Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rule Number Seven: From Orion

I knew I like that Brian Doyle. Enjoyed his "The Greatest Nature Essay Ever" in the last issue of Orion and now this great review of NSW in the Janurary/February edition:
The greatest virtue of Van Noy’s lean and thoughtful book isn’t his thesis, now proved by oceans of evidence about increased obesity and decreased attention spans, or even his graceful and penetrating prose; it’s the witty ways he draws his two children and their friends outside, away from the electric drug—taking the long way to school, poking headlong into every vacant lot, building a treehouse, wandering off on birding adventures, hiking with other families, so that the day isn’t a Boring Family Outing but motley play, skating, wading in creeks, salamandering, poking in tide pools, running around in the dark chasing lightning bugs, and, well, just puttering around with open eyes and ears.

“Imagine if [kids] knew plants and animals the way they knew brand names and logos, if they knew mountains the way they know malls,” writes Van Noy. “They
would feel like full participants in the landscapes they inhabit, happily roaming the ridges and creeks in a world that needs their attentiveness. . . . I share with Rachel Carson the hope that children be given ‘a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.’” And that’s the lesson I’ll carry away from this book, and the memorably sinewy phrase, too: an indestructible sense of wonder. I suspect nothing could be as useful, as generative of joy and mercy, as energizing and refreshing, as nakedly holy, as a faucet of wonder that never shuts off; and if we really do love and savor children as much as we say we do, if we really think them the heart of what we might be at our best, the secrets that might heal the bruised and broken world, we can give them nothing more crucial and nutritious than that.

Friday, January 2, 2009


We began the New Year by washing some bottles we found on our property, three small green and one larger Pepsi, all glass, will twist-off bottle caps that read “Expires 9/30/88.” Then we filled them with a rolled-up message, a large “GREETINGS” visible from the outside: “If you find this bottle, please write back to us. . . . We set this bottle adrift on January 1, 2009 from Mill Creek, in the New River Watershed. Please tell us when and where you found it and who you are." We tied a red bow around the neck to help distinguish these from the rest of the trash. We hope that this, and “Greetings,” and the shape and color of these bottles, will make them noticeable. Then we walked down below “Sam’s Dam” and bid them bon voyage, ran with them along the bank and saw them navigate snags and bends, tumble and roll down some mini-rapids, “This is a real adventure Dad,” Elliot told me, only to watch them get hung up in some ice near our neighbor’s creek. They will have to wait until the next thaw, or flood, before they continue their journey.

We also took down our tree, a live one, purchased this year again from the Lion’s Club in Radford. I have about a 30% success rate with these live fraser firs, which like it cool, so we’re hoping that they’ll do better out in the country. We chose a spot up near the sledding hill and to provide some privacy break from another neighbor’s field. I can see it from my desk window now.

It was quite a chore getting it out of the house. We have a dolly that we used to move it out, then we ran the dolly up onto a trailer that hooks onto the tractor. Sam drove the tractor switchback up the garden hill while Elliot and I pushed and tried to keep the dolly from rolling right out the back again. But we made it and after rolling the tree in its new home, we eyed it up to plumb and filled with dirt, keeping the trunk base clear and just above the ground, cut the ropes and pulled back the burlap some, add water and good wishes for a healthful New Year.

Sam kept right on digging a “foxhole” nearby when we were done. That’s one good thing about having some land. At our old place, I feared twisting an ankle at every sign of buried treasure or trench. But there plenty of places out here for foxholes.

Later in the day, we took a walk up Piney Woods and up a path that travels through some neighbor’s 50 acres. We met them the other day, an older couple, Jim and Linda Coyle, and they gave us permission to walk their land anytime. “Enjoy,” he said to me. “Really? You don’t mind?” He smiled again, waved his hand as if to cover the perimeter, ridge to ridge, road to creek, “Enjoy,” he said again, a little slower and more emphatic. So we walked past what Linda says was an old schoolhouse, brown clapboard with white trim, maroon metal roof, and then we found a fallen tree to cross Mill Creek. We walked home along the creek, crossing a built bridge this time and a gazebo of some people we don’t yet know.

All in all, a very good start to 2009, a year in which I hope for more of the same: exploring the creek, planting something green, sending greetings (by whatever means) to friends downstream. Whoever you are, wherever, happy 2009, and thanks for visiting.