The Magic of Discovery

The November 4th article in the Northfield News was one of my favorite articles that Leif has written – not only is it written exceptionally well – it features our pride and joy – one of our grandsons – Jordan. The article follows:

Last Thursday my grandson Jordan and I began a project that I hope will shape a young mind, and nurture a tender hearted boy into a man with a big heart and an unshakeable vision for the future of our land. On a sunny mid-October day we strolled out the back door of my home and into a remnant of Minnesota’s Big Woods, each with an ice cream pail in hand.

Kneeling beneath the canopy of the mature Oak-Maple-Basswood forest, we brushed aside the drifts of dry leaves. To our delight a veritable carpet of acorns covered the ground. The rich tawny brown of the acorns was accentuated here and there as shafts of sunlight danced through the branches overhead. Here was what we had come out into the forest to find. Here lying on the ground before us were the forests of tomorrow.

Jordan eagerly grabbed the acorns and began filling one of Grandma Deb’s ice cream pails. Side by side we worked, a little kid and a big kid, both focused on harvesting the bounty of the stately Oaks towering overhead.

Soon the buckets grew heavy and the carpet of acorns thin. I was almost ready to call a halt to our collecting when Jordan excitedly jumped up and announced he would look for another tree with more acorns. His excitement carried me along and I followed to the other side of the yard.

There at the edge of our shade garden, we found the most beautiful acorns I’d ever seen. Slightly bigger than those from the other Red Oaks, these acorns had pronounced stripes and a brilliant amber brown seed coat.

As my enthusiasm mounted right along with Jordan’s, I had a flashback to a similar time of discovery, fifty years earlier. When I was in kindergarten and first grade, I spent many happy hours prowling the stream banks of Prairie Creek, and following it from our home at the end of East 5th Street down past Carleton’s riding stables and into the college arboretum.

It mattered little what I discovered in the Arboretum. One day it was the spring flowers, a carpet of loud blue scilla that closely followed the more understated hepatica and the bright white bloodroot. Another day my discoveries consisted of snails, frogs, clams, dragonflies and the delightful squishing of soft mud between bare toes in the creek bed.

What mattered most was the excitement of discovery, just like finding the especially beautiful acorns by our prize hostas. Jordan was excited and so was I, for our goal that day went far beyond ice cream pails filled with acorns. Our goal was to create the forests of the future.

Together Jordan and I floated off the bad acorns in a 5 gal bucket half full of water, and then immersed the good acorns (the sinkers) in 120 degree water for 5 minutes to kill any weevils that might be inside. I explained to Jordan that we would have to store the acorns in moist sand in a refrigerator over the winter, and promised that the first week of March we would bring him to the nursery to help plant the acorns. He knows that when the acorns grown into little oak trees, we will be planting them in a special place in the meadow just outside the woods. This will be the start of Jordan’s grove.

Over the next several years Jordan will help us collect and plant seed from Sugar Maples, Black Cherry, Hackberry, Northern Pin Oak, White Oak and Autumn Blaze Maple. From each batch, Jordan knows we will plant one tree in his grove of trees, and that the rest will go to help other people grow the forests of tomorrow. With Jordan’s brothers, Tyger and Brandt, we will do likewise, hoping to help tender young hearts and minds grow into a love for the world and a vision for the future.

Certainly 21st century civilizations change the natural world on a daily basis, often leaving it bruised and beaten. Remember that we are not helpless in the face of these changes. We can restore the landscape of our world, nation, state, city, township and backyards one acorn at a time.

In one heart and one mind at a time, we can spark the joy of discovery and the love of the natural world. A few bushels of tree seed can start a whole new forest, where decades in the future a six year old grandchild will shout “Hey Grandpa, look what I found!”, and the cycle of discovery will start all over again.

The six year old child still lives in each of us. Discovery, awe and wonder are not a function of age, but rather a product of a way of life, of placing ourselves in situations where it can happen.

Short walks, long walks, planting a garden or a forest, watching sunsets and moon rises, and helping a child experience the world are but a few of the activities that lead us to discovery, awe and wonder. It doesn’t get much better than this.