By Sue Watts
For twelve hours, we had pounded the dreariness of I-40, dodging road-warrior truckers and motorists wielding cell phones. Body-weary and mind-numb, we stumbled from the car into the New Mexico darkness . . . one lit by an umbrella of stars, the misty veil of the Milky Way, and the starry presence of Orion. Coyotes sang a chorus into the silence: New Mexico enchantment at its best.
As we get older, it gets harder to find that sense of enchantment. It often takes something as big as the star-spangled universe to take our breath away. We sit in our warm houses, our minds occupied by electronic gadgets, ignoring the grand show wheeling overhead.
Rachel Carson talks of wrapping her 20-month-old nephew Roger in a blanket after his bedtime and sharing the wildness of an ocean shore's storm with him. A scientist of the first order, she shared the enchantment with him - no names, no explanations, just the roar of the wind and the mist of ocean spray. She saw the look of her wonder in his eyes.
As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or next-door-neighbors, we can share the magic and excitement of the un-wired world outside our doors. With the little ones, it's the tiny things that grab them . . . things we may not have noticed in years. In fact, the kids are often our best guides at finding magic things--a trail of ants, the coldness of the snow that sticks to your hand, cushy moss, shiny rocks, the watery world of a creek. For the price of thirty minutes and the willingness to follow their lead as they explore the back yard or a nearby park, we too can catch a glimpse of their enchantment. We don't have to be experts; we don't have to know names or be able to expound on how the world is knit together. If we make room for the magic, the kids themselves will want to learn more and can turn to books or the internet to put names to their discoveries.
This works. I spent a glorious (yes, enchanting) day by the East Fork of the Jemez River while my nephews, aged 6 and 8, explored. When their attention began to wander after an hour, I handed over the aquarium nets and some collecting pans, and they were off into the creek-world for another two hours. The sun shone, the flowers bloomed, and the kids punctuated the air with their excited cries of discovery. On the way home, I handed back an old field guide I kept in the car, and I heard the older one explaining to the younger one, "That's a water strider... we saw it in the creek!"
If we can see the world through their eyes, on their timetable, we can catch that whiff of magic, of wonder, from them. We just have to be willing to get out there with them and see the world through their eyes. We can, as balladeer John Denver sang,
Sue Watts is a board member and educator at PEEC (Pajarito Environmental Education Center).
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