After finishing a slow breakfast with my daughter on the front balcony of the home we were staying at the beach, I was invited by my four year old to join her in the garden. She is very comfortable in the outdoors and we often enjoy watching her roaming our backyard, discussing matters of great importance with her dolls and pushing them on the swing. So it was with great pleasure that I accepted her invitation and moved down the staircase towards the lawn below.
We were immediately greeted with the rolled-up fronds of a fern blocking our path, at perfect eye height for an inquisitive four year old who promptly asked, “What’s that, Daddy?” As I explained the potential that existed in the curled-up plant and pointed to the older sections of the fern that were fully unfurled as branches, I was struck by the similarity in appearance and potential of a baby in the womb.
My pondering about what may unfurl in the life of my daughter was interrupted and I was snapped back into reality by her sudden exclamation of “Look! A numgut!” or as I explained a “gum nut” which had fallen from a little tree in the corner. She told me that it was important that I keep it. So I did.
At this point I was reminded about a contemplative retreat that I participated in with the Marist Brothers and recalled my experience of using my senses in the presence of nature. This numgut, despite being half the size of my fingernail, needed further exploration. I was immediately impressed by the trinity of circles which seemed almost mechanically precise in their spacing and alignment. I then noticed a beautiful similarity to the rib vaulting of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Amiens.
I’ve always been impressed by the influence of the natural world on the form and engineering of science and design. I consider myself a student of nature and have been taught many lessons about myself, ranging from the physical and mental to the spiritual. As we crouched down to explore a little beetle that had crawled under a leaf, I realised that my daughter had provided me with a unique perspective on life, literally getting ‘down to earth’. I was grateful for this lesson, to be slow down, to be still, to explore and imagine.
As our botanical exploration drew to a close, I reflected on how my attention is often at the macro level, concerning myself with the overarching issues and broader challenges of life and work. We spend a great deal of time helping our children to become reflective and to consider the future consequences of their actions. On the other hand, my children have a certain knack for drawing me into the present moment, the here and now.
The simplicity of examining the palm frond and the gumnut had brought us both great joy and wonder. There was no soundtrack, special effects, or fancy animations to prick our curiosity or prop up our imagination. No carparks, waiting in lines, buying tickets or candy. Nature had provided everything that my little guide and I needed for some quality time on our doorstep.
When was the last time that you were captivated by something in nature?