It Takes a Village…

Grandson, Nolan, discovering Nature's wonders...he thinks bugs are cool!

“It takes a village to raise a child. ” – African Proverb

A short time ago, Kim @ The Inadvertent Farmer featured a guest writer.  You can read the post in its entirety here on Kim’s terrific blog.

In her guest’s post, it was suggested that our exposure to Nature and the natural world around us in childhood is directly related to how we embrace these things as we get older.  I’ve thought about this a lot since I first read it and the hypothesis certainly holds true for me.  I’m sure my love of gardening and my reverence for Nature was forged in those formative years.

My father was always an avid gardener, surrounding our property with hedges of dahlias; planting spring and fall bulbs; starting flowers from seed.  He had a small hothouse even when I was a little girl, over the years building a much larger one.  How well I recall the smell of potting soil…the hothouse was a completely different atmosphere to me — moist, warm, steamy, earthy.

I was completely captivated by whatever magical process could turn hard, black seeds into the most beautiful blue of morning glories that wound their way up freshly painted trellises and tumbled onto the back porch — astonished by the richness of flavour of a new tomato, just plucked from the vine, warm from the sun.  Why, the tomatoes we bought in the store weren’t tomatoes at all!

The small, seaside village in which I grew up and lived for most of my married life, was a “mining town”.  Hundreds of families drew their sustenance from the Earth through the mining of barites and quarrying of gypsum.  As huge trucks and rock wagons travelled through the narrow roadways like ants, sidewalks were constructed along the main street as a safe place for children to walk to and from school.  These were not the concrete sidewalks that we see today, but rather well worn, dirt footpaths, just wide enough for one or two to walk abreast or for bicycles to navigate.  Some days I walked, but I usually rode my little bike.

Along the one-mile route to the school, one passed many houses — some large, some small…some very old and grand, some newly constructed.  There are so many anecdotal stories I could relate about my fascination with their gardens and flowers — many that I had never seen in my own yard.

I remember one house in particular where the most beautiful scent would waft out on the tidal breeze, so sweet that, in my mind, it couldn’t possibly be from a flower.  Having been taught that you simply don’t venture onto someone else’s property without permission, I passed the house day after day, too nervous to investigate.  Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I was exposed, for the first time, to lily-of-the-valley.

One of the oldest homes in the village, known as the Woolaver House.

There, in a shaded corner to the left of the entryway that you see in this Google photo, was a clump of the most enchanting blooms I’d ever seen — little white bells, so tiny and sweet that they must surely be tended by faeries!  It must have made an impression all those many years ago, because I’m smiling now as I write this and I can still recall that WONDER.

There were many other homes that featured phlox, roses, feathery ferns, and vine-covered fences.  Houses with window boxes and formal hedges and polite lines of trees, and those whose lawns simply sported clumps of colour in no particular order.  They were all beautiful, and they were all mine to see.

As children, we communed with Nature on a daily basis.  We ran along sandy beaches, cold water splashing our tanned legs.  We climbed trees.  We “mined” for treasure, using hammer and chisels on very unforgiving rock.  Dandelions weren’t weeds!  They were the brightness of Spring that could be made into chain “necklaces”.  Winter wasn’t to be dreaded — those first frigid days simply meant that we would soon be able to skate on the same pond where, just months before, we had watched turtles sunning themselves.  We were never bored.  The world was just awesome.

Blue Eyed Verbena

I am still wowed by all those things.  So, yes, I do believe our exposure to the natural world in our childhood definitely does influence how we embrace it as adults.  And if, as the proverb suggests, it takes a village to raise a child, then perhaps, in my case at least, it took a village to raise a gardener.

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13 thoughts on “It Takes a Village…

  1. I couldn’t agree more. This was a wonderful post, Nancy. We seemed to have grown up pretty much alike. Except I was on a small ranch in Oklahoma, instead of at the shore. My parents were like yours, though.

    That verbena is lovely. I started a purple one from seed one year, but hadn’t seen the blue one until now.

  2. I was a child of the outdoors. Remember your mom telling you, “Go outside and play!” I do, and I made good use of the time. My brother and I were a pair of adventurers wandering across the countryside without a care in the world – except getting back before dark. Our wanderings took us over many fences, up many trees, looking under many rocks, through snaking creeks and rivers, and created a place in my heart that I look back on lovingly today. To this day, I am drawn to adventures in the outdoors, whether tending my little garden or climbing mountains in Colorado. I agree with you, this exposure to the outdoors when I was a kid set the stage for my intimate appreciation and constant longing for nature adventures!

