learning from the natives

IMG_6917My 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.IMG_6992My 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.

a native tway blade orchid

a native tway blade orchid that just revealed itself to us a few years ago.

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.IMG_6844My 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”? IMG_6848The 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. IMG_7006In 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.IMG_7005

lucky purple sweater

What’s a mama to do when her boy requests a purple hand-knit sweater? Bust out the knitting needles and get busy, of course! IMG_1248Ira’s request came about a year ago. For a moment, my mind drifted to all of the hats, coats, sweatshirts, shoes, and other garments that I have found over the years- in trees, in the barn, at the edge of the creek, in his chicken coop- haphazardly discarded in the wake of more important matters. For a moment, I wondered what fate this sweater might find. And if I should really bother spending so much time and money on something that might just wind up as chicken bedding. But the process of creating something holds many lessons, and as an artist and craftsperson, I garner so much joy from the process itself. (Farming is a lot about the process, too!) So without much hesitation, and with purple yarn and a couple of wooden sticks in hand, I cast on a sweater for my boy. (ravelry link here.) And I proudly cast off that sweater a few months later, late last winter, and handed it over to my smiling little monkey (picture above, the first wearing). I had no idea then what adventures Ira and this purple sweater would share…IMG_1489I hope it provided some comfort when he decided, of his own accord, that it was time to butcher one of his favorite coming-of-age roosters that was becoming a danger to anyone that walked past, namely his little three year old sister. And while wearing the sweater, he helped me butcher that rooster. IMG_2467I know it provided warmth on so, so many mushroom hunts this spring, when we were having a healthy competition to see who could find the most morels on the farm.IMG_2787And I can’t count the number of times that I’ve witnessed Ira putting on his purple sweater as he heads out the door with a yell over his shoulder, “I’m going to the creek to fish.” This particular day back in the spring, that purple sweater got to witness him reel in a small mouth bass that qualified him for a Trophy Fish Award and his first qualifying catch towards a Master Angler Award. He’s nine. Eric laughs that in all of his own years of fishing, Ira already has him beat. (I don’t think the proud papa really minds, though.)

And in all of those trips to the creek, or wherever else his bare feet and purple sweater take him on any given day, he’s witnessed river otters playing in the creek. He’s had beavers smack their tails on the surface of the creek at him, trying to scare him away. He’s chased attacking hawks away from his precious ducks. He’s walked miles. He’s shot his bow hundreds of times. He’s fixed bicycles and chopped down trees. He’s snuggled chicks and herded lambs. IMG_5238 IMG_5171At some point along the way, the sweater took on the status of “lucky”. (I remember my own lucky green corduroy overalls that I was convinced helped me win the third-grade spelling bee.) Yes, he was wearing his sweater just moments before shooting the apple with an arrow at the archery contest at the Linden Waldorf School “Elves Faire”. Yes, he was wearing it yesterday when he hauled in these two large-mouth bass from a pond on the farm. Yes, he’s had the sweater on for countless grand events. Are his successes because of his “lucky” sweater? I’m not so sure. IMG_5198 IMG_5197As Ira wears his purple sweater, pretty much on a daily basis (except for the rare occasion that I actually wash the thing… oh, the beauty of wool), I am witness to something else that is so amazing. He is growing. I see what was a loose fitting sweater just a few short months ago now fits like a glove. The sleeves aren’t too long anymore. I can see how his arms are filling in the sweater where his muscles are growing. I see his unbelievable determination shining through when he focuses on a project. I see his confidence growing as he is given the freedom to pursue his passions.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more than luck at work here…IMG_5218Sometimes, I like to think that I’ve not just made Ira a purple sweater, but his very own suit of armor. Instead of being made of little loops of metal though, like most chainmaille suits of armor, the thousands of loops of yarn made a suit of amour… a suit of love. A warm and comforting gesture from a mama to her son. It’s the least I could do. IMG_5222Oh, yes… I know for sure that the sweater isn’t nearly as lucky as the mama of this little boy.

the freedom to play

IMG_4793After doing evening chores in the golf cart, we race Ira on his bike through the pasture. Peals of laughter are heard from up ahead, where Ira is proudly surpassing the golf cart’s speed. While harvesting ginger, the children gather the discarded stalks to make houses, learning about balance and structure (and sub-consciously about the texture and smell of ginger plants). While digging sweet potatoes, the children (and Eric, too) would see who could find the craziest shaped root. We found ducks, pigs, footballs, and even a very grinch-like specimen. When they got tired of grubbing for roots, they would just sit and enjoy running little fingers through the soil and eventually move on to burying a very tolerant chihuahua in the loose dirt. IMG_4813Eric and I chose this particular way of living, knowing that someday we would share it with our children, too. I knew that I wanted to homeshcool my kiddos; to be in their presence each and every day. It isn’t always easy, though. In fact, some days we find it incredibly challenging trying to hold down the fort while also maintaining the flow of our farm business and all that goes with it. I know I have said this before. Many times, in fact. I just don’t want to give the unrealistic impression that my life is perfect and our days flow seamlessly from one moment to the next. It’s a far, far cry from that. But we do try. We make great efforts to incorporate our children into our days. Not by always asking them to do what we are doing, but by allowing them to be by our sides while we work, to help if they choose and if not, to find something to do that doesn’t hinder anyone else. And this is where play comes into our daily picture. We definitely give ample space for play; free, unbridled play. IMG_4843Play is pretty important around here. Play is our saving grace. Play is the humor when things get a bit too serious. Play is a huge breath of fresh air. Play is what happens while we go about the thick and thin of our days.  If the entire family is working in the garden together, we rely on play to serve as the bridge between our work and our family relations. If we are doing schoolwork in the house with one child, usually the other two find their niches playing with dolls or drawing. Sure, sometimes the children would rather fight than play. Sure, sometimes finding our playful sides takes quite a bit of effort. Sure, sometimes very busy days leave us feeling cranky and not at all like playing. Reality is what it is. However, I make it a point to not over-schedule my children’s days (Partly for selfish reasons because I don’t want to spend excess time driving them to and fro, and mostly for their own sakes because I don’t want them to remember their childhoods in the context of the minivan.) giving us all the more time to just play.IMG_4799Honestly, it breaks my heart to think that children nowadays are beginning to lose the ability to play. Wait. That’s not what I mean to say. It’s not that children are losing the ability to play, it’s that the adults in these children’s lives are not honoring the value of play for children and are not allowing time for it in the midst of tight schedules and standardized tests. I’ve heard and read that many public schools are taking away recess time as well as physical education classes (where children can at least move their bodies!) to make way for more classroom time spent staring at computer screens. Our society is so determined to crank out little robots that are trained to the 9 to 5 regime that we are forgoing the precious and extremely short time of childhood. Playing needs to be incorporated into our days more, not less. What I’m talking about is free, unscheduled, uninterrupted, unplugged play. Play time for children is critical for their healthy mental, physical, and emotional development. Let’s chuck the video games out the window and make space for real play. Are you with me? The opportunities for playing are limitless no matter where you are.  Fancy toys and gadgets are not required. IMG_4914