When he was six years old, my nephew, Brent, pulled up a carrot from the soil bed in our community garden on Main Street. He stood holding the bright orange-red taproot in the shape of an elongated arrowhead and waved the ferny leaves capping the sweet discovery. He bounced with joy and smiled as his wonder lit up. Now 33, living in Brooklyn, NY, he recollects the memory and grins. For that little wonder has grown into his refreshing appreciation for all kinds of good, local food and what it takes to keep the biodiversity healthy. Children can make the most stirring discoveries in the garden and, by being in that habitat, in themselves.
Whether they are digging in the soil, wriggling with the microbial life teeming there, or leaning in to peer at spider webs, bugs and butterflies, children’s enchantment is infectious. Sometimes the best gardeners are the littlest of ones. Unabashed to get dirty and explore the possibilities, excited to plant seeds and see sprouts, eager to work as play, children are adventurers in the garden creating a relationship with Mother Earth and with themselves as a species.
From Kidical Mass when families bring budding bicyclists to the Park Avenue Community Gardens to the early childhood neighbors at Euclid Park Gardens and the activities at Ishihara Learning Gardens, gardening in Santa Monica is welcoming little wonders to grow into big understandings about how to live sustainably. Last weekend at the COAST Open Streets event, making Monarch butterfly masks and picking up free milkweed brought forth all sorts of stories about butterfly gardens at schools and homes. One boy, Makoa, whose grandmother tends to her milkweed and caterpillars even indoors, used vibrant colors to design a mask and spoke of the butterflies as friends. That his name derives from the Hawaiian word for “courage” suggests that his wonder can grow into a strength so needed in the Anthropocene age.
Each bird, butterfly, flower that opens eyes, wings or petals each morning is like a child awakening to the wonder of a new day. Such a rousing can alert our awakening that each day can strengthen our certainty to protect all life of the biosphere on Mother Earth. Therein stirs the potential of living, the seed of truth, beauty and goodness.