Here and Now: A History of Trips That Yield the Most Various Experiences in the Smallest Locales
Sometimes it seems that when I was young and being schooled, as everyone must be, out of the past, we were encouraged to feel guilty for being 'materialistic.' There was a subtle sin in being too fond of 'things,' of sensual pleasures other than those that excited only the eyes and ears, and especially the thinking part of the mind.
Lady fern, native perennial upright fern that can reach 2-5 feet in height; USDA, Forest Service
By the happenstance of being sent to a peculiarly progressive summer camp for six years, I was among a band of privileged city children. I doubt if any of us were aware at the time of the imprint an unusual group of post-adolescent counselors would have on us for the rest of the lives of those of us who remember those summers.
The camp was in Vermont, and the counselors were nearly all majors in natural sciences from that state's university. They never took us on a hike without ongoing lectures on the plants we were trampling through, the stones and features where the trails lay, the identities of insects, animals, birds, of everything we saw or heard. I know that at one time I could have named any fern in the northeastern United States, and probably half the wildflowers.
We went on trips to places that would yield the most various experiences in the smallest locales. For instance, an abandoned talc quarry where, with a jackknife as your only tool, you could return to camp with magnetite crystals, garnets, pyrites, and black tourmaline. We went to marble quarries where we could see fabulous evidence of life from far too far in the past for minds as young as ours even to comprehend.
Small children (I was first sent at the age of six) form habits of learning without being aware of them. My introduction to identification began then, and was fostered throughout his life by my father. The physical world was so much more with me than it is so often for other children, especially from urban environments, that I suspect it may have something to do with my dismay at how little so many people seem to notice.
The things that aren't valued seem at least as important on our ever more challenged planet as any abstract ideals. I'm too far from today's young, and those I do know are too few for me to guess at how much they are encouraged to become as aware as our little group of campers.
At a distance of so many decades from that time in my own life, I know certainly that the moral qualities of life are most important. I'm equally certain that life involves not only those, but is made up of the bodies and minds that appreciate them, and that the physical can never be relegated to a secondary position if a human being is to be consciously alive.
I know that few people are of greater importance than the primary school teachers and young parents who initiate children into the practice of paying attention — not in a classroom or to lectures alone, but to everything that proves to them that they are sentient and alive — in the present.
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