Life Lessons from the Nature Pal Exchange: Discovery
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. -Marcel Proust
We have always loved nature; I have always loved nature. When I was a little girl I would aim to play hide and seek with the neighborhood kids, but somewhere in the midst of the game I would always find my self hiding in a crevasse by our chimney, which happened to be guarded by a juniper tree with a snail colony. I would get lost there, tracing their trails, watching their antenna in wonder. It’s one of my strongest memories.
As years went on I had my own sweet children and one in particular lingered longer on things. She went on walks with eyes wide open. She never rushed past things or lost her sense of toddler awe. James Russell Lowell says, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” In this way she has always been my wisest child. She has an unfailing love for the natural world. My other children would catch the bug occasionally, but I believe Charlotte Mason when she says, “Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life…” and I really wanted that for all of them. I wanted nature to be a large part of our family’s culture.
Over time it happened. We read amazing books by authors, like Holling, Long, Buckley, and Burgess, that lit their minds on fire. We hiked, sketched, and stood in wonder of our God’s handy work. We talked of all we wanted to see and how wonderful this wide world is, and my collector was always collecting bits that caught her fancy.
We had a good rhythm to our Nature studies, but something amazing happened when we took part in our first Nature Pal Exchange that I wasn’t expecting — we rediscovered — that’s something I will be eternally grateful for. We had spent hours looking up the animals in the Burgess animal books, yet my daughter’s nature collections sat on the shelf. They were an ode to beauty, yet never fully delved into; after all they were mostly common things — pinecones, seashells, seedpods.
We knew what they were, but familiarity had robbed us of true vision and discovery. Suddenly, as we began collecting for our friends from across the country it wasn’t just my eldest daughter whose eyes were opened. I found that we were all seeing things clearer. We took the time to ask questions about these common things. We wanted to understand them better. We discovered that a few shells we rarely considered worth collecting could only be found here on the California coast, and they were transformed into treasures. We looked deeper and longer at the poppies blooming on the trails. We basked in the shade of the redwood trees our state is known for with a new appreciation.
As we were trying to share our home with others, we actually began discovering it more fully for ourselves. This exchange changed us all into eyes wide open explorers. We became students of the common. We found that in the most mundane thing there is something of the marvelous. Something in us shifted long before we ever sent or received our box. In the gathering, we grew. Maybe someday that would have happened anyways, but I doubt that it would have happened in a way that is so vividly memorable. We don’t have it all together. There are still days they walk about like No Eyes; missing the beautiful way this land shows the artistry and care of its Creator. But just when I begin to feel frustrated, one of them will stop and pipe up, “Mom, do you think our next Pals will think this is cool?” and I can’t help but smile.