I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from a friend, Heather Suemnicht. I first met Heather years ago at the Living Education Retreat where she immediately struck me as bright and magnanimous. As you will see, she lives in Baraboo (who wouldn't want to live in a place called "Baraboo"?), Wisconsin with her equally wonderful husband, Tyson, and their four progeny.
A Sense of Place by Heather Suemnicht
Connections are curious things. Two separate pieces come together at one providential moment and join to make a greater whole. It’s exciting when connections are made, almost electric, when you can see the proverbial light bulb suddenly turning on.
I am a knitter. My fingers yearn for the feel of the wood and wool and the soothing rhythm of knitting together, connecting, the individual loops to make a united piece of fabric.
People long for connections as well, relationships, a place, a sense of belonging.
Our hearts crave connection even more and this is no surprise as the Scripture tells us that it isn’t just our bodies but all creation that is groaning and eagerly awaiting that providential moment when our physical bodies will be redeemed and we’ll physically be united for all eternity with the Desire of our hearts (Rom 1:19-23, Ps. 42:2)
Connections have a way of, well, coming together. Sometimes they come together quickly. Sometimes they take a lifetime to form. Sometimes, connections can happen both slowly and suddenly, like the rain coming in.
Charlotte Mason shows us that education is the science of relations. We, as mothers and home educators, are filled with joy and awe and thanksgiving when we see those relations connecting in the minds and hearts of our children.
Little did I know, that ideas that have been planted and watered through my readings of Charlotte Mason’s works and through wonderful speakers at the Living Education Retreat (LER), would suddenly all come swirling together and connect in ways that I hadn’t imagined possible, to awaken within me both a desire for and knowledge of a “sense of place” for myself and my children.
At LER this summer, Jack Kelly entertained, encouraged and intrigued us with his plenary session on Biotic Citizenship. Awakened within me was a desire for a sense of place and the understanding of how vital language arts is to Environmental Education. Even on the drive home, and still today, quotes he shared, like the one below, are lingering in my mind:
“... a ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot, or marsh.... These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.... Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land.”— Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree, 1993
I wanted to further develop my sense of place. And how could I help my children develop a sense of place for themselves? Not just for our own comfort and enjoyment, not just for educational purposes, but also to see our Creator and know Him on a deeper level and be better able and willing to care for the land and people around us.
My thoughts ran back to another LER retreat from the summer of 2014. I remember Nancy’s special announcement that in honor of 10th Anniversary of the Living Education Retreat, it would be held at a special location—the beautiful Villa Maria in Frontenac, MN. How had they discovered this beautiful retreat center? Her daughter had read about it in one of her Natural History books about Minnesota! How beautiful!
The pieces started migrating together…maybe I could find a book about my area that would help me! Where, how, could I find such a book about little old Baraboo, WI? And would it be a living book? Well, Providence was already at work in this. Out of the blue, my children asked to go to the bookstore! How could I turn that down? So, we went downtown to our local Book World. I steered my way through the aisles to the section on local history and the book practically jumped out at me! There it was, not to be mistaken with the title “A SONG OF PLACE, A Natural History of the Baraboo Hills”. If that wasn’t the book I was looking for, I don’t know what was! Alas, it was far out of my budget. I didn’t leave however without quietly noting the title and author to add to my wish list for another day.
Fast forward a few weeks and my husband and I found ourselves running some errands in the nearby city of Madison. Madison has a Half Price Bookstore (meaning-- books I can afford!!), and my dear husband without hesitation took me to look around while we had some time to kill before the next appointment. Providence again was at work and led me, almost directly to the book at the top of my wish list…and it was a third of the price! I immediately snatched it up.
Later that day, I had a chance to begin reading. I opened up to the prologue (because, yes, I’m the kind of person who has to start at the beginning) and I just about jumped out of my seat with excitement. He started by talking about none other than Gilbert White, the English curate and naturalist. I probably wouldn’t have known of him or even recognized his name if I hadn’t been at LER last summer (2015) and learned about Gilbert White through Sandra Rusby Bell’s delightful talk on making a field guide to your own yard.
The connections were coming together at lightning speed now as I soon found out dear friends of ours knew the author and his wife, Kenneth and Esther Lange, and that he leads nature hikes at Devil’s Lake State Park just outside of town, whose Bluffs we can see from our front windows.
Another thumb through the book landed me at a photo of one of the nearby glens, which answered one of the nature questions that I’ve been wondering about for almost a year now. The horizontal white stripes on the maple trees that I keep noticing, that give the effect of light beams shining through the forest, or make it look like this is Tigger’s section of the Hundred Acre Wood, are in fact a type of lichenized fungus- Comma lichen Arthonia.
I’m giddy with the excitement of the connections that have been made. I gleefully anticipate the many more connections that are sure to come as we dive further into the natural history of our area and cultivate this sense of place. …and hopefully join Mr. Lange on one of his hikes.
Lange ends his prologue by saying, “Evermore, I have come to appreciate the musings of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: ‘If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?’ ”