Words really do get stuck. There is something in the act of opening the computer and sitting down to write that makes them absolutely congeal in my brain. What was a coherent string of thoughts becomes a gelatinous mass of random one-line thoughts. What’s for dinner? We should take the library books back. My back hurts. What’s that noise? What will the weather be like tomorrow? I should message so-and-so back. Where’s Anselm? What was I wanting to write about again? What time is it?
It was raining outside that day, but it was warm. I was determined that we should take a walk that day, even in the rain. Rather, I thought we should take a walk because it was raining. Because we never take walks in the rain. Is it different in the rain? How different? What shall we see that we don’t see when it’s dry outdoors? You don’t know unless you begin, do you?
We took a walk in the rain precisely because we don’t usually. I am ever looking out for those things we don’t do that we perhaps should. It’s something of a hobby–perhaps more like an obsession. My avoidance of uncomfortable things is a never-ending mystery and I investigate it with the tenacity of any detective: Why am I avoiding this? What would happen if I didn’t? I wanted to walk outside in the rain because I never do it. I never do it because it’s uncomfortable. I know that those uncomfortable things usually yield the most surprising and satisfying results.
I think that’s also why I push through these stiffening, uncooperative thoughts, and try to put down here what words I can. There is something in the exercise alone that’s worth it. I always feel better for it.
So that day we took a walk in the rain, in our raincoats and galoshes. We stepped outside and I asked: shall we go east, to the rocks? Or west, to Humblebelly Pond? The four cardinal directions are some of the things I intend to teach them through these walks, as well as names of trees and plants and birds, and the cycles of the seasons, and not least of all to observe, to wonder, to praise God for the beauty of Nature. They chose west and westward we went, winding our way along the tree line and through forests of weeds, over rocks and through puddles, down into Humblebelly Pond and over its banks, carefully avoiding sinkholes and thorns.
I am reading Charlotte Mason’s The Outdoor Life of Children; one of the points that really gave me pause was this one, under The Force of Public Opinion in the Home:
…few children are equal to holding their own in the face of public opinion; and if they see the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter in the book of Nature is closed to them.
That truth was forefront in my mind each time Clive stopped to exclaim over something he found. I don’t mean to make it sound like he never found something interesting. It is hard to find uninteresting things outdoors, even in the rain; especially in the rain, when everything’s shape has been altered and weighed down with water, and the green is so very green against all that grey. Clive is four and he finds the same things over and over again. I say this in the most matter-of-fact way I can, without poking fun at him–it’s his age and personality. But yes, I had Miss Mason’s words in my ear when I doubled back yet again to see another cactus or another thistle. It’s those uncomfortable things again.
Anselm is quiet outdoors. He trailed behind, the very last of the row of ducklings in little yellow raincoats. He followed each step of his brothers, even though we were ahead of him and doing so took him far out of his way. He stopped and examined each thing they examined. He exclaimed over what they exclaimed over. When Ephraim found a hole in a thicket and ducked inside, Anselm ducked in after him, though he got a little tangled up upon exiting. He had trouble tramping through the tall rain-soaked and fell once or twice in the mud, but he picked himself up and went on easily enough. When he couldn’t quite get through by himself, I went back and held is hand; muddy and wet though it was, I wasn’t about to complain over the privilege.
Clive’s imagination is boundless and his enthusiasm is unmatched. He seemed, on our walk, to live in two worlds at once; he narrated a story in which we all had roles as we climbed over the edge of Humblebelly and made our way through weeds as tall as I am. Then in the next moment he was a naturalist, all facts and methods, poring over some perfect specimen of thistle and hollering for us to come and do the same. Then he was off again; he had burst into song. Then he stood reticent and resolute in his refusal to follow his brothers into the thicket. He has the soul of a poet–I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that–he has always been unfathomable. I think his name was given by divine appointment.
Ephraim is the oldest, the biggest, the most daring, the most observant. There was no place he wasn’t ready to go. He kept pace with me and looked with true interest at the things I pointed out. He is very interested in birds. He likes to make words for what they’re saying. When, one day, a flock of killdeer flew over the farm, I was about to point them out when he asked me, “Mama, what are those birds that are saying very well, very well, very well?” I had never heard them that way, but they do sound like that when you think about it. We spotted a red-winged blackbird at the very tip-top of a tree. As it gave its harsh cry, it would spread its wings and tail out. I didn’t know they did that.
The rain was a gentle one, not driving, not as light as a sprinkle but not so hard that you couldn’t forget it was raining if you really tried. Droplets of water clung to each branch and blade, a fact Ephraim noted with delight. I tugged on the bough of a cedar tree and we watched the drops rain down together. We’ve only been taking walks for a few days, and a cedar tree is the only tree we can identify so far right off the bat, but it’s a start.
We walked longer than we thought we would; the world kept going and so did we. We decided to climb the tall, muddy slope to the woods on the hill where you can see everything, everything. The mud caked on our boots and weighed us down. Sometimes we walked over a particularly wet spot and sank down. But on top of that hill you truly feel like you can see forever. The house was far off down the hill, GrandMaggie’s black linen dresses on the clothesline looked like specks. Colorful forms dot the area around the boys’ sandbox–their toys. I remember in these moments how very much bigger everything seems when you’re a child. In the other direction the road slopes down past the old brick house–Mr. John Sloss’ house, where the Shakers first proselytized in this area. In the distance we can see Mr. Ballance’s grain bins. The boys talk about him as if he were a family member.
We peered into the woods–I was nervous to take them in–so spent our time hunting puddles to splash in, washing the mud from our boots in the process. Then we walked back home, along the grass this time, facing into the wind which had suddenly turned cold, and everyone was soaked down to their skins. Back in the house, we put on dry clothes, then sat by the fire with cups of milk and a snack. Our walk took an hour and a half, I think.
On the way home, with our clothes drenched and the wind biting our faces, Ephraim soured a bit towards the whole excursion. He is ever painting an experience with broad strokes of whatever he is feeling that moment; he gets that trait from me. It’s a bad habit that has grown on me, layer by layer, and the peeling of those layers comes, I think, through doing uncomfortable things. A rainy walk, an hour spent typing out congealed words, taking the time to be silent, doing hard things, seemingly insignificant things, denying oneself in the small small ways in anticipation of the day the big things will be required.
*these photos were taken on a different day as I did not care to fumble with a camera in the rain. 🙂