For some reason I have been think a lot about a very special summer I had when I was a kid. I must have been around twelve years old and my family lived near an open space area that included a rather small lake. Actually it may have been more like a large pond or frankly even a small pond. ( It was a long time ago after all.)
As far as I know it was a natural body of water full small fish, a variety frogs and a lot of craw daddy kinds of things. The whole area around the pond had an abundance of living creatures and an amazing number of growing things. The pond was surrounded with a variety of tall grasses and spindly trees. The water was dark green and muddy around the edges. I am fairly certain that it would not have passed any acceptable environmental standards had there been any such things at that time.
Two or three times a week during the summer, I would get up with the sun, quietly slip out of the house with my bamboo fishing pole. I had learned by then that the best time to catch grasshoppers was in the early morning. Someone who was long gone by that time had built the raft that had been become part of the pond. The old raft had been crafted out of some boards laid on top of two beams about four-foot long. It was barely held together with what were by then some very big, often bent rusty nails. Although the raft was in pretty poor shape and a bit water-logged, it managed to support my weight which could not have been much over 70 lbs in those days.
That very special summer, I declared the raft “mine,” at least from 5AM in the morning until sometime after noon. I always packed a breakfast snack and a lunch and took a large, empty coffee can for my collection of grasshoppers. After a rather easy hunt for bait I would launch my raft into the murky water and float out in to the pond, bait my hook and drop the line into the water with mild anticipation. I say mild because I really didn’t care if I caught a fish or not. When I did catch a fish now and then, mostly little perch, I would throw them back.
I did spend a lot of time lying on my back watching the rest of the sunrise, studying a multitude of cloud formations and listening to the incredible variety of creatures that were all around the place. Over the months, I collected a vast number of living creatures, played with them and let them go like they had been playmates. I remember gently holding a large bull frog in my hand for what seemed like an hour and slowly releasing him to see if he would stay with me. I think I wanted to make him my pet.
Looking back, I now realize what I did not do was much talking. Friends came and went while I was in this little paradise but even then it seemed we did a lot less talking then normal. Maybe it was because we had been taught that when people are fishing you are not supposed to make a lot of noise. But I suspect that part of reason for our quiet was because we really were fascinated by so many things around us. One large handful of muck could hold a universe of living things that they could not be counted. Every minute was filled with new discovery and wonderment. It is a wonderment that has stayed with me now for nearly fifty years.
I know that I am referring here to ancient past for many of you and it certainly was another era. But I am deeply saddened when I hear our kids describe to me their summer- rushing from practice to practice, clinic to clinic, sport camp to sport camp, and class to class for their whole vacation. I can not help but wonder, “when do our children have a moment or moments to stop and be amazed?”
I don’t pretend to know all of the reasons for our busy activities but it seems like we have come to assume that if we don’t keep our kids busy “they will just get in trouble.” We seem to assume that “idle hands are dangerous hands.” Or we might think that if we don’t get our kid into summer league, special coaching, the “right team” they will somehow fall behind…they won’t be able to compete…they will be losers. So instead of hazy, lazy summers of discovery, we teach them that if they are not busy there is something wrong with them. We inadvertently teach them that if they are not number one they have failed. Of course then we complain about always being busy.
I am not certain what we can do differently. There are not a lot of quiet little green ponds around these days except those that are part of expensive golf courses. And I suppose in this modern era of fear, most parents would not feel right about letting there twelve year old child slip out of bed and wander down to some murky body of water to fish and play all day alone.
Maybe we can think of differently about the way we do family vacations, allowing more time to wallow, to discover and to be amazed with our children. Maybe we should start earlier than twelve years old when we take our children into the forest, the seashore or if we are lucky, some murky little pond and quietly investigate the amazing types of life that exist on this little planet.
Eminent Psychologist and author, Rollo May in his book The Cry for Myth writes that at some level we all yearn for those kinds of experiences. According to Dr. May, if we do not have those kinds of experiences, especially as children, “it will have a serious effect on our psychological health. This ‘psychic numbing’ leads to a loss of the sense of grandeur of life and death, and makes for boredom” he writes. He defines boredom as the “loss of capacity to wonder, to appreciate the sense of mystery and awe in life.”
All religions started with mystical discovery and wonderment. Discovery and wonderment are the foundation of every spiritual experience. It is humans to search for that spiritual experience somewhere. Some childhood psychologists tell us that the use of drugs, alcohol and raves are an attempt by our young people to make a spiritual connection. Maybe some of our troubled youth would have been better off with a summer or two of discovery on a little green pond.
Maybe we could all use a little bit of a lazy, hazy summer and find the little green pond so full of wonder. As Simon Green, author of A Jewish Philosophy and Pattern of Life once wrote: “All one need to do is to notice intelligently, if even for a brief moment, a blossoming tree, a forest flooded with autumn colors, a smiling infant.”
Why not take a moment to play in the muck or search for a blossoming tree or make a friend with a frog. Happy summer daze.