Last week a young family came into the nursery — a mom and dad and a few children — so excited to be in some new place and clearly having a very new experience.
They might have been in a nursery before, but I doubt it. The exclamations of the young voices were so emphatic as they discovered that there were strawberries already growing on the plants, or that they could see apples on the apple trees, or that one flower was pink while another was purple, but that they looked the same.
It was as if these wonders had been produced for them alone.
I heard the dad telling one of the daughters about bees carrying pollen from one flower to another so the apples could grow, the delight of the lesson overflowed from each of them.
The support and mutual excitement provided by the parents for their children’s voyage of discovery was so evocative that the sense of being a small and inquisitive person in the company of my vastly more knowledgeable and experienced mother and father came washing over me like a warm bath.
Knowledge of life’s processes, of small lives becoming larger, and of their transformation from juvenile forms to the reproductively mature ones, is so basic that it may be the soul of education. Our parents provided that as they immersed us in the guided experiences of childhood; they opened the door to being a participant rather than an observer as we placed ourselves into that spectrum. That sense, and the opportunity it provided — to move from infant dependence to adolescent explorer and then to adult creator — has shaped our human society. And, it will continue.
The stream of culture, the accumulated experience of a thousand generations, now carries us into the future. It’s like a landscape that changes as the stream runs through it and like the river itself which shapes and reshapes as the times change. Sometimes, the course of life is pretty tranquil and the lessons are slow and comfortable. Other times, life tosses us over a cliff and it’s as if a waterfall of change blows that coherent stream into a froth of confusion and tumult. The family unit that survives this turbulent flow is lucky; the daily lessons of life and how to live it are the strength of our species.
There are other ways to learn the ways of the world, and other views of how the world works. Engineering, finance and manufacturing, mineral exploitation and nautical navigation, join with cosmological explanations of origins and ultimate destinies and a myriad of other themes which aim to explain it all. They all encourage the development of strong resourceful people, and our polyglot society requires as many skills and practitioners as we can develop. We all benefit from exposure to a varied diet of experiences and perceptions. Our ability to recreate our society as the world around us changes is quite impressive when one considers how often new world views are developed.
But there are ancient and underlying themes that we all share.
Wonder and delight in the seasonal progression of the living world is universal; the life cycle may be different in other locations, but we as humans carry it like we carry the genetic codes for eyes and ears. Rutabagas or radishes, potatoes or bananas, our very existence depends on understanding and using this complex web that we are part of. Roses or redwoods, meadows or lawns, our spiritual existence is also formed in concert with Mother Nature’s interactive, biological world, and the delight and wonder of each day’s experience is like a renewing fountain at which we may refresh.
Encouraging young lives by helping develop their interaction with the world is the greatest gift an adult can give to society. Awards and recognition may go to others, but the real heroes of humanity are those who guide children into being adults while also cultivating a relationship with the natural living world.
My experiences as a child, guided by my parents, led me down the path of agriculture. Those moments were so powerful that I live today — every day — with the same excitement as those small children that visited the nursery last week. I find myself thanking them daily for sharing the world as they saw it. In addition, I try to pass the natural world, as I see it, on to as many as I can, and in so doing I feel I am honoring both of my parents on this Fathers Day weekend.
• David Lendrum is a Juneau resident and longtime local gardener who, with his wife Margaret Tharp, has been in business for 30 years as Landscape Alaska. They can be contacted at email@example.com.