"Degrees of Separation" or "Your Child's Future Sanity"

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".  

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.
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".
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.
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.
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
It gets better.  She uses Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey as the backdrop for her discussion.  (I rather like Tintern Abbey.  Have I mentioned that seeing Tintern Abbey in person is something I will do someday?  But I digress.)

'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.


  1. Years ago I got a free Cook's magazine I still have and adore...
    Funny you write this. I was thinking how new I am to this, first generation of teaching my daughters differently. I also don't have those memories, and it shouldn't be like that.
    I love how you weaved this post. A few weeks ago, translating about habits from Mason, I also read the part about the nursery and when she says most of us adults don't have a sense of smell... and how pitiful. And how the children and us need to develop this sense and be able that way to smell when something is wrong in the babies clothes, the difference between fresh air and stagnated air inside the house, and that should be a experience we crave, to smell outdoors. I thought you'd quote from there, but I'm realizing that, obviously, Mason had this present in more than one section of her writings.
    We now have figs, and we've enjoyed our own apples, beans, lemons, onions, herbs... I wish for my children to be feel and experience as Chris Kimball writes.
    Connecting with something totally different, Michael Savage was saying how many Americans (and I extend that to Europeans too :) don't know what they are eating when they go to restaurants, which, by the way, the word comes from restore, meaning to enjoy a meal in peace and tranquility, which is far away from the atmosphere of many restaurants, and the tone the customers set with their anxious requests for this extra, not that, and their hurried behavior with cells, texting, and even small tv's, yes, crazy, that's what I saw last time we went, with a coupon, to the ultra expensive Taste of Texas, when many many people again, hold a fork and a knife like true Barbarians, which we in my family, hold as anathema! ha ha ha. We believe nobody with a proper use of a fork and knife should be granted the chance to eat any quality piece of meat! ha ha ha. May that be because we don't have those layers of understanding food?

  2. I meant gift card, not coupon, sorry! And now you've made me want to subscribe to Cook.

  3. yes, it is a good magazine. Love what you put on the blog to read. Very poetic! Heading to the coast for a week but it is hot. Hard to get outside here in the South for long. Great blog!
    I spent all summers outside in my childhood on Long Island and I have a picture of eternity in that education!

  4. My uncle had a dairy farm. I do recall the scent very well! :)

    Scents that send me strong memories are freshly-cut grass, rain on the pavement, chemicals in a beauty salon (probably not the healthiest scent for kids, lol!), leaves burning in the backyard.

    We had a friend who, because of an accident, lost his sense of smell. That loss, in turn, meant that he lost his sense of taste. And that loss, in turn, meant he lost the pleasure of eating, a sensual pleasure he never even knew he had until he lost it.

    Wonderful topic....lots for me to think about as I plan our homeschooling days...are they smelly enough?? :)

  5. Reading this makes me want to start my blog... Great post and reminder. You rock!

    Bobby Jo

  6. It's amazing how a whiff of woodsmoke or even thinking about it can take me back to running up my drive in the chill fall twilight and bursting into the warmth of home and Mom's cooking.
    The scent of decaying leaves in the autumn woods, fir trees, being at sea, nearing land and breathing in the warm spruce scented air, these are all the scents of my childhood.
    I have seen this disconnect you are speaking of and it is a sad thing. I hope and pray for wisdom to instill a connectedness to the earth and her changing seasons in my children.
    I am thankful for Charlotte's wisdom.
    Great post! It has given me food for thought.

  7. What a lovely post Nancy. I am very much a sensory person so aromas do bring back a hoard of memories for me. It's quite funny how I'll be walking down the street, get a whiff of a familiar scent and suddenly be bombarded with childhood memories. Thanks for a great post.
    Shirley Ann

  8. It is funny that manure is mentioned...we smell it all the time here in our smaller town surrounded by farms.
    But when I try to think about the past, I can recall smells from when I was very young, not the in between years (the age my kids are now) and that makes me wonder what they will recall when they are my age.
    We unfortunately are a family that spends a lot of time *inside*...but since starting on a CM education with my kids, I am learning that outside is much more stimulating and wonderful than the books I've collected for us to read. Why read about nature when it is right outside our window/door? Something we are working on here.

  9. Any idea what Tintern Abby looks like now?

    1. Indeed -

      From joy to joy,