(Originally published as a column in the AM News on April 11, 2014 under the same title.)
Thin clouds piling in all shades of orange over the hills as the sun was setting told more than the story of a day ending; they talked about the day to come.
Swallows flying close to the ground were also a sign of impending rain, I was told from early on. And just like that, I knew that if I found freshly-woven spider webs during my stroll through the garden in early morning, there will be no rain; a good thing during the much-loved summer vacation days.
In the woods or around the yard, I knew which berries were good to eat and which were not. I knew that the leaves of raspberry bushes were good for tea and that when baby chickens come out of the egg their puffy coat is all wet.
On April 7 the boys’ school (and the whole School District 73) hosted ‘Day of Sucwentwecw – to acknowledge one another,’ a first ever celebration of this kind. Students got to listen to an elder talking about the traditional people around Kamloops.
The boys brought home a newspaper, The Secwepemc News. There were stories of people who worked or work to preserve the culture and to revive it. There were stories about traditions and how life was lived according to seasons, and how knowing about nature kept people alive and thriving. Nature-inspired stories passed on from elders to youth and children were never just entertainment but lessons.
It was the drawing of rose hips that sent me back to growing up and to everything life meant back then. I remembered the tangy deep orange tea my mom made from rose hips and how it was one of the best drinks in winter because rose hips are very rich in vitamin C.
The thought of today’s children sprouted without warning.
Equipped with smartphones and getting used to opening a package to find food, how connected to life can they be and how much of a feeling of belonging to the place we call Earth can they develop as they grow?
It is a refrain we hear often enough: eat what’s in season. Yet how many adults know what’s in season where they live? A couple of generations ago people’s connection to nature meant avoiding starvation.
Do today’s children have a chance to learn about that connection?
Ushered from school to classes to stores and then tucked into bed at night, how much time is there to understand how nature does its thing? If a bee is but a bug that flies from flower to flower and looks very much like a wasp – can you tell the difference? – but the vital connection between bees and crops and food on the table is never made, will children grow to understand the consequences of bee colonies collapsing?
If children never understand that medicine once meant knowing which leaves to pick to make tea out of and that picking ripe fruit and veggies is the result of sowing, weeding and knowing how to keep the earth healthy by feeding it not chemicals, but compost or manure, and thus completing a circle that was never meant to be broken if we are to stay healthy, they are robbed of what should’ve been a birth right.
If we gave an older person whose connection with nature has been strengthened by passed-down knowledge and experience a smartphone or a high-tech device that many of today’s children can handle with their eyes closed, they’d look awkward in their lack of understanding of how these devices work.
Yet they have the knowledge of putting food on the table and of how to survive based on signs that nature gives freely to all, which most of today’s children lack.
Now imagine combining the two types of knowledge. They should not be mutually exclusive of each other. Their co-existence means that children can have a true measure of life and they can be raised in gratitude of it.
They give us and our children a chance to reconsider our choices, shape them to match the past knowledge and accommodate the future.
The knowledge of the past and the facts of today is what we have to build our future with.
Resourcefulness dictates that we make use of both if we are to provide our children with a sense of where they come from and where they are headed.