What kind of relationship do you have with the Ancestors?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In the River of Sound: Nature, Music and Children - Julia Priest

"This drive to connect with nature, especially animals, appears to be universal in families around the world, from city to suburb to desert to seashore."

Our modern world, with all its bells and whistles, with all its mercenary calls to "connection" and its distractionary (I made up that word) disconnections, often lays like a confusing template over our Ancestral integration with the world wide web of life.  Forever....animals have lived and flourished in our mythologies, our cosmologies, our stories and our songs.  They have guided, informed, instructed, fed and sustained us on many levels.  Julia Priest brings us a watery reflection of the deep wisdom of our young ones as they enter the physical world seemingly so aware of our relationship with the animal world, with a world inspired by sound, movement and meaning.  Our children are a lesson in wisdom for us and we can benefit from their learning as we support and guide them. - Ukumbwa Sauti


"Leaping and dancing, the fish are in the river;
Leaping and dancing, to see a baby born.
Leaping and dancing, the fish are in the water;
Leaping and dancing, now that spring is here
Brincan y bailan los peces en el rio;
Brincan y bailan de ver nacido un nino.
Brincan y bailan los peces en el agua;
Brincan y bailan de ver la primavera."

I’ve been teaching this song to parents and preschoolers for fifteen years, yet I don’t always feel confident that I’ve helped them to love the song as much as I do.

I teach early childhood music in a Boston suburb. This means classrooms full of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, with their parents or teachers. Many of our students are so young that they haven’t even visited a petting zoo yet in their lives. Strikingly, they all adore pictures of pigs and chickens, songs about roosters and ducklings. Children seem to be born with a passion for nature, especially animals. Parents almost universally feel driven to quiz their toddlers: “What does the cow say? The cow says moo. . . What does the sheep say?” Even Ylvis asked, “What does the fox say!”

This drive to connect with nature, especially animals, appears to be universal in families around the world, from city to suburb to desert to seashore. Even in a world where we are increasingly out of touch with the people and places that provide us with our food—whether omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan--parents sing and read about animals to their children!

The powerful fascination with animals is seemingly as universal as the drive to learn language or the drive to adorn ourselves.  Could it be coded into our genes? It almost seems like an attenuating echo of the necessity for non-industrial traditional peoples to pass large, complex bodies of herbal, culinary, medicinal, and animal-husbandry knowledge down through the generations.

As a music teacher, I savor the special affinity which children feel for animals. By imitating the extreme high sounds of a meow or the low sounds of a moo, the lip trill of a horse nickering, the uninhibited hooting laughter of monkeys and apes, we warm up and challenge all the extremes of our larynx, our voicebox. I delight in children’s early forays into imaginary play when they take the role of an animal and imitate how it both sounds and moves. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a roomful of four-year-olds swim on the floor like polliwogs and then hop across the room like frogs. Messiaen imitated bird song; Saint-SaĆ«ns’ Carnival of the Animals includes an Aquarium. . . there is a natural tie between music and animals too.

Despite all this, I felt slightly blocked for many years about how to make the Spanish-language text of Brincan y Bailan immediate and real for Anglophone parents and children. The song was at an even further remove from its original context because, due to some arcane music-theoretical aspects of our curriculum’s internal logic, I need to introduce Brincan at springtime even though the original is a Christmas carol! The concept of “rebirth” was, I feared, a bit too abstract for little ones who have seen winter give way to spring once or maybe twice, and maybe haven’t even experienced the arrival yet of a baby sibling of their very own!

I guess that what I needed was a concrete experience in my own life to bring it all together for me. This April, entirely for fun and without a thought that it might relate to my song curriculum, I hopped in a friend’s car, off to the Nemasket River in Middleborough, Massachusetts. There, alewife herring have been swimming upstream to spawn every spring for millennia. Indigenous people built weirs to nurture as well as harvest fish here. Many townships in the area built dams in recent centuries which have inadvertently doomed alewife to near extinction, but the Middleborough community wisely built fish ladders and therefore is still rich in herring. And so I saw with my own eyes, for the very first time, how fish fight the current and jump up over barriers to reach their first home, to make babies. Although the exertion is great, the drive will not be denied.

In comparison with human mating, fish insemination might seem rather remote and not at all sexy. Fish parenting may not seem very cuddly from our human, mammalian perspective. Yet to a fish, the urge is ineluctable. I can’t help projecting human-centered feelings onto these creatures, imagining that when they finally they leap into their childhood beds, paired in matrimony, they sigh with watery, bubbly contentment.

Bringing this story, this information, and these images back to my classes made the song an easy sell. The children could easily imagine the joy with which fish head homeward. Now my students might, I think, start to love the song as much as I do. This outing into nature brought renewal to me as a teacher. Perhaps it will also inspire somebody to get out into nature and enjoy a body of water. Maybe that somebody will be you!

Thank you, Julia, for the great modeling!

On Science, Nature, Children and a Culture of Life - Lisa Lambert

"I want the soon-to-be-adults of the future to know that it is entirely possible to create health and harmony and that all the new inventions and fancy technology can support this if technology is used as a tool and not as a means to replace or change nature (as if nature would ever let humans win at this anyway. Ha!)"

