Saturday, October 18, 2008

Glorious fall in a tiny woodland

Today's soccer game - our first

easy victory - was played under a grey, windy sky, but the sun has come out for the after soccer playdate. Emily and teammate Olivia are playing in the 20-foot-wide woodland next to the community center, which somehow is the perfect size for not being the least bit dark and scary, but still enabling kids to hide - at least mostly - from me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kids in nature: photo ops

The last two weekends we have taken the girls to fall festivals at nearby farms. First, we went to King Valley farm, just north of home, where highlights included corn bins (featuring the followup activity of shaking corn from the girls' undergarments), scarecrow making, petting zoo (spotless - very clean, happy-looking animals), an inflatable bouncer, a wagon ride, and picking pumpkins from a field (where pumpkins were suspiciously lined up in rows, and more densely populated than I've ever seen in agriculture - but there *were* pumpkin vines). Then, this weekend, we went to visit friends in eastern PA, at a farm which had fee-based art projects ($2 for a scarecrow to color and assemble; $2.50 for a tissue-paper ghost), a drainage-tube slide, a petting zoo with somewhat muddy-looking critters, beanbag toss, a slingshot with an apple-bin goal, apple picking, and a pumpkin patch.

I actually love these kinds of outings. I don't mistake them for either real farming or real nature experience - the best authentic nature activity of the weekend was seining young bluegill for our friend's research lab (nothing sinister - the fish will live a good life in those tanks). And yet, with small farm economics being what they are, I've decided to embrace the fact that many small farms survive off tourist dollars. The driver of our wagon ride was talking to a family friend, and I overheard the driver say "Yeah, mom made the vegetable soup. Her soups are the best." This 20ish young man was a son mom could be proud of, and the advertisement for mom's soup was absolutely sincere. Clearly, mom, son, friends and all were pulling together to give us a good weekend, and we did. Some people donate to church or charity; I spent a wallet-full of cash at King Valley Farm, with not an iota of buyer's remorse.
And yet still, as I snapped pictures of our family and our friends this weekend, something tugged at me. Perhaps it was the fee-for-crafts, or perhaps it was the pumpkin, which at this farm in Allentown, did *not* grow in the grass of the "pumpkin patch" Hazel is standing in above. Perhaps it was the self-consciousness I always feel behind a camera, changing from participant to observer. But I think, in retrospect, it was my fear that the place we've reached with respect to fall and harvest is spooky and sinister, and witches and ghosts have nothing to do with the problem. No longer do most - including my own - kids have even an iota of gratitude for food or for the farmer as food provider.
I can only hope that if they ever have need, that they'll recognize farms for what they are, every month of the year: not a spook show, wagon ride, corn maze, or haunted barn, but a place to live and work for the people who feed us, with soups, cookies, apples, pumpkins, and all the other foods we buy, usually at the grocery.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mess, art, nature

This year the girls are in an afterschool program I love, finally, after 3 years of suffering through the warehouse-style YMCA program sponsored by their school. The local community center, of which I am a devoted fan, buses the kids there, where an artist and a local preschool teacher together offer the best afterschool care this side of the neighborhood village - better than any neighborhood village I ever knew.

Today I came in, expecting to find them outside and found them inside, but with all the evidence pointing to a very recent trip outdoors. The alcove across from their classroom was filled with sticks, leaves, rocks, crafted bunnies, and the very colorful backdrop you see in front of Hazel.
I don't know if it was the color or the space or the nature which sucked me in, but when I saw this little space (which does have room for two children to sit together), I wanted to be in it - the same way I want to be in a good book (Mists of Avalon) or an alluring painting (one of my mother's Wallace Kelly scenes did this to me in childhood, two children in running from a thunderstorm to their cabin in a mountain valley). I'm big enough to know that this feeling isn't easily satisfied - it ressembles C.S. Lewis's Joy, even though I am no longer Christian - and that it remains a pull to something larger, beyond the artwork, artist, or me.
But today, the feeling was very satisfying. Because my children ARE in this scene, they helped create it with the help of a wonderful person in their lives, and finally, finally, I get to feel that someone else is helping me enrich their lives, not simply get them through it without injury or memory of harm. Hazel thinks she's looking at Mother Nature: Bunnytown, but I'm seeing something different. I am seeing happiness incarnate.