There is something about walking in the woods that is so alluring, and haunting at the same time. I believe it is that sense of mystery that the forest holds, and a fear of the unknown; of what could be lurking behind the trees far beyond sight, or what could be lying under that old fallen tree limb, or inside a rotted tree stump. Forests are usually eerily dark in Luxembourg, except for rays of light that shine down through holes in the trees. And then there is the silence, and the stillness of the woods, which is ironic because the woods are anything but still. Leaves rustle, branches crack, winds whisper, insects hum, buzz, and scratch. Animals scurry, and the birds soar through the intricate maze of sky. Spotting a simple mushroom can lead to endless questions and hours of observation and wonder. The aroma of the forests are so thick and rich, I find myself inhaling and exhaling like I have never done before just to try and capture and identify every complex scent . The woods are captivating and beautiful and provide a limitless selection of learning opportunities. It is here where one can feel most close to Allah (swt) our Creator.
Over the past few weeks I have begun to incorporate Forest Walks into our weekly activities. Luxembourg is rich with trails, forests, ponds, parks, and paths through woodsy areas of all sorts. People here are generally very outdoorsy and really love horseback riding, biking, and hiking, so it is not uncommon to walk through a forest on a Sunday afternoon and pass by people riding their horses leisurely through the woods. The first time I mentioned a forest walk, my daughter was terrified and said, "No Mama! I don't want to walk in the forest, it's scary!" She had never been through any kind of wood, her only knowledge of the forest consisted of late bedtime story versions of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, characters, all of whom, encounter danger and near death experiences in the Forest. But upon walking through a small passageway, just over a bridge in Esch sur Sure, we came upon a path leading into the woods. My daughters breath almost stopped for a moment as she tried to take it all in. After looking around in wonder and awe, she instantly began to run down the path exploring leaves, trees, bushes and insects traveling along through trodden path.
I remember being young and going on numerous camping trips with my mom and clearly recall how uncomfortable it was camping in the thick of the woods, sleeping on top of roots, rocks, pebbles and dirt, and being hot and sticky and getting bitten by bugs. Back then they did not have these well organized and modernly equipped camp sites with outlets to plug in your portable tv's and bathrooms buildings where you could wash up. If you had to go, you had to find a big tree to hide behind. When it was time to eat, there were no bbq grills standing by, we had to collect wood and build a fire to cook whatever food we brought. It was that very raw kind of camping that is still instilled in my mind till this day, but is something I have never done with my own children....at least not yet. And now 20 years later, I am surprised by the deep sense of calm and relaxation I feel in my heart and mind the second I step into the forest. It is as though time stands still; everything seems to move very slowly as we try to take it all in. We stop to examine old tree stumps, and burrows. Or we try to find the perfect walking stick or walk through the remains of dead trees, leaves and branches. My son stoops over looking at the ground, pointing with his small fingers at something I can not see. But upon closer look they are black forest beetles which cover the path we are walking on. He is not pointing, but touching them as they creep along.
The longer we venture down our homeschooling journey, the more drawn we have become toward the study of nature and the wilderness. I feel as though it is a neglected field of study, and is not given much thought or importance. I cannot simply walk up to a tree and be able to identify it as a Pine or Oak, which is quite sad. I have never studied the seasons up close observing their temperatures and processes, the simple joys and pleasures of this world I have been taking for granted. I want my kids to be able to study birds, insects, and animals and be able to identify the wild flowers growing in our garden in a very real and personal way. These are the fundamental basics of nature study that I feel every child should learn or at least be exposed to, as well as myself. It would be a learning experience for the whole family if we perhaps kept nature journals as we do writing journals. For now however, I will begin this new journey with the simple explorations of the woods and see where it leads us.
There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,