catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 10 :: 2004.05.07 — 2004.05.20


Passing it on

My dad liked to take me and my sister into the woods or down the muddy wanna-be river near my childhood home. He was and is the classic Type-A, heart-attack-prone personality that his own dad was and that I now am. Those times away from his nearly compulsive building, chopping, mowing, and other hands-busying tasks were special, set apart occasions. I didn’t always realize these as holy times: dawn canoe trips to spy deer and count turtles; walking muskrat trap lines along winter creeks; crouching in cold and never-visited deer blinds; bow fishing for carp to lay to rest under our apple trees; timbering trees out of farmers’ ever-expanding cropland. Whatever we did during these times, Dad taught us to see: to notice the downy woodpecker pair, to swing on the wild grape vines dangling from 30 feet above, to pocket the golden brown horse chestnuts, or even to nab usable “garbage” at the curbs of big houses we passed.

Now that I’ve grown, I’ve become my father. Despite the difference in our gender, our generation, and our education, it is in the outdoors that I too am most at peace. I teach my kids to look carefully at the “speedy bugs” that dart under dry fall leaves or to collect moths from pit toilet walls for later picnic table comparisons with the field guide. I hear my father speaking when I round up our kids for our annual college dumpster diving trip where we try to salvage good stuff for our use (cooking pots, school supplies, lamps) or donations to others (water purifiers, folded clothes, baskets). I am quietly pleased to hear my father’s voice come from my 8-year-old’s mouth as he angrily disparages the wastefulness of college students.

What I hope to instill in my kids is a respect for the world around us, a sense that the good life is about being part of this larger world instead of just using it as we please. I don’t want my kids to reflexively stomp on crickets, throw rocks at squirrels, or toss out unbroken toys they didn’t need in the first place; these are God’s things to care for, and ignorance and thoughtless hostility have no place in care. On the other hand, I don’t want them to develop a sappy, romantic attitude either—there is a proper place for hunting, bug-smashing, or tree-cutting. I know that I, like my Dad, don’t care for creation as well as I could. We grow and can or freeze some of our food, but certainly not everything, and when homemade bug remedies don’t work we’re willing to use chemicals on our veggies; we walk and bike lots of places, but we use the car a good deal, too. I hope that my kids will learn the more fundamental attitude of care, the proper orientation of their hearts, and will discover many ways to carry out this attitude even if their choices are not always exactly my own.

My Dad wasn’t a Christian when he taught me to love creation, but his philosophy of care fits well with my understanding of God’s world and our place in it. Even now when we visit him, he is antsy and nervous with small talk and active grandchildren inside his quiet house. Get him outside, though, and he’s a different person, probably a better person. So am I. And maybe’at least I hope so?the creation is better for it, too.

Discussion: Learning to care

What did you learn—directly or indirectly—from your parents about interacting with nature? Were there other things your parents taught you to care about when you were young?

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