  3. You and Kim are so right~I spent a lot of free time outside, at a family farm and in the nearby woods in my childhood~I am sure that the earliest farm gardens are imprinted in my psyche as Garden! I cannot imagine not gardening! We made sure our son went camping, knew about the environment and conservation. He’s now working on his Phd in ecology. gail

  4. I was exposed to nature very early too. We had a field next door to our house and it was filled with wildflowers. So many birds…we called Goldfinches..wild canaries and tried to catch them. I always had a jar in my hand..collecting things. We were outside all day until dusk, only coming in for meals. This was a wonderful post…I loved reading it.
    Balisha

  5. A very nostalgic post. My early memories are of my grandmother growing yummy veggies and beautiful Roses. I know it inspired me later on in life. :)

  6. Great post! I love the photo of your grandson with the bug. As the mother of three boys, our house and gardens were a nature laboratory with ongoing scientific discovery. Tonight my oldest son, not yet married, came by to discuss his new garden. So it passes to the next generation!

  7. What a lovely photo of chubby little hands exploring the natural world, Nancy! Your grandson is lucky little guy being part of a family who treasures nature.

    I had an urban childhood, but Mom found lots of ways to expose us to nature in our own backyards and many roadtrips to family farms, public gardens, and state and national parks. She loved/loves all of nature, and wasn’t afraid to pick up a frog, bug, or snake to show us. We fostered baby birds fallen from their nests, and once we had a home of our own, helped with our family’s large veggie garden and Mom’s flower gardens. The freedom we had as children to explore and play outdoors was indeed formative for us. When our TV broke one year, Mom decided we would do without one as an experiment, and we didn’t have TV for about 18 months – we didn’t really miss it with all there was to do, and I’m glad for that experience. My girls spent most of their childhood free time outdoors too, and the two with children of their own place a high value on their children’s ‘outdoor educations’ as well. I’m still filled with childlike wonder at the awesomeness of nature, and am delighted our family’s legacy of love of the outdoors and nature is still being passed on to new generations.

  8. Nancy .. that is so TRUE .. sadly so many kids now a days do NOT have a clue of how it is to be “let lose” into nature enjoying and forever remembering how sweet that part of our life was.
    I spent childhood years in Louisbourg .. I grew to love the fog and the foghorn .. to truly appreciate warm summer days and cool evenings .. I loved and still love the Atlantic ocean .. I have seen the Pacific but some how it lacks something that Lousibourg’s portion of the Atlantic sea possesses ? perhaps it was just that time line in my life ? .. Kids who don’t know what it is like to build a fort in the woods .. happen upon a pond and follow it through Spring to winter and indeed skate on it : )
    That connection to the earth is lost to so many children and adults .. it is sad .
    I am forever grateful to have the memories I have though .. this refreshed them all ! Thank you !
    Joy

  9. Wonderful post which brought back so many memories of childhood. I think I was also influenced by my Dad who grew anything and everything from veggies for a big family to, in his later years, orchids and roses.

  10. I spent many hours and nights in that very house after being told to go play outside with my friends :) My mom has also told me many stories from her childhood from that house with many of my Woolaver family members that I was never lucky enough to meet. Very nice, Nancy!

  11. An excellent post, and one I connect with, having rambled in the juniper woodlands near our house in central Texas growing up, and having enjoyed many wonderful hikes in the mountains of the west on family camping trips.

    But I always keep in mind that both my spouse and my best friend in graduate school grew up in cities (LA and Detroit, respectively) without much direct connection with nature until college, and both are biology professors (plant ecologists) today teaching college students about the natural world. And both are passionate about nature and its conservation.

    So it’s not always in childhood that these interests are formed!

  12. So very true, Nancy. My big thing was always making sure to get my family out hiking, even though my husband would have preferred to stay at home on the computer. And now that I garden, my family gardens with me. But with the schoolyard habitat I worked on this past year, I know that many more kids will get chances to explore nature, even if they don’t do much else with their family. It was all so worth it. I’m driven by the wonders of nature I enjoyed as a child–I’d say that 95% of my childhood memories involve the outdoors. That says something about the influence of nature on children!

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