November 11, 2007

That special gift

If the moon is full...then the way is open for another adventure with your child.... The sport of watching migrating birds pass across the face of the moon has become popular and even scientifically important in recent years, and it is as good a way as I know to give an older child a sense of the mystery of migration. - Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder

I have two copies of The Sense of Wonder. One I bought some years ago for my personal collection while the second, the older of the two but newer on my bookshelf, was gifted to me by a friend. A naturalist and infamous collector, he makes it a point to seek out and buy every copy he can find of the older 1965 edition for one key reason: it has more pictures of kids.

And it's true. The 1998 edition, photographed by Nick Kelsh and pictured on this page, is a lovely little coffee table book with images of winter woods, leaves in full fall color, a close-up of rounded surf-washed stones, and a shot or two of an evening pond one could imagine swept by the same broom Emily Dickinson wrote of. But not many kids. To be honest, maybe this is the edition Rachel would have preferred. Linda Lear, in her introduction in this edition, cites a friend quoting Carson saying, "We plan for it to be rather lavishly illustrated with the most beautiful photographs we can find...."

I assume you know by now that neither of these editions of The Sense of Wonder were published during Carson's lifetime. The earliest version came out in the July 1956 Woman's Home Companion under the title "Help Your Child to Wonder." Lear relates that Carson wanted to improve the essay into an illustrated book, but after Silent Spring hit bookstores and subsequently the desks of chemical industry management, the last years of her life were spent defending her criticism of the use of "miracle" pesticides and herbicides on crops, roadsides, and the critters that live therein.

The first more kid friendly edition, photographed by Charles Pratt and others, was released in 1965, just one year after Carson's death. It, too, is "lavishly illustrated" with enchanting seasonal photography, but it seems to go beyond the picturesque to include a bare-chested boy peeking through the limbs of a Maine spruce, a couple of school girls messing around in the rain, and even the backside of a naked little kid toddling on a beach, hand safely held by an adult. Cute kids. In a book about kids.

Perhaps this post is really about the power and impacts of a thoughtful gift. I know I value my gifted copy of The Sense of Wonder more than the newer edition. It's special. And I realized today that I'll need two more copies of The Sense of Wonder for holiday giving this year: one for each of my grown daughters' families. With their busy lives of karate practice, homework, and school fund raisers, I want to be sure they hear the thoughts of an important American woman who encouraged moms, dads, and grandparents to be more zen while out in the natural world with kids, slowing down their own lives to experience the wonder of the natural world through the mindfulness of a child's microcosm.
How about "natural" holiday gifts for kids? I know the ten-year old grandson is getting a decent pair of binoculars and a birding field guide. Maybe we'll even set up camp and watch the full moon during migration.

Any thoughts on or stories about great gifts? Anything you know that might invite a child to investigate the innards of a walnut shell, hunt for fossils, or wonder at the fragile strength of a Daddy Long Legs? Do tell! ;-)


J. Wilson said...

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Willow said...

How about the gift of free time? Or turfing the kids outside for a while. I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, and grew to love nature, although we lived in a fairly sterile suburban development. While my parents were definitely important in nuturing my appreciation for nature, with walks in the forest preserve, vacations at a lake cabin, many of my explorations occurred without adult supervision.
I wasn't part of the generation where parents watch their kids every minute or want to be their playmate.
We would be turned loose, with limits, but often told not to return until dinner. We'd go the the field by ourselves, play make believe in the bushes on the side of the house, discover the joys of nature without it being called such.
I think part of the growing alienation of kids from nature has to do with the tight leash parents keep them on, not letting them discover the world on their own, at any level. Yes, you may say its a different world today. In many ways it is. But rates of child abduction have actually declined in the past 40 years, yet most parents won't let their kids walk to school or go to the playground on their own. Kids need some time on their own with nature, so they can experience it unfiltered by adult perceptions.

Anonymous said...

I remember this Fall when the Space Shuttle and the Space Station came hurtling across the sky for one small minute through the atmosphere of Portland, Oregon. I had planned on seeing this--from the schedule that any geek girl would follow for this kind of thing. I yelled to all three of my kids to come outside and see a modern day miracle! My 13 year-old begrudgingly got off the computer...and waited for 4 minutes before saying "I am going back in." "Wait" I said. This is something you may never experience again. As I watched my 6, 7, and 13 year old waiting (as if for Santa to fly across the sky), I realized that there are not enough of these moments in the urban landscape...and that I had to create them for that "sense of wonder" that Rachel talks about. We did see those two modern-day miracles streak across the sky, and the kids were so excited once they sited the tiny little orbs. I have to keep remembering that it is my responsibility to help introduce them to that sense of wonder and make sure that they experience it!!

Julie Concannon
R1,FWS, Contaminants Program

spell check me said...

Ms carson reminds me of my mom who loved the great outdoors. My mom love to be out side and she use to have a vegtable garden in the back yard of our home. Not until i was grown did i understand the teaching of the garden it taught me responsibilty and to care for something. I try to teach the same thing to my son to love what is given to you and pay attention to the changes that you see around you.

lucyintheskywithdiamonds said...

I think that exposure to nature is so key in a child's life, I know that at least with myself growing up camping, hiking at John Bryant & Clifton Gorge Forest Parks helped me grow to love those trips and those hikes. It also helped me develop an appreciation for this wonderful creation God has given us to explore. With all of the hidden treasures waiting for us to find them. A present i got not only at Christmas time but year round is hiking trips with my grand father as well. He loved to take me out to the parks and just hike., never knowing where we'd end up or where we were going. It was part of the fun and excitement that it was a mystery. It helped me know just how amazing and complex a simple tree really is, on the inside you'd never expect to see all those rings that you find on a stump. It just makes me wonder more about how complex the beauty we see around us every day really might be.

David Klinger said...

For those close enough to devote a day trip to driving over to Cape Cod this Thanksgiving weekend, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's national Rachel Carson centennial exhibition continues through November 30 at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, Massachusetts. This is the largest collection of Carsoniana every presented to the public in one exhibition; it caps the year-long observance of the centennial of her birth in 1907. A virtual tour of the exhibition is available on the museum's Web site --

While we have been honored to have been asked by four other institutions in Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to replicate the Cape Cod exhibition elsewhere, the Carson exhibition can't easily be adapted to other venues, and, regrettably, it will close to the public in a week.

If you are within driving distance of Cape Cod and have been touched by this Rachel Carson Centennial Blog, it's worth the visit to experience this exhibit in its final week.

David Klinger
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Amherst, Mass.

Rotary Washing Lines said...

I think everyone should have some kind of exposure to nature, I grew up in a city but just down the street maybe 30yds there was the entrance to the local woods and hills, I spent most of my childhood in the woods and on the hills and saw things you would not expect in a city, it is also a great adventure to children, the main problem today is supervision, there must be some sort of supervision, the woodland I often frequented was always a relatively quiet place, people wise, there was always animals around, badgers, rabbits, stoats, a wide variety of birds but very few people so I always felt safe.

Brook said...

Really a lovely book!! I love to read Books Online about kids...

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