So I asked the group of adults sitting around the table, "What odors or sensations evoke strong, positive memories from years ago?" Silence. On my part, too. I've been thinking for some time now about a tremendous gap in my education. It's a gap that many adults I know have, too. I hope to avoid having my children experience this same gap by way of this Mason education I've offered them. If you will track with me here, I think you will see another life-long benefit to all these things we do - nature study, outdoor time, attentiveness, observation, etc.
Do you read Cook's Illustrated? We are hopelessly addicted to its sumptuous recipes and excellent writing with a dash of New England charm. Think Taste of Home meets Consumer Reports meets Popular Science. In the July /August 2011 issue, Christopher Kimball has another impressive editorial called "Zero Degrees of Separation".
Mmmmmm. He goes on to lament the fact that most Americans, because of a lack of these experiences, have a huge gap between their senses and "the scent of life".I pull a Macoun apple off a tree in late September. It's marred by a small crescent of rust and the excavation of a hungry borer, but it snaps under my bite and the juice is sweet but sour, complex, even spicy, unlike any shiny Delicious snatched from a wooden bowl in a hotel lobby. It's not just an apple, it's that apple off that tree on that day. I stand in the garden in August and pull a carrot and then a radish by their leafy tops. I rub off the dirt and in the mouth they go, alive and vibrant. Mouthfuls of raspberries in late June, blueberries in July, Sun Gold tomatoes in August and then the digging of potatoes before Labor Day - bushel baskets stung out along the rows and the warm breath of dirt and roots washing upwards as I dig.
I was delighted when I came across Charlotte Mason's admonitions on this very subject. She, like Kimball, says that there should be zero degrees of separation between the memory of the senses and the richness of life.But few have commented on the loss of experience, about the degrees of separation between our noses and the rich scent of life. Forgive the metaphor, but the smell of Charlie Bentley's dairy barn in July has been stamped on my brain as if hit by a locomotive, and I wouldn't give up that memory sensation for anything. A whiff of manure...is simply part of life. If you are reading this editorial now and no strong odor memories come flooding back, go out and find a dairy barn this weekend, stick your head in, and take a long, deep whiff. It'll do you good.
We should fill for children the storehouse of memory with many open-air images, capable of giving them reflected sensations of extreme delight. Our constant care must be to secure that they do look, and listen, touch, and smell; and the way to this is by sympathetic action on our part: what we look at they will look at; the odours we perceive, they, too, will get. Vol. 2 p. 192
|The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window by J. M. W. Turner, 1794|
'These beauteous forms
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye;
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:--feelings, too,
Of unremembered pleasure;
Wordsworth so beautifully shares with us how his memory of Tintern Abbey - the sensations he experienced many years ago - bring him "tranquil restoration". I was reminded of this young lady, a CM graduate, and how, even at the age of 18, is already looking back and finding some solace in the sensory experiences of her nature studies. She says, "It seems the more stressful life gets, the more I appreciate the beauty I've been taught to see in nature."
Even this article by Andy Thompson about Richard Louv's latest book, The Nature Principle, touches on the importance of tactile, outside experiences and the lack therof in so many adults. Louv is quoted in the article as saying "nature deficit disorder is an atrophied awareness, a diminished ability to find meaning in the life that surrounds us."
Beauty... restoration for the soul...stress relief...meaning in life...zero degrees of separation. Funny how all this somehow relates to being fully human. Get outside. Play and work out there. Seek out a dairy farm. Start thinking about how you educate your children. Who knows - their future happiness and sanity may depend on it.