All of us are connected, whether we recognize our commonality or not. We share the earth with every creeping, crawling creature. We hold their lives in our hands from the time we are born. Children innately sense the beauty and enormity of this relationship. How then, can we sustain this wonder? How do we model relationships with our world?
The rain begins as a soft, hesitant question, disappearing with barely a whisper into the parched earth. Slowly, it gathers confidence, until I can hear it bounce against our windowpanes and stream in rivulets down the glass. I open the glass door and stand, my arms outstretched.
You all come running, questioning why I am standing, my eyes, mouth, and heart so wide open. I breathe deeply and say, “Smell the rain! Isn’t it beautiful?” You all stand with me, arms out, eyelashes tickled, joyous laughter and shrieks. We stand together and shout “Thank you rain! You are beautiful!” Our hearts are full.
I prop the door. Cool, crisp air billows in, washing over us. But as the water continues to pour, the doorsill becomes soaked and I have to close the door. You all stop, as one. “Why is the door closed? We can’t smell the rain.”
We move as one over to a window, cracked open enough to be able to smell the clean, delightful smell of rain-soaked concrete. We stand and watch the puddles, then you take up your brushes and begin to paint with water on our zen board, mimicking the water droplets and puddles you see below.
We turn off the lights and focus a projector on our dark ceiling. Together, you create pictures with glittery gems on the walls, the roof. Your shadows play with the light, your dark profiles bouncing against the soft glow.
Later, we sit together and talk about the trees and the birds perched in them outside our windows. What gifts do trees give us? What happens if trees are cut down and no one notices or cares? I drum a song with you, “Mother Earth had a tree”… we sing and celebrate everything which lives in the tree and uses it for one purpose or another.
I tell the story to you of the Giving Tree. I am surprised as I finish placing the pieces on the flannel board, and the story ends, because all of you begin to clap. This is not the usual response for a story together. Something has struck each of you, deep inside. You have a connection, a genuine recognition. Everyone has something to share about how the story made them feel, and how they loved the tree in the story. A part of me, as I listen and respond, remembers times when I have heard the strong opinions of other educators. They have objected to the use of this story, it is a story which they dislike fiercely, as it ‘promotes guilt’ and ‘paints too strong an environmentalist picture’, among many other reasons. It also portrays the tree as a ‘door mat’ or ‘promotes abusive behaviour’, ‘not being assertive’. I always feel disquieted and conflicted when I tell this story. I know and understand that these disagreements in pedagogy are important, but I wonder still, in spite of myself… whose opinion is most right?
Perhaps this is why I like to tell this story to you. You feel the emotions of the tree and the boy. You know what it is to want things and take them, no hesitation. You know the desire for things, things, and more things. You are bombarded by commercialism and you accept this as a natural state of being. But you recognize the tree’s love, unconditional, always there. It is an acceptance and safety which you experience also. You also know, I think, the incredible freedom it is to climb a tree. Every tree is your friend, a giant fortress in which to live out your daydreams and night dreams. If I could, I would grow each of you a tree. I wonder, would you chop it down? If you did, how would I respond?
The Giving Tree is a story which sows controversy. But, as we know, controversy is a pedagogical necessity. If we all loved The Giving Tree, something would be indubitably wrong. I have a love/hate relationship with this story. It is a symbol of one of my many pedagogical struggles. How do I, in my practice, honor ‘all world relations’? Is my method of honoring these intersecting pathways the correct way? Is there a correct way?
“Miyo-pimatisiwin” – The Metis phrase for “living well”. This phrase is complex, falling short in the English vernacular. It essentially means that we are in the midst of a network of relationships. (BC Early Learning Framework, p. 17) Our relationships are communal with all life. What we do matters. When I step into the forest to harvest ostrich fern and false solomon seal, I do so knowing that I am communing with our created world, and my respect must be for all things, and to my Creator, who gave them breath. When I step out of the forest, I am still communing. I do not stop to change who I am. I am still focused on listening all around me, living well together. My sense of wonder does not cease, it shifts. I wonder at your questions, your inner wisdom, your ways of being and knowing within the world.
Acknowledging and furthering ‘all world relations’ is a deep quest for meaning within our work. It is easy to forget, in the bustle and routines, to take time for relationships, most importantly, our intrapersonal relationship to our own inner thoughts, morals, and ethics. From this discomfort and disquiet in our souls comes the answers to the ever-expanding plethora of questions we have, and will continue to have. We are knowledge keepers, and knowledge begins with curiosity. Curiosity starts within. Perhaps we, as adults, all need to find our own tree to climb, to awaken our wonder at this glorious world. The world in which each of you is just beginning.