My accent, or lack thereof, gives me away most of the time. Folks instantly know I’m “not from around here”. (Here being southern Kentucky.) I am not native to this place that I have called “home” for nearly fifteen years. I never will be. I was born and raised in southern Indiana and in most people’s eyes (and I suppose in my own eyes, too) those are my native stomping grounds. I am a native Hoosier. I always will be. It doesn’t matter that in just a few years I will have lived more of my life in other places than southern Indiana. Funny how that works.My kids are a different story entirely. They were born here. Right here. Right in this very house on this very farm. (Well, except for Ira… he was born just down the road in Tennessee ’cause my midwife for his birth couldn’t cross state lines, but that’s a different story for a different day…) They have known no other home than this little cabin in the woods. They are native Bugtusslers. They are native to this place in a way that I never will be.
From the very beginning of their lives they have been learning the landscape of this farm. I packed them in a sling or backpack everywhere I went. Walking up steep hills, snug by my side, they would hear my breath quicken and unconsciously associate my body’s rhythms with their own developing internal map of this landscape. When their two legs could carry them, they learned to navigate the rough terrain on their own. They wanted freedom from mama’s clutches, and freedom I gave them. (Ira was a particularly fat little guy and my back breathed a sigh of relief when he was ready to use his own chubby feet!) There was no carpet to soften the falls, either, just rocks and dirt and grass. And I always had to be prepared to pause when they did find themselves on the ground from a fall, as there was always something new and interesting to investigate down there.My first born child is a prime example: Already in his ten years, Ira knows this farm better than I do. He knows all of the hidden little springs. He knows each species of fish in the creek. He knows the trees, even obscure varieties like Carolina buckthorn and ironwood. He knows the difference between a scarlet tanager and a summer tanager… not just by their physical features but also by their voices. He remembers these things with ease. It all comes so naturally to him. He is native. I, on the other hand, have to work to remember. My native terrain did not include the same things. I wonder, If these hills were my playground as a child, would I also remember the details with such ease? Will Ira carry this landscape and its occupants forever in his heart even if one day he no longer calls this place “home”? The other day he came bursting into the house saying to Eric and me that we just had to come right now to look at these different birds that he had never seen before. A small group of rose breasted grosbeaks were feeding on something in the tree canopy. We aren’t really in their habitat range so we can only guess that they were just passing through. If not for my little native boy, my eyes would have never witnessed those beautiful birds. He helps me learn. His native eyes see what mine overlook. In my family’s journey of homeschooling, or unschooling, or life schooling, or whatever you want to call it, Eric and I are not just teachers that spurt out information for our kids to remember. We go hand in hand together each day with our children. We learn from each other, from our surroundings, and from our work, (and from books and the computer, too). Obviously, as adults with more life experience, Eric and I have a lot we want to teach our children. We are both passionate about nature and the environment, so undoubtedly our teaching (learning) has a serious lean in that direction. Most of the time, we let the days unfold as they will, and we see what we see, and we learn from it. Even if we can’t always quantify what was learned, the learning is happening. Being present and open to the experience is the key to success with this style of learning. And to be an example. A good example. (Oh, man, do I really have that responsibility?) When my children witness my continued passion for learning, their doors open even wider. When they witness firsthand the joy of discovery (like a few days ago when we discovered that an intact snakeskin could be inflated. who knew?), the world becomes even more intriguing. As we go about our days, we aren’t just learning…we are also discovering ourselves and our place in this world, whether we are native to the terrain or not.