At about 4 p.m. yesterday I kicked the kids outside. They had eaten their snack and done their chores after school and were starting to climb the walls so it was time for them to, as Gabbie puts it, “get their ya-yas out”. Almost every day they spend an hour outside, more on the weekends, and I believe this unstructured play-time outdoors is critical for their development. I catch a snippet of their conversation as they head out and it usually starts with something like “now pretend you’re the lion and I’m the princess” and I watch them through the window as they head up the stream with willow branch swords in hand.
There has been lots of talk lately about the importance of getting children outside, and I am happy to see more outdoor and place-based education popping up in curriculum all over New England. Locally we are incredibly fortunate to have many nature education programs for children – two of note are Four Winds Nature Institute, which trains adult volunteers to share their love of nature with children in the classroom, and Shelburne Farms which is a true champion for outdoor and agricultural education. At Shelburne Farms there’s a program for every age group, from pre-school right up to post-college residencies, and even one day on the farm can inspire a life-long love. I especially admire the Teen Naturalist program – it’s a tough age to engage, but such a critical one.
I had just finished a Kettlebells class the other day and was sitting in a limp heap on the floor trying to maneuver my socks when a classmate asked about what was happening on our farm this week. I briefly described how we had just finished processing three pigs (by ourselves for the first time) and how the next step was to brine the hams and bacon in the root cellar and then hang them in the smokehouse. Wincing, she asked, “Did they have names?” and when I replied yes, “Ron, Fred and George after the Weasley brothers in Harry Potter” she replied, “Wow, that’s really real, you guys are really living it” (yes, three ‘reals’). This exchange got me thinking about “real” vs. fantasy, about embracing rawness vs. seeking the comfort of oblivion, about directing ourselves vs. allowing ourselves to be directed. It’s sort of ironic that the conversation should arise there, since I go to Kettlebells twice a week to be purposefully directed – for somebody else to push me and tell me every minute for an hour what I should be doing while I empty my brain and breathe and sweat, essentially into oblivion.
I believe firmly in the benefits of living a “raw” life – that having an intimate and visceral connection with the creation of our basic needs, food, clothing, and shelter, will help us realize the true value of things, reduce our consumption and teach our children stewardship. I am also fully aware of just how uncomfortable this “rawness” makes most people feel. Each time we slaughter an animal on the farm, whether it’s chickens, sheep or pigs, friends ask us “Did the slaughter upset the girls?”, and each time the answer is Continue reading →