Journal Archives

Lightning in a Bottle: A Chronicle of Wonder


Out with the Screen, In with the Green

For many children, the prospect of connecting with nature requires them first to disconnect from the media that presently fill so much of their days.  (Recent figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation place the average use of electronic and screen media by American youngsters at more than 6 hour per day.)

For those parents and caregivers who'd like to see more kids trade screen time for green time, here's an encouraging figure from yesterday's New York Times.  According to the research group NPD, the sales of video game equipment and software in the United States fell 7.6% in November, a performance below the expectations of some analysts.

But don't underestimate the allure of electronic gaming media; even as the industry slumps, those November sales totaled some $2.7 billion.

For more, check out New York Times: U.S. Video Game Sales Down in November


First Snow

Sitting at the gate this morning, waiting for a flight from Nashville to DC, I had no idea I'd be spending the afternoon playing in the season's first snow with Thoreau and The Bean.  But a quick check on my iPhone revealed a forecast of 4 inches of snow back home—and the real-time weather cam showed trees, streets and rooftops already being dusted with snow.  All of which heightened my anticipation of this first, and unexpected, snow of the season.

The DC region seems to perpetually hover near the rain/snow line, often producing soft, wet snowfalls.  And today, we had at least 5 inches of the well-packing stuff, a fairly prodigious output for this part of the mid-Atlantic—especially while we're still in the tail end of autumn.

Even before I joined them, Thoreau and The Bean were turning our front yard into a wintry statuary, including an IKEA-esque snow chair and a collection of "Snowhenge" monuments.  But the real fun began when we set out to build a tower of rounded blocks which, halfway through construction, changed course and became an igloo of sorts. 

Shortly before dark, we finished our work—giving Thoreau and The Bean just enough time to cozy up in it, and giving Bliss just enough light to snap this photo of them warming up inside:

 The Bean and Thoreau enjoy the result of an afternoon's work


Sunny Day, Sweeping the Clouds Away

"Sesame Street," that now venerable institution of public television programming, turned 40 today—a milestone many of us observed with our first Google session of the day.Sesame Workshop ®, Sesame Street ® & associated characters, trademarks & design elements are owned & licensed by Sesame Workshop. © Sesame Workshop. All Rights Reserved.

And, for as much as I enjoyed it myself as a child, it's hard for me to think of "Sesame Street" now without recalling Neil Postman's criticism of the program in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death.  (Incidentally, if I had to list what I thought were the 3 most important books of the last 25 years, this title would be one of them.)

He writes:

We now know that "Sesame Street" encourages children to love school only if school is like "Sesame Street." Which is to say, we now know that "Sesame Street" undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents. Whereas a classroom is a place of social interaction, the space in front of a television set is a private preserve. Whereas in a classroom, one may ask a teacher questions, one can ask nothing of a television screen...

And this:

As a television show, and a good one, "Sesame Street" does not encourage children to love school or anything about school. It encourages them to love television.


And now, a word from our sponsors.

This post has been brought to you by the number 3. 

On Amazon: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business


Just Wait 'Til Next Year

Baseball fans—and I count myself among them—recognize an alternate sequence of seasons: Spring Training, Glorious Summer, Fall Classic.  And now, with the World Series drawing to a close, begins the next one: Long Cold Winter.

But baseball, like any good belief system, has its foundation in hope and renewal.  As sure as winter gives way to spring, discontentment dissolves in the rebirth of optimism. Just wait 'til next year...

In the meantime, the best way to look forward can be to look back.  If you haven't yet read it—or read it lately—treat yourself to John Updike's classic essay about Ted Williams' final at-bat: "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu"


Woolly Bully

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.  A woolly bear, in this case.

Earlier today, The Bean came across a lively little woolly bear caterpillar, no doubt preparing itself for the colder weather ahead.  And, as our family's official Giver of Names, she dubbed her newfound friend "Fuzzy," which is as good a name for these bristly little fellows as any.

A common sight in the fall, chestnut and black-banded woolly bears are among those caterpillars that are much better known than their adult forms—they are the larvae of the relatively nondescript Isabella tiger moth.

