Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Case for Curiosity

"The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings..."--Robert Louis Stevenson
Curiosity is a curious thing. I'm full of it and I wonder if its innate.  If not, where does it come from?  Who has it?  How do you get it? And most importantly, why does it matter...or does it?
When it comes to the natural world I've been a curiosity seeker since I was a littl girl.  As a matter of fact, you could have easily followed my nature ramblings (which were frequent in my formative years) by following all the turned over rocks I picked up.  I had a mesmerizing fascination with the idea of what might be under that rock even though the looking terrified me.  I guess you could call it a morbid curiousity!
That said, I remember a day last summer when I had an opportunity to pay the curiousity forward to my oldest granddaughter, Meredith.  She had spent a few days with us on our ranch.  Her visit occured during the deepest part of summer here in this beautiful Wallowa Valley.  At that time of year there is an especially bewitching hour in the day that could (and sometimes does) cast a slightly melancholy spell on me.  Sitting talking to Meredith, that melancholy moment burst upon us--just before dusk--when birds begin to roost, talking quietly amongst themselves while settling in for the night.  Yet, at the same time other--more nocturnal creatures--are gearing up for a night of slaughter and possible mayhem.
I am curious about those birds and wonder to myself:  Are they chattering away in hushed tones to a husband after a long and busy day like I sometimes do with mine?  Do they have the same worries I do--the same concerns?  I'll never know on this earth, but I sort of like the idea it is so. (Note to self:   Ask God about this when you get to heaven.)
As I listened on I realized all the other night sounds were gearing up as well, like some huge forest symphony, softly rehearsing in nature's orchestra pit.  I was caught up in the wild song, until my granddaughter's voice brought me back.
"Marmee, you said we could go to the Killing Tree.  I want to see it."
The voice shakes me out of my mood and turns my thoughts to what I call the Killing Tree that I've told Merideth about. This huge old Weeping Willow is something I pass every day and often at this time of the night, going to and from town.  The tree's fantastic shape and bushy undergrowth holds that morbid curiosity for me reminiscent to overturning rocks and especially after I'd seen so many owls hanging about there.
Owls seem to love that old tree. You can hardly see the ground beneath it because it's such an overgrown tangled, mass of leaves and limbs.  Just out a little ways from the tree there is a grouping of four scraggly old wooden posts stuck in a square pattern by the swampy area next to the tree. (I'm guessing it used to fence something in or out, but the wire is long gone now.)  
Once, passing by it on my way home, I counted four owls on or near the tree--three on those posts--facing each other like overgrown, stuffed chess pieces.  Another owl perched in the tree above looked vacant, appearing to take no notice of the goings on below him.  No doubt about it, it was time for Meredith and I to go exploring the Killing Tree.
We hopped into my flatbed truck and headed off down the road.  I told Mer to bring a sack with her.  She was curious about that, but I told her to wait and see.
We arrived with a little daylight to spare, but not much. Even in the day time being under that tree was a spooky affair, but towards dusk it was down right eery.  I don't know all that much about owls; but I do know they are efficient killing machines, who feed on rhodents and other small birds. I've heard they'll take cats and kittens and even small dogs, and I beleve it.  A cold blooded more calloused fellow, I've never encountered in the bird world! 
I explained to Meredith that we would be looking for owl pellets.  These queer things are oblong-shaped like a small pine cone and are the macabre remains of what the birds regurgitate after eating all those bony meals, I told her.  The skeletal leftovers are encased inside the pellets and you can dissect them  and quite literally rebuild the skeleton of a mouse--or whatever other tasty morsel they've devoured! 
Our Tree did not disappoint us--it was FULL of littered pellets all over the ground beneath it.  Not only that, but there were many bones--some quite large--lying about as well.  We saw claws that looked like they may have belonged to hawks; they were that big and the odds and ends of beaks--lots of beaks. 
It was more than creepy but it sated our curiousity for that day.  Meredith collected all she wanted and we headed home.  It wasn't that much time involved, but I'm hoping that by sharing the Killing Tree with my granddaughter it will start her on a life-long pursuit of curiosity and a love of learning that she can someday pass on to her children.
What are the ways you've helped instill curiousity into your child or grandchild?  Here are a few simple suggestions to start you on your way to making the case for curiousity a little easier.
1. Great books read aloud with enthusiasm and drama make children naturally want more.
2. Connect your children to interesting and unusual people. Our oldest son was mentored by a wonderul older man who was a first rate woodsmen and by a woman who was an expert on Native American aboriginal skills.
3. Make any road trip into a curiousity thrill by taking side trips or by stopping at out of the way places.  My husband was famous for encouraging spontaneous new routes or screeching to a sudden halt at spots that looked interesting to the children.
4. Spend time outside.  It may sound simple but forages in the forest, meadows, mountains or even a nice park during the spring to hunt and identify wild flowers (for example) is a wonderful way to pique a child's natural curiousity and interest.  Charlotte Mason, an unusual British educator, said the ideal world for a child had nature at its doorstep.  She felt that organized lessons should only take up the morning, so that children could freely play in and enjoy the gardens, meadows, wood and lanes of England every afternoon. ("For the Children's Sake" by Susan Schaeffer McCaulay)
5. Instill curiousity for learning by modeling that desire and enthusiasm with your child.  One of my friend's related to me that her father built her bedroom around an old tree on their property.  The tree was living in the middle of her room where she kept a tiny falcon she'd rescued. 
6. Provide "delight directed" activities capitalizing on their interests.  We homeschooled and this provided the perfect environment to develop a curriculum that allowed their natural interests to flourish.  Our oldest son's love of learning about aboriginal skills lead to his making a book on the subject that subsequently netted him a scholarship into the school he chose.
7. Find ways to make the commonplace and everyday creative because creativity naturally builds curiousity.  I have a friend who said there was no such thing as a non-creative person.  We all have it in us [creativity], she said.  But just like a muscle, it needs exercising to become stronger.
8. Encourage your children to ask questions--lots of questions, especially about other's lives.  (But be prepared, it can be a little scarey!)
9. Provide lots of hands on activities that connect with all their senses.  Try to avoid coloring books, but rather provide them with lots of great kinds of paper, quality colored pencils and crayons, brushes and good watercolors and whatever else they need to build their curiousity and imagination.
10. Encourage make believe and imagination in all its glorious forms.  We used to call our backyard at the "Tacky Trailer Park" we owned The 100 Acres Wood, straight from "Winnie the Pooh".   (That really took imagination, but I bet if I asked my kids about a favorite place they lived, they'd say that trailer park.)
11. Allow them to explore, even if it's borderline dangerous! (and then pray like heck the Lord will keep them safe!)  My husband was brilliant at this, though I did often pray fervently every time he turned them loose on one or another adventure they'd concocted.
12. Make pets a part of your life, even if it's just a parakeet. It's amazing to watch and experience all the curious and silly things they do!
13. Get rid of your TV.  You'll be amazed at how much more creative and curious they become. This means limiting time on the computer and video watching too.
This list is just a beginning, I look forward to hearing from all my blog friends on how you make the case for curiousity!
~Happy Trails~

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