But seriously. How awesome is that waterfall? I mean, maybe it’s no Niagara Falls, but think about it. Just look at it for a minute. Seriously, a full minute. Look at the waterfall too, and not the baby, although the baby is super adorable. Do any questions come to mind? Any images? Any childhood memories of playing in a stream? Maybe looking for crayfish under rocks? When’s the last time you felt that wonderful, exhilarating sensation that we call “childhood wonder”? It’s amazing how many things that we pass by every day that are truly wonderful. And, as imaginative or intelligent or inquisitive or “educated” as we think we are, sometimes it just takes a child’s point of view to see wonder in the world. Maybe we should stop focusing on what comes “out of the mouth of babes” and try to see the world through their eyes instead.
Unlike many of the others in the Environmental Education program here at SOU, I don’t have a very extensive knowledge of local ecology and natural history (although I will before the year is through). I moved from Maine to Oregon at the end of August and thought that my ecological knowledge would be at least semi-transferable to my new home. I was wrong. Oregon is a lot different, and I’m still working on getting to know the wonderful environment of which I am now a part. What I do have, however, is an almost-two-year old.
Unlike many parents, my fiance and I take our daughter everywhere, especially on hikes and other outdoor adventures, and she is the best teacher I’ve ever had. The things that she notices amaze me. I am tested every time she picks up a rock or a flower and holds it up to me quizzically, expecting some sort of answer. Luckily for me, a simple “rock” or “flower” will satisfy her, and she’s on to the next wonder. I, however, am left wondering about the geology of the area, or the taxonomy of the plant, and how all of these little “wonders” are related to one another. At times when I would step over something wonderful in my hurry to reach the top of the mountain, my daughter forces me to stop, to think, to question.
The point that I’m trying to get across is that, realistically, we don’t all have the time or energy to pull out a field guide to identify some bird, or to take an ecology class, or even to go for a hike in the “great outdoors.” Are these things necessary, however, to be a scientific American? I believe that being a scientist or an ecologist or a biologist is simply about one thing: wonder. On the walk from your car across the parking lot to your office building tomorrow morning, stop. Take a minute to take a deep breath, take a sip of coffee, and look around. I want you to wonder about something, to question something. What is that bird that you’re looking at? What is that tree? Why is it there? Maybe later, when you get home from work, you can Google the answer. Maybe you’ll even pick up a book or magazine about local plants and animals. Maybe you’ll never get to finding an answer at all, and while that isn’t ideal, I think the substance is in the question, the attitude.
Most importantly of all, the next time a kid asks you a question, whether it be your own child, a student, a friend’s kid, or a complete stranger, take the time to answer them. Don’t brush it off. Think about the question. We all get caught up in our daily lives, but insightful questions are always perfectly timed. The time to wonder is not tomorrow, but now. All of the best discoveries in Science started with a question, a curiosity, a wonder. You could stumble upon the next one without even trying. Mother Nature is all around us, begging for our attention, and the questions that we could ask of her are limitless.