But they are, of course, even more famous for their prognostication.  According to legend, the length of the woolly bear's middle, chestnut-colored band predicts the severity of the upcoming winter.  The shorter the band, the longer and colder the winter ahead.

It's been a pleasant and relatively mild fall in the mid-Atlantic, so far.  Could that generous band of reddish-brown mean more of the same for the winter ahead? 


Alone, Together

I'm always making peace with the fact that in parenting, "perfect" isn't a realistic option, no matter how well-intentioned we may be.  

Let's face it; there are plenty of days when "pretty good"—should we manage to reach that lofty summit—passes for a rousing success.  And sometimes, in our household filled with two spirited siblings, we most readily achieve the station of "big happy family" by splitting up. One child and one parent, two separate activities.

Choose your tongue-in-cheek euphemism: Man-to-man defense. Divide and conquer. Lord of the Flies.  I prefer the kinder, gentler vernacular of the Parent Encouragement Program: Special Time.

Call it what you will, when used judiciously it's a surefire way to defuse sibling rivalry and strengthen parent-child bonds at the same time.

So it happened that our family recently had such "special time" outings on successive Sundays, Bliss and I alternating afternoons with Thoreau and The Bean.  And it also happened that I took both of them to the same place—Great Falls Park.  It's an incredible sight, where the Potomac narrows and falls spectacularly just a few miles upstream of Washington, DC.

The Bean, as you can see, was especially fascinated by the kayakers challenging the rapids below:

And Thoreau loved the view from atop the rocks above the river, spotting vultures and ospreys and other assorted migrating birds:

But here's the wonderful thing: they both made the day completely, unselfishly, their own.  And, seeing it through their eyes, I got to see it all for the first time again—and twice, at that.



Life Is But a Stream

It had all the makings of a lazy Sunday, this first day to catch our breath after slipping back into the stream of school days, homework, ballet classes and soccer games—a stream whose currents can be unexpectedly strong, carrying you through days, even weeks, before you realize it. 

But this afternoon we decided to get out and get moving—just, perhaps, not too quickly.  Thoreau and I walked to the wooded park less than a mile from our door and enjoyed a quiet hike along the stream there, seeing ducks and deer, sunfish and water striders.  

And, best of all, we took some time away from all that doing just to enjoy being.

One last hurrah for a summer filled with tide pools and fireflies that faded all too fast.  

Merrily, merrily, indeed...


Daylight Fading

I love the quiet change of seasons at this time each year, as summer begins to slip away and give way to fall.

It’s a subtle shift, not at all like the bursting forth of springtime buds and flowers or the sudden appearance—and disappearance—of brightly colored autumn leaves.  It’s one measured by degrees—of evenings that fall ever so slightly clearer and cooler that their chill creeps up and settles upon us like fog; of rays of sunlight that strike our faces at ever more oblique angles.

It’s celestial geometry that resolves itself in golden light, and golden time, as the world itself quickens and stirs something within us.

Around here, it’s set to music: the final chorus of summer sung by cicadas, crickets and katydids.

Time, now, to throw open the bedroom windows, and fall asleep to their song.



As The Worm Turns

In which Thoreau and I discover great clusters of fall webworms on the sweetgum tree behind our house...

Add this to the gathering signs—such as the first woolly bear of the season, found this past weekend—that fall soon will be upon us:

Neither Thoreau nor I know exactly how fall webworms manage to synchronize their herky-jerky motions in this way—but, as you can see, he is quite fascinated by it. (And, as you can't see, so am I!)

Who knows? Maybe he'll be the next David Attenborough, one day...



August and Everything After

An unusual quiet has settled around here. After a year spent proposing, drafting and editing the manuscript for The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids, it is finally out of my hands, safely on its way to Trumpeter Books where further fine-tuning, design and production await.

I’m so pleased with how the book has been taking shape, from John Dawson’s delightful illustrations to my first peek at the interior layouts. To see it coming together is both exciting and gratifying, and, as you might imagine, I’ll be eagerly anticipating its release next March.

In the meantime, with this project now essentially completed, many thoughts about kids, nature, and wonders big and small will find a home here—even as the idea for my next book comes into focus.  I hope you’ll join me from time to time to share them.

Now… I’m off to catch up on some well-deserved green hours with my family!

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