Western "civilization" bears upon it a particular daunting responsibility to develop an ability to look within, critique and transform...even compost...itself in the interest of joining many in the rest of the world who seek to illuminate and empower traditions of social harmony, political clarity and the interconnection of humanity (again) with the profundity of nature and the nurturance of Mother Earth.  There are people working tirelessly within this daunting and frustrating context of colonialism, corporate hegemony and the heartless destruction and exploitation of nature. We can find some of these amazing people in the embattled classrooms, labs and burgeoning gardens of what many call a miseducational system. Lisa Lambert is just one of these teachers, bringing her personal experiences, her wisdoms, her grounded scholarship, her warrior heart as gift to all the children that pass, luckily, through her classrooms. She calls us to think and feel and do more deeply as we preside over the lives, learnings and growth of children and that of our own vital presence in our communities and on this earth. - Ukumbwa Sauti

People say children don’t know anything. I’m not so sure this is true. I believe they know a lot, more than most adults.

When I was a child I was always drawn to the outdoors. There was a vibration out there that I could never access when I was indoors. Of course, at the time I didn’t know what it was, I just knew that I felt ‘right’ being outside. That space held me and comforted me, taught me and delighted me. Whenever anything wasn’t ok, nature was my church. Whenever I had a question, if I was quiet enough and I paid attention, it would tell me the answer.

The connection felt stronger near places like oceans, ponds and in the rain. I noticed that water was the thing that connected all of it, it’s constant flow touched and fed all of us. I had so many questions about the world outside. I never knew any adults that could answer them, at least not in the way that I wanted. I most certainly never met any adults that liked being outside as much as I did. I was generally shushed or shamed and allowed to be seen and but not heard, I was ‘only a girl’ after all, why would my thoughts be important?

So I stayed quiet and I studied the absolute to make sense of the relative. I investigated everything. I read anything I could get my hands on. I dug in the dirt. I nursed wild animals. I examined how water made puddles and how the wind moved the trees. Nature led me to science and science became my teacher and gave me a voice, but nature was and will always be, my mentor. I was happy to find a source to offer me concrete answers to my seeking, a world of prescribed solutions, all gleaned from wild places.

By studying biomimicry, I expanded my interest in biology, then to medicine, then specialized to botany, ecology, engineering, geology and then outward to astronomy, the universe and beyond. There I found myself led to philosophy and religion, and the natural extension of the spiritual, here I discovered ethereal ancestors and from there I was led back to nature, always nature.

I’m a science educator now. I feel like I know two languages. One is the logical human made one with essays, formulas and lists and the other is the enigmatic ever flowing reverberation of energy that cannot be created or destroyed, but only channeled. I have the honor of spending my days serving families and children as a public school teacher and I still deeply believe that children intuitively come to class knowing everything they need to know. Do they have the schmantzy words or ‘theory’ to explain it in the way that our conditioned old dead white guy science model wants? No, that type of colonial language is not present. But children have a  heart intelligence, a curiosity, a enthusiasm for exploring. They come to me with a creativity and ingenuity in figuring things out, an openness to new and different things and an inner knowing that the cycles and flow of ALL of it are important. I help them articulate their knowing.

A very young child can easily see the importance and safety of interconnectedness.  Somewhere between infancy and adulthood we humans have forgotten how to access this expansive beauty of reverence and ease. All the answers to all the worlds problems are held in this simple collaborative connected space, if only adults could have the wisdom of that child. If only education didn’t mean extinguishing this inner knowing. Is it possible to teach children these two languages, the standardized one and the real one?  Is it possible to keep them engaged and caring as they age out of our school systems? Is it possible that we all can soften and flex and discover, the way kids are born to do?

I’m not sure if growing up today is any harder than it was decades ago. It’s always been hard to be a little kid in a grownup selfish world. 

Nowadays, kids are getting diverted away from the natural world sooner in life and are more likely to grow up not even understanding the very ground they stand on. Things like weather, animals and even their own biology become problems to oppress instead of the inherent beauty that they are. This is a BIG conceptual missed opportunity. This attitude coupled with ages old ‘norms’ further keeps children inside by playing out the false story of nature as gross and uncomfortable or dangerous . Ignorance, fear and hatred of the unknown migrates pervasively into kids daily lives and as a consequence the natural world and so many who live in it are suffering. We see it in the news every day. 

The connection between humans and nature is clear. The solution to the major human and global issues in the world is not to divorce ourselves from the outdoors, sequester ourselves inside and only interact in air-conditioned rooms with electric screens. The solution is to jump in the mud and mix both these worlds in a spectacular primordial futuristic fusion that supports sustenance, equality and responsible stewardship of our planet. 

I want the soon-to-be-adults of the future to know that it is entirely possible to create health and harmony and that all the new inventions and fancy technology can support this if technology is used as a tool and not as a means to replace or change nature (As if nature would ever let humans win at this anyway. Ha!). With steady kind attention, our climate will be remedied, water will be clean and freely available, racism and patriarchy will be smashed, healthcare will be replaced by caring AND health for the body and the mind, there will be abundant affordable healthy food, cultures and religions will be celebrated, unfair wealth structures will be leveled, there will be clarity of intersectionality on every level and, yes, new sustainable accessible technologies will be invented to solve energy demands. 

This isn’t the future, it’s happening now, these little rumbles. Classroom by classroom, garden by garden, neighborhood by neighborhood and with every kid who looks into a flower or at a bug and asks, “I wonder why...?”.