Sunday, October 27, 2013

Living Wilder

        The written word.  As a child it represented a secret language and I wanted to become a native speaker.  Books were my favorite toys.  My second favorite toys were paper and crayon, pencil and pen. I would sit alone in my room, surrounded in my only-childness and pretend I could read the words.  I would study them intently trying  to identify the pattern, to crack the secret code.  
Four and five is a magical age.  Watching George and Maya learn to write, to read, to properly speak the language is a miracle.  An absolute miracle.  How is it we all manage to learn the many intricacies and nuances that make up the English language?  It is really incredible when you think about it.  In the broader context, all the languages ever spoken, written, shared have served as a way to stay connected, to create community.  It is amazing how we are all able to communicate with one another using a common language, no matter how many thousands of miles, different cultures, or alternate universes that separate us.  

      The other day my mother reminded me of when I was five and six and learning to write, to read.  I wanted it so bad and I didn’t even know why. Within those letters words were disguised, assembled and arranged perfectly to form language and ideas.  A shared collective knowledge that I desperately wanted in on.  

Maya is in the early stages of learning to read and write words (other than her name, she has all of our names down).  Maya is a self-motivated and determined little code cracker.  She is a focused student and is persistent in her pursuit of knowledge.  Once she captures the knowledge and files it into her rapidly growing brain, the next instinct is to teach her newfound knowledge to her little brother George.  Once Maya has mastered it and she moves on to the next bit of knowledge and beings decoding and interpreting the secret language of reading and writing.  One bit and piece at a time.

My mom and me w/ Petzl and Honey
My mom remembers my learning to read and write in an entirely different light.  Like Maya I was motivated and dedicated to learning to crack the code that reading represented, but my brain would get flooded and then I struggled think of any intelligent thought.  I could sing my ABC’s for “all night long” [aka: forever] but when it came to writing them I struggled.  Maya used to struggle and get easily flooded, then Ms. Heidi her kindergarten teacher came along and helped unlock the magic in Maya’s brain.  In two short months Maya is now working on addition, subtraction, writing sentences, and reading. 

I remember being around three years old sitting in my bedroom admiring my loaded 5ft tall book shelf.  I had inherited the majority of my dad’s childhood books and had built up a library of my own, from Grandparents who frequently surprised me with another book, because they brought such joy to my life, even at 2 and 3 years old.  The bigger the book the greater my interest.  
Sporting a bonnet, channeling my inner Laura before I could walk. 

     No pictures,  no problem!  I had words to study and explore.  I found the illustrations in children’s books distracting when I was a child, so learning to read children’s books was challenging. The illustrations would challenge my brain to go on a path it did not want to walk.  I needed the mystery of pure imagination.  It took a while to figure out it wasn’t that I couldn’t read, I just wasn’t reading what I wanted to read.  

Then I met Laura.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder was my gateway to readingMid-way through my first grade year we had a book fair in our elementary school gym and everyone got to select one book. I gravitated to the big kid books, with chapters and print words. Not the storybooks of first grade.  I wasn’t interested in being told what to think, I wanted to imagine and dream.  I knew I had to learn how to crack the code in order to understand the important stuff that was waiting for me in the grand assortment of books the world has to offer.  
At the book fair I scanned the books laid out neatly on the table, nervously, hoping I wouldn’t be busted for being at the big kid table.  I scanned back and forth, then quickly chose a big thick book based solely on the picture on the front cover.  A girl with straight brown hair like my very own, and big dark eyes glancing up holding a baby doll close to her chest, with her family surrounding her from behind in a little log cabin house in the woods. Gold.  I eagerly plucked it off the big kids book table and shuffled back over to my classmates.
       I thought I had smuggled the book without anyone taking notice, then my teacher quietly pulled me aside and asked me to put the book back and choose one from the grade-level table.  I don’t think I spoke, but I know I didn’t back down either.  Then he asked me to read him the title.  I couldn’t.  He requested I put it back and offered to help me find a better book.  I had to choke back tears.  My lower lip quivered a little and I may have had a tear or twelve rolling down my cheeks, but that day Laura came home with me in my backpack and she became one of my heroes, before I could even read a single word of what she wrote. 

My Grandma bought me a complete set of Little House books for Christmas when I was 7.  I read them one by one, in order.  Then re-read the first two: Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  To this day the Little House book set is one of my most cherished possessions   It also means I have duplicate copies of a couple books, because I can’t bear to part with my original copy of the book that popped my reading cherry.  Laura had me at “Little House in the Big Woods” and the rest came easy.  The motivation was fueled because I knew Laura.  

        Even before I knew Laura existed, I wanted to be her. I lived to be outside, to explore, to pretend I was surviving off the land.  When me and Laura met in the big woods, I stepped into a new part of myself, a secret identity revealed.  

Laura taught me about life and what it is to be a brave, adventurous, good, kind, and resourceful.  She showed me how a young woman could live in the woods.  She inspired me.  Laura and her family were filled with an independent adventurous spirit and they were willing to take on the landscape and face the hardships and challenges that come with the territory.  It didn’t take more than a couple of pages of Little House in the Big Woods, before I was eagerly working through the pages, asking my mom to read me all the words I couldn’t yet read.  I read the words I could, my mom filled in what she had time for and the rest came to me in wilder dreams, until I could finally read the whole book.    

Then I learned to write. Really write.  As soon as I learned to write, I started keeping a journal and became pen pals with my Great Grandma and two of her sisters.  

     Twenty four years later, they are all still alive, pushing 100 and we are all still pen pals.  I received a letter just yesterday from my Great Grandma. I opened it at the mailbox and began reading it as I walked down our snow covered driveway, snow crystals sparking in the early morning sunshine, snow melting from the dense spruce tips, illuminated by a magic inner light. Mt. Sanford and Mount Drum straight ahead and The Mentastas to my left, I stopped walking and took a moment to finish reading the letter.  

My Great Grandma wrote: “I know if I were young I am sure I would have found a place up in the hills.  I like the out of doors and to see the first snow it is so beautiful.” .  

      Reading the words of my nearly 100 year old Great Grandma, taking in the beauty of the first measurable snow of the year, surrounded by the mountains brought a tear to my eye and caused me to give thanks once again for the beauty and power of words, story -- legacy.  I am here, in The Wild, to build upon the legacy of my own adventurous, mountain loving, wild outdoors family and teach my children what means to be Living Wilder.  

Here's a great article advocating for libraries and the right to dream and imagine.