A Sense of Wonder Grows in the Garden

A nature lesson from Rachel Carson

  • Kelly Senser
  • Apr 14, 2010

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”

         Rachel Carson, biologist (1907-1964)

This quote comes from The Sense of Wonder, a book I discovered in my teenage years—and one of my favorite nature reads. In my younger days, it was Carson’s vivid details of the outdoor adventures she enjoyed with her nephew that intrigued me. When I became a parent, it was her prescription for keeping alive a child’s inborn sense of wonder that resonated. She said a child needed “the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Carson acknowledged that some adults would feel ill-equipped to teach children about the natural world because they lacked an understanding of it themselves. But the scientist held this belief: It is not half so important to know as to feel.

I’ve found this to be true in my own experience. When I took this photo of a silver-spotted skipper in my garden, I actually didn’t know the insect’s name. I recognized it only as a butterfly visitor, one of many that captivated my daughter and caused my son to smile when it took wing. That was enough for me initially: being a novice wildlife watcher, sharing my kids’ delights.

Having a camera at the ready has proved to be valuable though. What many of my images lack in artistry they make up for in education, for they allow me to study identifying marks and become better acquainted with animal visitors to my yard. When my daughter spots a bird outside her window, or my son and I venture out in search of insects (what he calls “bug club meetings”), I’m now more apt to recognize the creatures I’m seeing.

Admittedly, I’ve still much to discover. But the thirst is there—for my family too. Indeed, that’s what I love most about our backyard habitat: It invites us to tune in. It’s a place to nourish our children’s sense of wonder, as well as our own. We planted our garden with wildlife in mind and are daily rewarded with scenes such as bluebirds nesting, monarchs emerging from their chrysalides and mantises stalking their prey.

Though our responses to these scenes are often emotional in form, ranging from joy to sadness, these feelings encourage us to seek knowledge.  It’s the journey Carson wrote about—and one with lasting meaning.

Senior Associate Editor Kelly Senser is passionate about gardening and outdoor play. Her text first appeared as a guest post on Carole Brown’s Ecosystem Gardening blog.


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