Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Playing and Learning in Nature

Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life. -John Muir

Looking back on recent posts, I became aware of how much time Rafael and I spend outdoors. Having dogs means more dirt and more responsibility, but it also means being forced to get out into the fresh air, rain or shine, heat or snow, twice a day. This has been a huge blessing, a gift, for both myself and my son.

At the beginning of spring, everything in the woods was new and fascinating for Raffi. He got excited every morning, and it was hard to drag him out of the woods. He would go on and on about the things we saw, and wanted to learn the names of bugs and plants.

Now, nearing autumn, Rafael often doesn't really want to go on our daily morning walk in the woods. He would rather visit his grandparents who live down the road, watch television, or play with cars. At least, this is what he thinks he would rather do. I push him in the stroller down the village road, the dogs' leashes in one hand, getting us to the forest as quickly as possible, while Raffi complains and makes suggestions for other things to do. 

Then we finally arrive at the wide path leading into a cathedral of trees, and I set the dogs free, and let Raffi slide out of the stroller. Sometimes he'll turn back and say, "Let's go home," or "Let's go to Grandma and Grandpa." The dogs are already busy sniffing and running, and I am also hungry for the trees and wind. I search the ground, looking for something of interest. 

"Look Raffi," I'll say with enthusiasm. "Look what fell down in the rain storm last night: acorns! Let's gather them for our collection. Here's more!" Other things I show him that get his attention: a puddle. A feather. A tree trunk to balance on. Slugs. Caterpillars. Mud. Wild berries. Rocks. Dragonflies. The creek. Salamanders. Sticks.

Once one of these things has his attention, he forgets about everything else, and could spend hours in the forest (as long as I have snacks, which I always do).  

I wanted to share this with you in case you thought my child is a nature magnet that begs to go outside and has never watched a television series. No. I have often thought that I am lucky we have dogs who have to get outdoors every day, because this means that even if Raffi whines and says he doesn't want to go, we go, and we stay for a while, and he ends up loving it. 

As years go by, and his hours spent in the woods, in the rivers, and in the fields accumulate, I know that many of his favorite memories will be made out there. 

Please share one of your favorite memories of being in nature here. I just love reading them!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Little Piece of Paradise

My friend Steffi asked me, "What are you going to do tomorrow afternoon, when Rafael is with the babysitter?" In the past the answer was always, "Clean in peace." This time it was, "Visit Gerit, and take my camera with me."

I am learning to clean while Raffi is home, and enjoy hobbies and leisure while he is away. It's still not easy for me to just step out of the house, leaving behind piles of laundry and a floor scattered with toys and books. But I am getting better at it. If I want to have some balance in my life, if I want to take photos or have meaningful conversations with friends without being interrupted, this is the way I need to do things. 

My hours spent at Gerit's home were wonderful. She spoiled me with homemade chocolate cake, and showed me the ducklings, and the raised beds with tender pumpkin vines and blossoms. She also took me up to the hay loft, where she strings up herbs to dry, and generously gave me a bundle of oregano and hyssop

When Gerit and I meet up, we always end up talking about plants: wild edibles, herbs, medicinal uses. I learn so much from her. Often when I take walks, I'll come across a plant I don't recognize. I take a picture and send her an email: "Do you know this one?" She either answers herself or forwards my email to a few 'krÀuterhexen' (which translates from German to 'herb witches') for them to help identify.

I love Gerit's home. The little kitchen cluttered with treasures: a jar of especially pretty chicken feathers, a bowl of dried rose petals, honey from the local bee-keeper, blue and white eggs from the coop, and countless jars of dried wild herbs that she has gathered from the near by fields. I love her garden, with giant forests of stinging nettles, dead nettles, and elderberry, and ducks and chickens picking quietly at the clover-covered ground. The thin winding path leading to the brook in the back, and the gigantic old pear tree where crows have nested. It truly is a little piece of paradise.

I am grateful for her friendship, and happy that there are people and places like this. 


P.S. To see more of this little piece of paradise, click here

Thursday, July 18, 2013

High Summer

One of the many things that has changed since I had Rafael is, I actually enjoy and appreciate Summer. Up until now, it has always felt too hot and sticky, and I would spend the summer months yearning for autumn. Now I am grateful for days where he can run around barefoot, and where you don't have to make any special plans in particular. You just open the back door and your son will run out into the garden, and be content for hours on end just playing outside under the blue summer sky.

Today I took Raffi down to the river that curls through our town. We found a shallow spot with lots of rocks to toss into the water. While Rafael threw stones, I snapped photos and found a little boat someone had made out of bark and leaves. There was birdsong, and the sounds of children playing and dogs barking in the distance. I was filled with a deep sense of calm and contentedness watching Rafael laugh and play with the only things a little kid really needs to be happy: sticks, water, stones, and mud. 

Whenever I take photographs of Rafael, I am aware that these are time capsuls. I am capturing moments so fleeting, and so precious. 

One of the things Raffi loves to do at the end of the day, when he's in the bath, is tell me what's in his belly. I'll say, "Oh my goodness, look at that big round belly! What's in it?" And then he recalls everything he ate that day. "Pancakes. And bluebellos (his word for blueberries). And...what else? Pretzels. And himbellos (his word for raspberries). And....what else? Ice cream." He has an incredible memory and gives me quite a detailed list.

Lately he plays so wonderfully on his own. Either in his room, where he looks very carefully at books or empties his basket of cars one automobile at a time; or in the garden, where he takes his tiny watering can from plant to plant, or fills his red wagon with stones. I can clean and cook in peace, and every few minutes I tiptoe to wherever he is, and check up on him, trying not to distract or disturb him. One of my favorite things is when he is completely immersed in a book, with a wrinkled brow and pouted mouth. 

He has been sleeping in his own room since we returned from vacation, in his little white bed with the cowboy blanket and teddy bear. He's growing up so fast.

Wishing you cloudless, magical summer days.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Vacation In the Salzburg Mountains

We've just returned from 10 days in the beautiful Grossarl area of Salzburg. I can tell you with certainty that Austria is one of the more underrated countries when it comes to natural beauty. 

We traveled with our friends who have children Rafael's age, and stayed at a wonderful family hotel. We ate much too much, rode bicycles under the strong summer sun, swam, splashed, walked through dewy forests, fed goats and rabbits, and kept our eyes on our funny, wild boy as he explored playgrounds and wooded paths. 

It seems that, remarkably often, cats find Rafael. This black and white cat found us while we fed the ponies, and even joined us for a walk through the forest. It also appeared in the garden on our final evening, as if to say goodbye. I have quite a few photographs of Raffi with cats. He loves them. I guess some day he will have one his own. 

We enjoyed ourselves fully on our vacation, and it was hard choosing photos for this post, as I took so many. I hope these give you a taste of the beauty to be experienced in this country that I now call my home. Maybe you will even be inspired to come and see for yourself!

I found the first tiny yellow leaf on our walk this morning. Come midsummer there are always these little yellow leaves strewn along the path, and even though I know autumn is still a ways ahead, and I will enjoy the remaining warmth, I do love finding them each year. 


P.S. Past posts with the first yellow leaves in summer here , here , and here .


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