13 Apr 2013

On really seeing

Some children are born naturalists, with a bent inherited, perhaps, from an unknown ancestor; but every child has a natural interest in the living things about him which it is the business of his parents to encourage; for, but few children are equal to holding their own in the face of public opinion; and if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter in the book of Nature is closed to them.

It is likely that the Natural History of Selborne would never have been written had it not been that the naturalist's father used to take his boys on daily foraging expeditions, when not a moving or growing thing, not a pebble nor a boulder within miles of Selborne, escaped their eager examination.

Audubon, the American ornithologist, is another instance of the effect of this kind of early training. "When I had hardly learned to walk," he says, "and to articulate those first words always so endearing to parents, the productions of Nature that lay spread all around were constantly pointed out to me . . . My father generally accompanied my steps, procured birds and flowers for me, and pointed out the elegant movements of the former, the beauty and softness of their plumage, the manifestations of their pleasure, or their sense of danger, and the always perfect forms and splendid attire of the latter. He would speak of the departure and return of the birds with the season, describe their haunts, and, more wonderful than all, their change of livery, thus exciting me to study them, and to raise my mind towards their great Creator."

Charlotte Mason Home Education pp 58,59

When my husband was a young man he did one of these high falutin' psychological tests for work. His answers were then taken away to be analysed. You can imagine my very-sane-as-far-as-I-can-see-husband's surprise when he discovered that he had been singled out for a one-on-one interview with the shrink because two of his answers were 'a matter for concern'.

The first - he had answered 'Yes' to the question - Do you ever see things that other people don't?

Hmmmm. Was he delusional? Schizophrenic? Psychotic?

Of course not. Or not that you can tell. :)

What he meant by seeing things, is that he is highly observant. He was right - he is. When we're out walking, he often catches things that nobody else sees. It is a fabulous gift. Charlotte Mason describes people like my husband as being 'Eyes' in this little story:
'Eyes and No-eyes' go for a walk. No-eyes come home bored; he has seen nothing, been interested in nothing: while Eyes is all agog to discuss a hundred things that have interested him.
Miss Mason felt that most children were born with this ability for observation, and that “ the business of the parent is to afford him abundant and varied opportunities, and to direct his observations, so that, knowing little of the principles of scientific classification, he is, unconsciously, furnishing himself with the materials for such classification.”

A nature walk with Jemimah's Daddy is always going to be more interesting that one with just the girl and me.

When you walk with him, this is not just a muckle big gum tree, great for climbing, but becomes a magically mysterious hybrid River Red / Manna gum with features of both. We identify the long ribbons of peeling bark characteristic of the Manna gum on the trunk, and the creamy, blotchy River Red gum bark on the branches. The buds are those of a River Red, but the shape of the tree is that of a Manna gum. Around us are species of both trees - how did this mysterious mixture come to be? Why is it so? With Jemimah's Daddy this tree is a wonderful thing.

This tree too, is more than just a tree. The beautiful honey-scented flowers from this tree produce nectar that is responsible for making our favourite Yellow Box honey. We feel its fibrous bar and admire its tangled shape. This tree, too, is a tree of wonder when Eyes is around.

A litte later in our walk we come to these little River Reds. A veritable forest of little saplings. Why are they there, my husband asks - what happened that caused this little growth of trees all at the same time?  Was there a fire? No.  A flood? No.  Well then what was this land before?  Could they have just stopped mowing the lawn?  Bingo!!

When you're observant you see birds - that's a female Red-rumped Parrot you see up the top of this post, with a brightly coloured male below.  You identify its two syllable whistle, "Suuweet-weet. You find feathers, too pretty to leave and tuck them into a pony tail.

You see nests.  And an interesting cocoon.  We wonder whose home it was.  It felt papery and soft.

We can't always take Daddy on our nature walks, so when we do it is a grand occasion.  It becomes a grand adventure, and it is always full of interesting discoveries and wonderful stories.  My husband has a natural skill of bringing nature to life, because he is really interested in the things he is seeing.  More importantly, he is a born teacher.  He loves to share his knowledge of natural things with those around him.  He may not have the knowledge of the fathers of Selborne or Audubon - after all he wasn't raised in this country himself, but in most parks in Australia there are information boards and pamphlets, and there is always Google.  If he doesn't know the answer then he makes an effort to find out.

He is still looking for the owner of the cocoon.

Which brings us finally to the last question on his psych evaluation.

Do you want to know what he answered 'Yes' to that so alarmed the psychologists? Well, remember that this was the 70s and that things have changed since then. He answered Yes to the question: Do you play with dolls? Who knows quite what they were imagining, but hubby says they were quite happy when he explained that his doll was a G. I. Joe, and that he used to parachute him off the roof of the house. Apparently that made all the difference. They gave him the job.

(This is where we had lunch. That means that Mummy was happy too.)


  1. The nest looks as if it may belong to one of the weaver bird family. They tend to build like that.

    I am not the most observant in our house. Luke is our keenest observer. I am not the least observant either because I know where to look & what to look for so I will often spot nests others have missed.

    I know a bit about birds & living in an area where we can see over 200 varieties of land birds [before we try for the water birds] *bird* was a word my children didn't learn till school [their teacher was quite shocked] but they could name kookaburras, magpies willy~wagtails, wrens, dollar birds, Bee~eaters, kingfishers [several different varieties], cuckoos, trillers....& a number of different raptors by the wing shape alone. And snakes ~ because we have them & while the green tree & the carpet are harmless the red~bellies & Browns are not! ☺

    I am not so good with plants though I know our more common ones but it has been a life~long pleasure for even my least observant children [Libby for example thinks a bush walk consists of getting from A to B in the shortest possible time no matter what she misses along the way!]. It is all so amazing I don't wonder Darwin thought he could prove God through observing nature!

  2. such a beautiful entry :)

  3. Wow! Your Dearest brings to life the bush the same way my Uncle did for me rockpools and the night sky when I was a child. I feel like rereading your beautiful descriptions to try and absorb some of that knowledge.

    I try to keep learning specific names of trees, birds, insects, flowers and constellations so I can mention them to my children at opportune moments, but I find more often we end up searching books together for the information we seek ... if I can't immediately give them the names, at least they are learning how to find them :)

  4. Dad was a great lover of nature and was very knowledgeable....but alas, he was not a good teacher. He would answer if asked but tended not to elaborate. Our best chance to learn this way was out in the paddock so my brothers had the greater opportunities there.
    In contrast Dad had a brother who was like an encyclopedia and travelling anywhere with him was an eyeopening experience. (and took much longer than usual :-)
    My mother on the other hand was a teacher by nature and in her own realm very observant and well able to pass on knowledge.
    I am fairly observant but sadly not as knowledgeable as perhaps I should be. My hubby tends to race past everything!

  5. i shared your link from fb. it's payback time, now. ;)
    you really MUST share this on my nature study monday linky...


    i LOVE your pictures. so, SO lovely.

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