Friday, May 9, 2014

Reclaiming wonder

Spring rains drove the earthworms above ground one morning last week. This nearly caused us to be late to school, as the kids exclaimed over the sheer number of worms in the driveway, studied their thin, squiggly tracks through the sandy surface, and gently relocated several of them to the gardens.

The worms, and why they were out of their worm tunnels, were the topic of conversation all the way to school that morning – and a reminder of how little it takes to inspire wonder in the hearts and minds of children.

As a natural question asker, I like to think that I’m always striving to learn, to ponder, to look for answers. But there is something magical about the wonder of a child that even a robust adult curiosity can’t match. Often, adults are content to know what we know. Or perhaps we are too busy thinking of work and home and family logistics to follow the wandering trail of wonder very far. Sometimes we are moving too fast to notice the small things, or we contemplate a question only briefly before becoming distracted by some more pressing matter.

Children, though, are endlessly curious. They will ask, “Why?” and, “How?” until they reach some satisfactory conclusion. For them, it is completely natural to spend hours figuring out how to shore up the building-of-the-day in the sandbox, or construct sandy canals on a seashore beach, adjusting plans as the waves move water in and out.

Children are more willing than adults to pause along a favorite hike and admire the pink lady slippers hidden in the shade beside the trail. They examine and admire ordinary rocks, noticing the textures and colors and shapes. They wonder about the moles that leave mounds in the front lawn, rather than finding them a simple nuisance. They thoughtfully watch ants moving about their dirt domains, bees buzzing in flowers, and caterpillars creeping along leaves.

Since my children have been old enough to crawl through the grass, then walk through the woods, I have found my own sense of childish wonder revived as we explore our small piece of the world. As they grow older, the kids’ questions become more detailed, and we look for the answers together, leafing through field guides about birds and trees and butterflies, or turning to the Internet to identify a flower, learn more about our resident garden toads, or find out what the fox really says.

From the chairlift in winter, we wonder what animal made the tracks in the freshly groomed snow below. As we wander through the awakening landscape of spring, we notice all sorts of leaves growing on the forest floor and wonder which wildflower will bloom first – and where trout lilies and bloodroot got their names. During summer days at the beach, we watch hermit crabs scamper through tidal pools and wonder about all the other creatures living beyond the shore, far out in the vast ocean.

Whether it is the first pea shoot growing through the garden dirt in the springtime, the 100th woolly bear caterpillar migrating in the fall, or the back-and-forth calls of our neighborhood barred owls, each discovery is brimming with the promise of new things to learn, new wonders to discover.

Amidst my children’s easy enthusiasm at even ordinary sights and sounds, I am inspired to look more closely at the small details, to take note of the exact colors of the sunrise and the delicate shape of an individual snowflake, to crouch down in search of the Jack-in-the-pulpit growing secretly beneath the rose hedge, to welcome the first song of spring peepers and the return of butterflies to the garden. My inner child awakens to reclaim the wonder.

Original content by Meghan McCarthyMcPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings from a full life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the Littleton Record.

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