When I decided to start blogging about my experiences in nature, I thought long and hard about a moniker for myself and my page. Something that would elicit the act of being outside in nature and interacting with it, of all the curiosity and joy that that brings to me and the children who join me. I spend much of my time wandering, enjoying moving at a pace that allows me to notice and to observe. But this is not all that I do. Wondering, however, being filled with wonder, being curious and asking questions, this is something that fills my days. Being outside brings out a childlike curiosity in me, I find myself noticing more, and questioning more, not always having the answers, but being comfortable with that, sometimes the question provides more than any answer could. Being outside with children opens my eyes even more to all that surrounds me. Seeing things through their eyes, as if for the first time, re instills a sense of awe in me for things that may otherwise have become every day or mundane, seen so many times but never properly witnessed.
On our weekly Friday walks from seashore to woodland we amble in single file along the double yellow line that borders the road. The line often stretches further than twice the length of children it contains. A bumblebee attracted to a flower might catch the eye of one child, who stops all those following in her path as she notes it hovering from flower to flower. A leaf of new growth holly, whose light green hue is in contrast to its older darker siblings, will hold another as they feel the soft prickles that do not live up to their name. The heron who rests upon a rock in the muddy shallows of the bay will mesmerise, and as that heron launches into flight, shouts will erupt to draw the attention of the others to such a entrancing sight. Each week the hedgerow we follow will have some new bloom, or taller nettles, or a snail attached to the exposed rock to capture the attention of all those who pass, wondering as they do so at all this beauty, captivated by each small nuance that so many others would casually walk past without giving it a moments thought. And this all takes place before we even enter the woods. What a rich learning environment even a roadside walk can provide.
A forest school activity that I have used with many groups is to work in pairs, to walk and find something that draws your interest, and to ask each other questions to which we do not know the answers. Each question begins with “I wonder…”, it is not the place of the other to answer, but merely to listen and to allow each wonder to be voiced. At the Irish Forest School Association Conference last month I had the pleasure of being able to partake in this activity rather than facilitate it. I found myself wondering about an oak tree in the car park of the National Heritage Park. I wondered if it was lonely standing there without another oak tree for company. I wondered how many creatures it provided shelter for. I wondered how far its roots spread beneath me. I wondered how old the tree would live to be.
When was the last time you wondered? Take the time to go outside, to notice, to observe, to be curious and to wonder. Does it change in any way how you perceive the natural world? Wondering is a gift, to be wondering wild is a real privilege, one for which I am daily grateful that I can share with those around me.
“The more I wonder, the more I love.” Alice Walker