Last Child in the Woods
But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Eternal has done this? In God’s hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
Job 12: 7-10
Gardeners derive much spiritual sustenance from creating beauty, abundance and meaning as we till and plant and tend a patch of ground. In the Biblical Garden, and in our own gardens, we may even sense a connection with the land and the ancestorswho have passed down to us an immutable covenant with the Eternal. Yet it is also important to spend time in untamed nature, to discover what the wild places can tell us about ourselves and our place in the natural world.
It’s been observed that today’s children can recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than 10 plants. Richard Louv, in his book The Last Child in the Woods reminds us that children, especially, need unstructured play outdoors. They need time to scramble over rocks, splash in creeks, collect bugs and runfreely along the shore, time to breathe and grow and connect with truths that only nature can teach.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that “Awareness of the divine begins with wonder.” Wonder is discovered and cultivated in nature. In the coming summer months, we can give our children, and ourselves, opportunities to look, really look, at the vastness of the night sky, to discover a woodland salamander under a rotted log, or watch an osprey dive into a river and come up with a fish. Take a child to a woodland, a seashore, a forest. Better yet, let a child take you. Be awe-struck. Be amazed.
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Michael Schlesinger is Temple Sinai’s Biblical Gardener. Mike has been gardening since he was eight years old. He used to grow grape vines and make wine when he lived in California. He now tends to our garden, continuing the traditions started by Catherine Walters.