the river. My girls were entranced by the details of flatboat life: getting stuck on sandbars, passing young towns, hunting wild turkeys on shore at night. At one point a “churning carpet of squirrels” blocks the river in front of the McClures. What an image! (We were all disappointed that the art, which is lovely, didn’t show this scene.)
Tomorrow Rose gets to go write her name on Indiana. I, meanwhile, am haunted by the metaphorical possibilities of the book’s ending: when the McClures finally reach Jeffersonville, their new neighbors help them dismantle the boat and use the lumber to build a house. There’s a poem there, if I ever get a minute to write it!
This morning’s thunderstorm scared Beanie out of her wits—almost.
"Don’t worry," she assured my mother. "I still have one wit left."
Well, that’s a relief.
Beanie’s elephant, pictured here in all its glory, made another appearance on Scott’s blog yesterday. Note the scorch mark on its right tusk. Oops.
Jane and I went on a “Tree Walk” at our favorite local nature center on Sunday afternoon. A botanist and a natural historian, a wonderful husband-and-wife team, led us through a quiet wood, identifying trees and waxing eloquent about turtles sunning themselves on a log. Jane took some great pictures. This one, portraying a beaver’s handiwork, is my favorite.
And this one reminded me of a John Ashbery poem.
by John Ashbery
These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance
To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try
To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.
And glad not to have invented
Some comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges
A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Place in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.
Maybe not, but there is a Snark there. I was reading Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits,” to the girls, when suddenly Jane leapt to her feet and dashed out of the room. This is a fairly common occurrence. She is a visual learner, and when she has made a connection, her urge is to SHOW it.
She hurtled back to the breakfast table bearing her (and this is going to sound like a joke, but I’m quite serious) beloved Jacobs Algebra book. I have to explain about Jacobs Algebra. For years I’ve been hearing on the homeschooling lists that Harold Jacobs’s mathematics textbooks are “living books” in the Charlotte Mason sense, books written by a man passionate about his subject matter, whose zest for the subject comes through loud and clear in his writing.
Curious as to how a math textbook could convey passion and zest, I checked one of Jacobs’s books out of the library. I can’t testify as to what exactly makes that book “live” because I never got hold of it long enough. Jane whisked it away from me and pored over it for the entire six weeks the library allowed us to keep it. I kid you not. During those weeks, it became de rigeur for our nice, peaceful bedtime-prayer time to be shattered by Important and Fascinating Math Discoveries Jane Forgot to Mention Earlier.
“Mom! I forgot to show you this logarithm chart I made today! See, there was an example in Mathematics-a-Human-Endeavor….” (Apparently this book is too dignified to suffer truncation of its name. It was always the full title, breathlessly hyphenated or earnestly run together: Mathematicsahumanendeavor.)
Eventually the precious book had to go back to the library. Calamity! Despair! This was shortly before Christmas, and consolation arrived to soothe bereft Jane. Mathematicsahumanendeavor’s sequel: Elementary Algebra, its very title poetic in its simplicity. O joy! O rapture! O bewildered but accomodating parents!
And so Jacobs Algebra became Jane’s distraction-from-chores book of choice. Which explains, I guess, her abrupt departure from the table during my riveting (or so I thought) recitation of “The Hunting of the Snark.” The Snark was in Algebra, and Jane had to show us. What do you know, there it was! It’s because of the Butcher, of course.
From “Fit the Fifth: The Beaver’s Lesson”:
So engrossed was the Butcher, he heeded them not,
As he wrote with a pen in each hand,
And explained all the while in a popular style
Which the Beaver could well understand.
“Taking Three as the subject to reason about—
A convenient number to state—
We add Seven, and Ten, and then multiply out
By One Thousand diminished by Eight.
“The result we proceed to divide, as you see,
By Nine Hundred and Ninety Two:
Then subtract Seventeen, and the answer must be
Exactly and perfectly true.
“The method employed I would gladly explain,
While I have it so clear in my head,
If I had but the time and you had but the brain—
But much yet remains to be said.
It does indeed. But the rest of the poem remained unsaid that morning. Jacobs Algebra had entered the building and taken center stage. Poor Lewis Carroll; how can he compete with a masterwork of living mathematics?
I would gladly explain—had you but the time and I but the brain.