“We look at the world
once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.”
In the morning, I open the back door with my two-year-old daughter and step into the garden. The dew clings to the viburnum blossoms, and the foliage of the oaks and elms is alive with the calls of birds. We clasp our hands together, bowing to the trees, then stretch our arms into the air, whispering, “Good morning.”
Going out with her, gathering flowers, teaching her the names of the herbs and plants that grow in our garden, brings me such a beautiful and ancient feeling. Guiding her hands through the stems and roots, like so many mothers have with their daughters before us, I teach her ways to interact with and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us. Watching her experience the most simple of things fills my heart and makes me feel such pride.
We have a nature-based way of learning at home, and our family rhythm revolves around these seasonal rituals. Each day my daughter chooses a topic from an illustrated list of natural elements to explore: bees, trees, flowers, herbs, spiders, dirt, wind, the sun, the moon, owls, and more. I love the challenge of creating a spontaneous lesson plan for whatever she chooses that interests her the most that day. Last week she chose spiders, and we spent the day crawling around the house through an obstacle course of white yarn strung through the doorways as our giant web. On bee day we made honey cakes and buzzed around the yard, watched honey drip, planted flower seeds, and lay in the grass to watch the bees pollinating the bleeding hearts growing in a shady corner of the garden. When the lavender was in full bloom we celebrated lavender day. We made wreaths of boxwood and lavender, bouquets to hang above the bed, and a big lavender tea cake. We lit the cake with candles and gave thanks for the purple bloom. We do this for many exciting things in the garden: blueberry day, wild berry day, rose day, corn day, and pumpkin day. In autumn we make “acorn tea,” gathering up acorns and setting them inside teacups to leave out for the chipmunks to come and take for their nearing hibernation. We make wreaths and ornaments of peanut butter and birdseed for our feathered friends to feast on. We learn to give as much as we take, and spending an entire day to celebrate something like one single individual plant has been so magical, exciting, and has set traditions for us we’ll keep forever.
My hope is to foster a space for her to cultivate a sense of wonder and respect for what the earth gives to us and what we can give back. I try to teach her there is a spirit in all things—that each rock, each tree, each flower, each leaf, needs respect and should be treated with kindness. Before we pick our bowl full of violets, we ask permission; when a gust of wind comes to cool us, we thank it; when a ladybug has fallen onto its back, we help it. We find this form of nature-based parenting so beautiful and effortless. How natural it feels to ask the forest permission before we enter. How special it feels to pluck herbs and flowers from our garden and cook them together into cakes and soups and pies.
I’ve studied herbs, I’ve traveled to giant portal tombs, I’ve seen fairies and spirits, I’ve lived at the edge of the woods in a little stone house filled with black cats and rabbits, mugwort hanging from the rafters. I’ve seen beauty in such dark places, but motherhood is by far the most magical thing I’ve experienced. The primal feeling upon seeing your baby for the first time … the instant heart-flooding feelings of absolute love and devotion, feeling like a wild animal while laboring and nursing. To wake up each day and see their eyes so full of wonder. The responsibility of showing them and teaching them all that is wild and magical. It is a beauty unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And every night I go to sleep, I close my eyes and think, What an honor to walk this magical world with them.