The Value of the Knowledge of Nature

The other day my husband and I were called to my uncle’s farm to help him with his peach harvest. At the age of 89, he had faithfully tended and harvested from his Red Haven peach trees since they were planted 60 years ago, and it was clear that he counted them as friends. He was no longer able to climb into the trees, nor mount a ladder to pick off the fruit, so he had arranged a fork-lift mechanism onto his tractor to get higher up into the tree. My uncle ran the lift while my husband was raised into the loaded branches, and I picked fruit from the ground. As he noticed the weight of the fruit in the trees and as we relieved them of their burden, my uncle said several times quietly to himself, “There, old trees, that will lighten your load and make it easier for you.”

As I pondered these intimate words, I couldn’t help but think of Charlotte Mason’s admonition that all children, (as well as adults,) develop relationships with their outdoor environment. She states in Home Education,

“It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.1

Sown in the life of a child at an early age, a knowledge of trees, wild flowers, crops, garden vegetables, fruiting plants, and even weeds grows into a kinship with local flora. Relationships are developed which last a lifetime. Friends are made, and the joy of being connected to nature and the earth becomes embedded in the soul of a person, creating a place of peace within oneself where one may go for relief, refreshment, renewal, and reverence.

As summer winds down, and the preparations and details of the school year increase, I have resolved to create time for opportunities to become reacquainted with my surroundings. I want to develop the habit of observing and delighting in the world around me. I desire to store within my memories those beautiful and quiet places which revive my spirit. My elderly uncle’s love of and bond with the natural world around him has challenged me toward this end, and Charlotte Mason’s words of a century ago ring as true now as when they were written:

“For we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself.2

1 Mason, Charlotte, Home Education pp. 61
2 Ibid, pp. 42
* Peach Trees in bloom Anthony Dunn Photography