What do constellations and dry ice share in common? They are an exhibit open to anyone of the wonders in the natural world. One is available every night, free to anyone willing to tilt their heads skyward. The other is common enough in our daily Western world that there’s no excuse not to have been at least temporarily fascinated by sublimation.
Why is it important to have these experiences?
A good friend asked me the other day why I don’t have children. He observed that I love to teach, to share with others the wondrous beauty of our world, and that any kid would be stoked to call me Dad. The observation set me to thinking about kids, the world, and what I might want to share.
For reasons of my own that are considered relatively private in today’s world, Lee & I won’t have children. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in some manner, however small, in helping to raise and influence the children I encounter.
The key issue related to constellations, dry ice, and many other things is how we raise children as a community. Not as parents or individuals or even extended family, but examining, as a human community, the manner in which we introduce children to our world.
For me, as a non-parent and general outsider to the world of diapers, bottle and breast feeding, and enforcement of nap time schedules, it seems obligatory to fill the part of the “odd uncle.” The execution of that is what I’m aiming to discuss.
Children seem to be randomly absorbent sponges, soaking up every f-bomb their uncles drop, remembering with clarity the word “thermocline” even while they forget where they left the pump for the soccer ball, and conveniently forgetting to tell Dad when Mom said “No.”
With the scene set for randomness, what might be the key to information that sticks? Purposeful introduction to new wonders, thereby developing inherent curiosity.
Wonders are all around us, existing in perpetuity via natural laws, in places that exist far outside our temporal scope, and in the raw power of all encompassing nature. These then, are the things that I choose to introduce to the children in my extended tribe.
I know these experiences and curiosities cannot be extirpated by others because they exist outside of human ability to modify them. These wonders are catalysts for growth, acting as constantly open doors to a new world that children can explore on their own.
What are my standard introductory curiosities?
First, the stars. Simply by directing a child’s gaze upwards and pointing out the first few patterns (Orion, Sirius, the asterism we call The Big Dipper, and of course, Polaris), I may ignite in a young human the desire to understand a myriad of concepts. Astral distance scale, perspective, history, navigation, the oral tradition, mythology, human beliefs, and naming conventions. The night sky represents most of the historical backdrop for human growth, for it is at night that we turn inward to our thoughts, to understand our own understanding.
Second, the physical world around us. In the chill of cold water, realizing that cold is not death, that suffering leads to confidence, that the waves we see in water are a digestible example of physics. Feeling a warm air pocket on a cold mountain path, watching the unfurling of a newly sprouted seed, tasting sweet ripeness in a dark mulberry, all these encourage further exploration.
Third, in the demonstrable laws of nature. In the sublimation of dry ice, in the carbonation of a beverage, in the soft sharpness of a pencil leaving its trail of graphite on paper exist curiosities that beg to be unlocked. Each experience we have and share holds the potential to ignite a lifelong curious desire, a questing to the end of the trail, a full and complete exploration and understanding of our world.
Fourth and finally, in care and love for all of our surroundings. How we treat objects, both animate and inanimate, is a reflection and measure of our advancement as a species. The way we approach a dog, how we care for a tool, how we clean a dish, all demonstrate our core system of interaction with our world.
All these, properly recognized and demonstrated, become the core of a child’s belief and help create our next generation. The absence of them, either through ignorance or lack of energy, is a telling commentary on those memes of true importance in our community.
Returning then to dry ice and constellations, you may now look with freshened gaze upon those experiences you are immersed in and remember to share them with those around you. If you have not yet realized they exist, mend your course towards those basic and freely available things so that you may first ignite your own curiosity and then easily pass that flame to others.
My friends, here’s to stormy mountains and wine dark seas, to warm dogs and mewling kittens, to the embrace of a loved one, to the questions of a child. To life!
Too much reading...
How about dessert?