The point at which I had just about lost my patience with the suburbs was about the same time I reached for “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. Starting to read the book and listening to Richard Louv speak could not have happened at a better time.
When we moved from the mountains to the suburbs I thought it would be fine. I figured we would continue our routine of outdoor adventures; they would just be a little farther from our home. Well, by the time Seth goes for three days of Mountain school, and mobile time with dad he is fairly adventured out. When he spends time here at the house with me all he wants to do is relax, play and stay out of the car!
In the mean time I am suffering from severe nature deficit disorder (I only get to go to Mountain school one day a week ;-). When we lived in the mountains all I had to do was walk out the door for a healing breath of fresh air. The solace of forest and field was was readily available all the time. In Mountain View (there is no view of mountains from our house) I walk out the door and am instantly bombarded with the roar of three different highways. Not to mention the distinct traffic noise from the busy street that borders our fence. The sky is smoggy, and although this lot is almost an acre of space, and there are some amazing old oaks and other trees in the yard, there is little sense of wilderness.
Since I am unable to get out and adventure with Seth as much as I’d like, I’ve had to find a compromise. I had to find an outdoor destination in the yard that could pinch hit as “wilderness”. We have several outdoor destinations in our yard, the first and most obvious being the “kid ghetto”. This is the area of the yard that houses the play structure, sand box, playhouse and dirt pile, all littered in plastic toys and vehicles, in various states of decay. The kids love it, but it looks like Target meets the dump covered in sidewalk chalk. The second destination is the vegetable garden. This is a magical place, but it is also a working place, a place where Seth is a caretaker, and like it or not is surrounded by thinking and “structure”. There are several tween places that we use but don’t necessarily inhabit, like the fairy garden or the tree forts (adults are not allowed in the overgrown shrubs that serve as “base”). However, there is one wild place in the yard that fit the bill to a t, that place is the Fairy Kitchen.
The Fairy Kitchen was aptly named by Lily. After our egg hunt last spring Lily spent at least an hour playing by herself on a patch of Bermuda grass, a little spit of quazi lawn wedged between some Lamb’s Tongue and an abandoned rock garden. Lily plopped down in perhaps the most interesting spot in the yard and started playing house. When Geoff asked her what she was doing she explained that she was in “the Fairy Kitchen”.
Since it’s naming, the Fairy Kitchen has been a place, but not a destination. I realized I had to change this, so I took an active role in playing there myself. I set out little metal “kitchen” objects and began to set up house. Seth soon caught on, and now we have Fairy Kitchen fever! We go out there at least once a day. At first it was me suggesting we spend time there, but now Seth initiates visits himself. He seems to sense when I get fussy or distracted in the house and marches us out to the Fairy Kitchen. If we are there and I am preoccupied with something else, he makes me stay in the kitchen and work it out. He obviously senses that the Fairy Kitchen is a meditative place for me and that he should see to it that I self medicate wither I like it or not.
The thing I like about the Fairy Kitchen is that it always leads to something exciting. After we both putz around in the kitchen for a while we get good ideas. 99% of the time the ideas are outdoor related. It is almost as if spending time in the Fairy Kitchen is a “practice” of sorts. Something that we do to connect to nature, gather our wits and focus on one another. Rearing a child seems to involve lots of daily practice that fosters patience and reveals joy. I’m sure it’s the same for Seth, because growing up is not an easy job. My memories of growing up were always difficult between 4 walls and blissful without.
Richard Louv says that nature is a gift that if given to a child may allow the child to do something profound for the world in return. It occurred to me early on in our Fairy Kitchen explorations that a gift of nature was given to me. I was often left with my Grandmother Marge who lived on the loveliest hillside on the Stanford Campus. My memories of these visits are full of wonder and magic. She let me play anywhere I wanted in the meandering gardens. She taught me how to suck nectar from the Vinca blossoms, pick geranium flowers, entice a sleeping cat into play and differentiate between jays. Grandma Marge was even kind enough to let me play house in her amazing succulent garden that lined the borders of the stairs to her front door. She taught me how to pick just one leaf at a time and replant it somewhere else to make a new plant – such a simple action, but such a profound gift.
I’m sure I have returned her gift to the world at large, and will continue to do so for my entire life. However, my job right now is to give the gift of intimacy with nature to my son. We are spending time in The Fairy Kitchen to center ourselves, “checking in” with the earth every day. Stopping and taking the time to make sense of our intentions for the day, the week and the rest of our lives.