Wonder is what brings us into the present moment. Wonder is what makes a new day a new beginning. Wonder gives rise to invention.
My former soil science student, now a horticulture graduate from Finger Lakes Community College, was working the gardens at the Eastman House when my small clutch of children skittered beneath the grape arbors and behind pockmarked boulders. The children were part of my Writers & Books, “Field Guide to Sprites and Other Magical Folk,” day camp. They were out looking for fairies.
“You are teaching what?!” my former student asked. He chuckled at my reply. He was confused, seeming to think this program on fantastical phenomena was somehow entirely disparate from the teaching of college soil or environmental science.
“It’s all related,” I smiled back, leaving him to ponder the connection between, well, fairies and soil. But there is no disconnect between teaching science and mentoring wonder. Without wonder, how would science ever unfold? Without curiosity about the world, what would we know? Without realizing what we don’t know, how would discovery ever evolve?
Wonder is what Socrates called the precursor to wisdom. Wonder is what Rachel Carson wished to bless all children with as a lifelong gift.
Is it not a childlike sense of wonder that keeps us connected to the magic of life; to opening to the gifts and lessons the world offers us daily? It is a sense of wonder that keeps us facing each day’s new possibilities with resilience and gratitude. I venture into the woods with other naturalists and find it more of a challenge not to just go down the trail naming species all along the way, saying things like, “this is that,” and “that does this,” but instead to ask questions like “I wonder how this does this?” or “how has that come to be so?” It is more of a challenge to acknowledge what we don’t know, to remember that we don’t understand everything in the world around us. An attitude, such as the latter, is less about being humble and more about being open to deepening our individual understandings about life.
Wonder is the opposite of worry (try it!). Wonder is the bread that never molded on the top of my mom’s refrigerator. Wonder is the yeasty breath of life.
August is as good as any month to reconnect to one’s own sense of wonder. One could crawl beneath the lush zucchini squash blossoms in the garden and sit still, spying on who flits to such flowers in the garden, and how different blossoms unfold through the day. August is a great time to sit on the edge of Canadice Lake noting the ripples and where they go, imagining how waves arise, or pondering the rotation of the earth and its play in wind formation. For those more frenetic in nature, there are touch-me-not seed pods to burst one by one with a gentle pinch, creek rocks for looks beneath, or twigs and vines to gather for a makeshift basket to collect cloud berries in.
Don’t worry if anyone should think you are wasting precious time (it’s August, after all) and if you can take a child with you, all the better. One of the best things any adult can model is the ability to be playful in this world, to take time to observe and explore, and most of all, to exhibit true wonder at the wonder of it all.