Book Review: The Sense of Wonder

I’d like to thank Rex Enoch and Shelley Green for introducing me to such a wonderful book.

This fall, Rex, Shelley, and I participated in a discussion course hosted by the Arkansas Earth Institute. Called A World of Health, the six-session course explored the connections between human health and the environment, and how we can sustain both. I found the course to be excellent and recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

One of the articles that we read discussed the connection between nature deficiency and the way we treat (or mistreat) the environment. If we don’t go into the woods, therefore suffer from nature deficiency, how do we gain appreciation for the natural world? If our children grow up with nature deficiency, how would they take care of the Earth?

That’s when Rex and Shelley mentioned The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson. Carson, noted environmental writer, penned the essay shortly before her death in 1964. In it, she urges parents to take their children to wild places to introduce them to the astonishing variety of life that exists all around us – birds, winds, waves, stars, trees, lichens, mosses and more. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,” Carson writes, “he needs 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 understands the anxiety felt by parents to teach their child about nature:

Parents often have a sense of inadequacy when confronted on the one hand with the eager, sensitive mind of a child and on the other with a world of complex, physical nature, inhabited by a life so various and unfamiliar that it seems hopeless to reduce it to order and knowledge. In a mood of self-defeat, they exclaim, “How can I possibly teach my child about nature – why, I don’t even know one bird from another!”

Carson says not to worry. It is more important for a parent seeking to guide a child to feel than to know. “It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts,” she writes.

Carson encourages parents to start early. “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.” Before a child loses his or her sense of wonder, Carson urges parents to take them to wild places.

The Sense of Wonder is an amazing book, and it’s a must-read for everybody. Check it out by borrowing a copy at your local public library.

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