So off we went for a drive, one late-winter Sunday afternoon, but still a good hour or two before sunset, with a few snacks and a bird book. Our destination was just 10 miles or so south of Santa Fe, up in piñon-juniper woodlands with some ponderosa thrown in, which seemed perfect for hawk-spotting.
It wasn’t long before we found one, high in the sky, being dive-bombed by a crow. From a distance we could see the little guy darting and plunging at the bigger, fiercer one, chasing it off course. I’d have put money on the hawk, but apparently this is a common “anti-predator” impulse for protecting a bird’s young, or perhaps just for not being picked on — kind of avian bully-resistance.
But then that was it, for 20 miles or so of dirt road. We passed the ruins of Ojo de La Vaca, an abandoned ranch settlement from the 1800s, with a few remaining structures and a little cemetery. The farther we drove, the deeper the mud became, from melting snow banks just off the road. Charles carefully steered us in the grooves of previous vehicles so we wouldn’t get stuck in the softer mud, but got more worried by puddles bigger than our car. He paused before one of these to assess the depth, and backed the car up a bit to give us room to build up speed, lowering his head like a bull before charging. He hit the gas. Mud splashed all across the windshield and over the top of the car, but we made it through without sinking into puddles where we might not have found help before morning. Great adventure! But not much hawk-spotting.
Finally the road dropped down to Highway 285, and I figured that was the end of that. I was thinking of a passage in a book I’m reading called Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Native American botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, where she reflects on traditional beliefs about obstacles that can arise between seeking and finding: “A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it. This is a hard concept for a scientist.” That must be it: I was looking too hard, or my intentions weren’t pure enough, or I’d otherwise offended the order of things in some way I couldn’t see….
“That’s a hawk!” Charles shouted. He turned the car around and pulled off onto the shoulder in front of a red-tailed hawk that had perched on a telephone pole. We watched it through binoculars for a minute or two, until it flew down to the next pole. Charles drove down the shoulder after it. It watched us watch it, then flew down into the bushes, getting dinner or maybe just getting tired of being watched.
Not bad for a Sunday adventure, and it was getting dark, and cold. We still had a stop ahead of us, to replace the dishwasher hose that burst that afternoon. So we turned around again and headed back to town.
Not two minutes later another red-tailed hawk swooped right in front of our car, plucked something up in its talons from the median (we guessed a prairie dog), and flew up to the top of a telephone pole. Charles pulled off the road again, this time backing onto a side street where we watched the bird shake the little critter in its beak, pick it up with its talons and gnaw at it, until all the good stuff was gone and it tossed the junk down to the ground, and I have to say: It was cool.
This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but it satisfied something in us. Seeing the dramas of the wild — from a safe distance, not on a screen — is a thrilling, perhaps disquieting reminder of the natural backdrop behind our domestic theater.
It provided surprisingly strong fortification for getting through Home Depot, that big-box quintessence of human creation, where Charles found a new dishwasher hose. At home he took out the guts of the machine while I stuck a frozen pizza in the oven, spruced up some leftover salad, and mixed cocktails to sip during “Downton Abbey.” Misty, our cat, curled on the back of the couch, serving as the evening’s dormant reminder of the wild.
This was, I realized, our grown-up experience with “active learning,” topic of “Make Room for the Unexpected,” by Cullen Curtiss, admissions director of Rio Grande School. This educational trend being incorporated into curricula of several schools and camps in Santa Fe and around the country involves taking kids outside to learn. Experiences such as seeing a bird in its environment, conducting a soil-erosion experiment in an arroyo, or observing bugs in the backyard provide far-reaching lessons that expand on information acquired in the classroom, in books or on the Internet.
The theme of movement, indoors and out, in fact rumbles throughout this issue. Carol Schrader and Ilana Blankman of Wise Fool, this issue’s “Long-Timer’s Club” honoree, tell us about developing “physical literacy,” the ability to be comfortable, confident and creative in our bodies.
Playschool of the Arts for Kids parent Maddy Sauer describes the delicious ways children at that school learn building blocks of literacy while they’re moving, jumping and running.
Santa Fe Waldorf School parent Maureen Eich VanWalleghan pays homage to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and the efforts he inspires to reconnect children and adults to natural landscapes and wild landscapes that inspire our hearts and imaginations.
Even a relatively sedentary topic — homework — gets its healthy dose of movement, in Dona Durham’s article “The Homework Opportunity,” where she suggests the session be preceded by physical exercise, and ended with a “reinforcement,” of the child’s choosing — which might with a little encouragement be an outdoor activity.
And our wonderful long-time Kids’ Page editor Jone Hallmark provides “For the Birds!” — a page of creative ideas for attracting them to our yards and gardens.
It’s as if many parents and writers, independently and spontaneously, decided to bring to light suggestions for getting kids moving and enjoying the outdoors, in this season of standardized testing. Last spring we deliberately sought suggestions for combating test madness. This year they came to us. Thanks for the reminders that what matters can be found not just in the bubbles on test forms, but in our body, senses, imagination and spirit. Our long-awaited spring will likely open doors to new opportunities for learning in spontaneous, unstructured ways, with lessons that might surprise and delight us.