As environmental educators, our most important task with children as well as adults was to awaken them to the wonders of the world around them. From this wonder of the variety of life and the intricate connections therein would come an intellectual curiosity to understand the world better, followed by a passion to do something about it. So the responsibility was to take people through the steps of Awareness, Appreciation, Skills, Knowledge and Action.
So the first step seeing and sensing the world. I remember some of the exercises we used to do in our workshops to help people do this:
- Observe the greens : Closely observe the shades of the leaves of different plants/trees. Try to describe the differences.
- Observe the shapes of leaves: Sketch different leaves to scale.
- Bark rubbings: Find a tree, place a piece of paper on the bark and colour over with a pencil to get the impression of the bark design. Repeat with another tree.
- Listen to sounds: Sit in absolute silence for 5 minutes in a natural area and note down the sounds your hear.
- Smells: Go around a garden and sniff the flowers, the leaves, the plants, the soil.
Even the most cynical adult would get completely involved and excited, and the result would be a ‘Wow, who would have thought that there were so many shades of green; that soil smelt like this; that there were so many different types of sounds in nature!’
Roles got reversed when the world decided to environmentally educate me two days ago, as I was on my walk. The very same path that I follow every day, but I was out a little earlier than usual. So the light was different and everything stood out with a brightness and clarity that I did not get to see later in the evenings.
I saw one beautiful pink flower and decided to take a pic. I continued for 2 meters, and saw another one. And within the space of 10 minutes, I had 11 flowers in different shades of pink captured in my phone. I was wonder-struck!
I had obviously only been ‘looking’. I had forgotten to ‘see’. The difference, as Grant Scott, a famous photographer puts it: there is ‘.. a seriousness of intention that one of these words suggests, whilst the other gives the impression of a casual approach to perhaps what is the same thing. The word ‘see’ suggests a depth of visual engagement that allows the person ‘seeing’ to control the action and retain control of any further action that may take place after the initial seeing. To look suggests an observation of surface, it does not suggest any further depth than that. To look suggests both the beginning and end of the action, whereas to see suggests the beginning of a process of investigation.’
So while the popular adage is that we should take the time to smell the flowers, I would also urge that we take the time to see the flowers. And even more important, take the time to let a sense of wonder overtake us!
From this sense of wonder will come the sense of urgency to take care of our world!