16 Sept 2009

My friend cassytha

I first discovered Ambleside Online in the middle of 2006. Jemimah was four, and I was sort of vaguely considering homeschooling. I had been lent Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, and I can remember reading long sections of the book aloud to hubby as we lay in bed as I became more and more interested in this whole lifestyle that was Charlotte Mason.

One day I googled her name and up came Ambleside Online - a free Charlotte Mason curriculum. Well from that day on my course was set. I joined the Ambleside Online Yahoo support group, and from there I discovered the Australian equivalent, CM and Friends - ANZ. Next came the book lists. I was madly excited about those - particularly the Aussie one. I wanted every book on those lists - and I wanted them NOW!

The girls on the Aussie Yahoo group were discussing Nuri Mass' The Wonderland of Nature around the time I joined. It had been out of print for some time, and was expensive - around $40.00. The girls were of the opinion that the price was acceptable for a book such as this, and so I took their advice. The Wonderland of Nature was the first living book I bought. I have it beside me as I write. I've actually had it close by my side ever since it arrived. Those knowledgeable mums were right. It was worth the asking price.

My eyes were opened by the Charlotte Mason approach in more ways than one. I wasn't officially schooling Jemimah at the time (I say officially because aren't we always homeschooling from the time our children are born?) but I started to see our world with new fresh eyes. I saw new birds, new plants new animals. Surely these hadn't always been here, I thought to myself. I leafed through The Wonderland's pages and came across mistletoe. Now this was a plant I knew - it featured largely in our Christmas celebrations after all, but Nuri mentioned another half-parasitic plant in that chapter too - cassytha she called it.
There's another of these half-parasites that you often see in the bush. It is called cassytha, it looks like a great entangled mass of green strings, twining all over the host plant and sending suckers into it the way the mistletoe does.
Well, I know she said "often see in the bush", but I never had. "Maybe it doesn't grow around here," I remember thinking to myself. Of course it did. The very next time we travelled to Melbourne, there it was in the bush at the sides of the road - everywhere too. Not little clumps here and there but in every tree for long stretches. We obviously have quite a serious cassytha problem around here, but until that day I had never heard of it. Funny, isn't it?

There were lots of experiences like this in the early days, but this one has stayed in my memory as one of those life defining moments. Well, homeschool defining moments, anyhow, and that is rather the same thing in the long run, given how much of my life is tied up with educating my daughter nowadays.

Every time I see the cassytha on the road to Melbourne I've thought about the fact that, despite its importance in our homeschooling journey, we've never even stopped the car to look at it up close.

Yesterday, as is turns out, was the day. We had an appointment in Bendigo yesterday afternoon. We'd managed to fit a skeleton day into the morning, but I was sorry that we were going to miss our weekly three hour nature study this week when suddenly I remembered my old friend.

We packed our nature notebooks, our cameras, The Wonderland of Nature and our picnic basket and off we set. (Well I thought we packed the cameras. Actually I packed the camera bag full of lenses, but no camera body. It is a lucky thing my daughter is not as scatterbrained as her dear mother, methinks wryly.)

Here she is - everywhere!

As Nuri Mass says, cassytha looks just like a great entangled mass of green strings.

But first a bit of lunch - salad sandwiches, apples - a punnet of the freshest redest juiciest strawberries and another Diet Coke - two days in a row - Um, Ah!

The page from my nature notebook - sorry I am not an artist, but I do like trying!!

And Jemimah's effort.


  1. OH I think I've seen some of that stringy stuff growing over trees as well in my journeys. Never even gave it a thought though. It sounds as it made for a great afternoon. :)

  2. your and Jemimah's drawings are both great.

  3. Remember that even the parasitic things serve a purpose. The mistletoe bird feeds almost exclusively on the mistletoe seeds. I've even had to reconsider that great invasive introduced bane of the bush, Lantana. The wrens love it & choose to nest in it if it's around.

  4. Yes, I love the little red mistletoe birds too - we've quite a few around here!

  5. We use Ambleside and LOVE it!! The Charlotte Mason method is so "natural" you know? Great drawings... I find myself drawing right along with my children as well. So much fun!


  6. What a great drawing Jemimah! Isn't it great haveing those CM moments when you feel like your world has been opened up to you via someone's nature journal or a great living book!!
    I can't wait to blog about what we did yesterday afternoon, but we have a busy day with our little two-family science co-op today, so I might get to it this evening.
    I can't keep up with all your wonderful blog posts Jeanne, ahhhh!

  7. Hi Jeanne, I'm behind checking on your blog.
    I just showed this to Lucy, she was tickled pink to see Jemima doing something that she does. Please........ tell me how/when you manage to fit in a 3 hour nature study session?

  8. Hi Louise - we schedule it! It is the only thing we do on Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes we take a picnic and make it an adventure; sometimes we walk closer to home; sometimes we just do something in our own backyard. We do try to spend as much of the afternoon as possible outside though. A long way from CM's ideal of 6 hours per day though!!

  9. I am kicking myself! I passed up a $2 copy of TWoN at the op shop because I didn't really know what it was. Of course, when I went back it wasn't there anymore. Oh well, I've got time to keep looking :)

  10. Lovely. We use that book too :) xx


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...