The Idea of Nature

Thus there are two books from whence I collect my Divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant Nature, that universal and public Manuscript, that lies expans’d unto the eyes of all; those that never saw him in the one, have discovered him in the other . . . Browne, Thomas. Religio Medici. 1643. 31

My fondest memories as a child occurred while growing up on my grandparent’s small farm in New England. Endless hours were spent frisking along the tall grasses, jumping the rocks in the stream, scaling the sheep pen, and dancing in the moonlight catching fireflies along the hedgerows of lilies, daisies, and dahlias. I came to know every tree and shrub, garden vegetable, wildflower, animal, and insect in and around the house on Mason Avenue. This freedom in the outdoors from early morning until sundown was formative for me and has retained in me an unfettered joy of nature and an innermost connection and contemplation of God during my formative years.

As a child I attended church regularly on Sunday and once home, would dash to the barns, field, reservoir, or forest to explore the natural richness and treasures that awaited. Many days my afternoons were filled with walks in the woods with my greatgrandmother, tossing and flicking leaves aside searching for edible mushrooms on the forest floor. As we walked with aprons and buckets full, she pointed out birds, butterflies, and flora along the paths. It wasn’t until later in my life that I came to realize and accept the simple gifts of observation and quietness I was taught. Whether it was time on the farm, or at the seashore, or in the mountains, or on the towering haystacks lying on my back and looking up at the heavens, I felt peace and knew I was not alone. Creation was my introduction to the idea— that God was with me. The apostle Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

In Last Child in the Woods, Louv presents research with growing evidence linking the lack of children’s experiences in nature with the rise in depression, inattention and obesity. He names this “nature deficit disorder.” Our children’s outdoor time is in competition with the many enticements from technology to team sports, causing them to forfeit outdoor time and its offerings of contemplation and meaning, of creating episodes and escapades, of forming connections and companionship, and of seeing the wonder and amazement of our Creator.

As my grandmother kindled in me the habit of being in nature, I too, desired to kindle this habit by acquainting my boys with the out-of-doors. In their early years, each morning we walked through the neighborhood and looked for changes in the seasons. It was through these observations that they came to know the time to plant seeds, to hang the hummingbird feeders, to begin watching for the changing of the aspen’s leaves from green to gold.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder . . . he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” --Rachel Carson

Nicole Wenger, Co-Founder,
Head of School, Ambleside at Skylark