Our First Year of Homeschool
In January I set intention to my year with the words "wonder" + "whimsy," believing they are to be found daily in my ordinary life. We entered the year as new homeschoolers, feeling strongly called to pull our six-year-old, Braxton out of public school. Little did we know the strangeness 2020 would bring, with most families bringing their children home for the school year.
While I have been wrapped up in it, it has also thoroughly unwrapped me. Many days are filled with emotional struggles, character building, and sibling rivalry. Yet my world has also been opened to the many wonders of learning that in hindsight I feel I have foolishly left years behind me. I was fortunate to go to an elementary and middle school that instilled a true love of learning. In all the resources I have pursued this year, my mind has gone back to younger years that started me on a wonderful quest for wisdom.
Author Sally Clarkson said at the latest Wild + Free conference that she started out motherhood as a person who was "kind of shallow." After enjoying many of her wisdom-filled books I found this hard to believe. But her point was that she pursued a rich and meaningful environment for her children in her home which matured her in many areas of her life. As she talks about often, I also want to create an atmosphere that is drenched in beauty. I am inspired by my multi-talented uncle, Youssef El Deeb, on this podcast when he talks about his life slogan my grandmother inspired, “...there is a sweet part of life that you should choose to look at.”
So, this year's personal project–while similar to my 365 project last year–started as a way to appreciate the atmosphere I was pursuing. Amidst the attitudes and the messes I kept my camera at hand to document the sweet side. Each month I compiled a visual journal to share with my boys. No cirricula or how-tos here... just our visual journey for wonder + whimsy in an ordinary life.
2020 Homeschool Journal
The Magic of Outdoors
My boys and I frequent parks and streams near our home this time of year when the weather is mild and the sun seems most golden. Their energy is as magnets to any and all water: rivers, creeks, mud puddles alike. Most times we have no agenda besides looking for even the smallest adventure. One such day we were looking for wild edibles, a part of our Childhood Curiosities Wildcraft Study by Jodi Mockabee. We were thrilled to find the plants we had seen in pictures and read about, such as jewelweed and plantain, ran rampant in our little part of the world.
The soothing, rollicking water trickled down the stream. I looked up frequently to talk with my boys about what they were floating downstream. I perched on a nearby rock intermittently reading Tom Brown Jr.'s Guidebook: Nature and Survival for Children. I became intrigued by his explanation of meditation for even the youngest in our families. And not the kind I am used to hearing about (but never really practice). He suggests that time in nature–in the quiet space of really examining the natural world and God's many intricacies–that our children receive this impactful and essential meditation. I reflected on how nature and photography have started to overlap for me in this way. Photography is the quiet, meditative process for me to slow down and take a critical look at what is around me. To use my lens as my own prism. But it was the following story that most captivated my attention.
Grandfather and the Fisherman
by Tom Brown Jr.
I was sitting on an old cedar stump, watching the dawn advance across the swamp. The morning was thick with mist, especially near the stream that cut through the boggy cedar swamp. The trunks of the huge old cedar trees faded from sight as they reached to the pale skies, plunging through the dense sheet of mist that clung to their upper crowns. The cedar forest appeared as a mystical temple, something of vision or dream rather than reality. Its beauty was breathtaking; reverence for this place saturated my soul. Shafts of angled sunlight cut through the lower forest with a hazy yellow-orange light that cast shadows into strange shapes and mists into flowing apparitions. Dew clung to every leaf and furrowed trunk, dripping here and there, mingling with the symphony of awaking birds and the gentle surging flow of the stream. I felt as if I sat on the edge of some primordial forest at the dawn of creation.
I was deep in prayer, consciously and unconsciously, losing myself in meditation and in the deeper recesses of the misty shadows. I know of no one who could have sat in this place, at the edge of misty sun and shadowy forest, who would not have been in prayer, at peace with creation and flooded with unspeakable awe. This kind of morning always tears away all cares and duties, all fleshly wants, and bares the soul to the elements, to be washed and purified. The thrashings of the mind evaporate like the mists of dawn, and true thoughts come into ever-sharpening focus. Adding their own mystique to this magical morning, deer drift in and out of the mists, disappearing momentarily behind brush or fusing their color with that of distant trees. Everywhere animals move, their motion blending with the flow of forest.
Another flow entered this morning, Grandfather drifted slowly down the trail to the stream. I was excited to see him because he had been away in another part of the forest. I wanted to go to him but the intrigue of sitting there watching him held me in place. I am almost certain that he knew I was there, for there was little he missed in the woods and I am sure nuances and disturbances easily gave away my location. Whether he knew I was there or not, however, he showed no interest, and continued walking slowly toward the stream. He stood for a long time, gazing at the water. He glanced up and down the stream, leisurely yet methodically, as if searching for something. His eyes rested on the cathedral of cedars for a longing moment and caught the glisten of a tear on his cheek. To me, he appeared as if he was about to enter a temple, about to see God...
As I sat there, Grandfather approached close to the water's edge and stood with his arms raised in an attitude of worship. Looking up and downstream as if searching, he paused at every glistening riff and misty hollow with his gaze. I could clearly see the streams of tears on his cheeks glistening in the sun and the contented smile on his face. He knelt down solemnly and touched the water, ever so gently, watching his own concentric rings ripple and mix with those of the water striders. He began to stroke the water as if it were a living being, looked deep into its color, to the mosaic of sand and pebbles at the bottom. He drew his face close to smell the water. Then he took a light sip. He sat back with the water in his mouth and swished it back and forth. His actions would have put the most experienced wine tasters to shame. Reaching deeper into the water with cupped hands, he raised the water to the Creator in thanksgiving. Then and only then did he drink. Standing erect, once again, he dropped his blanket, his sole garment, and entered the water. I could see his entire body trembling with excitement, and the smile on his face, as he lay back in the water, was one of total rapture.
a feeling of intense pleasure or joy.
Rapture is something I rarely see in the modern world; it exists as a word, not an emotion. Society does not seem to know what rapture is, far less what it feels like. To society, water is something to guzzle, put here for its use or misuse, and never given a second thought. To Grandfather, water was earth mother's blood, a precious gift for all things living and growing, not just for humans...
Grandfather savored everything in life as he savored the water, fully and with all his senses, to a state of utter rapture... To him, every entity of earth was an object of worship, his life a constant prayer of thanksgiving, and his quest always for rapture. In watching him live that day, I learned how to live, and why. But then there was the fisherman, who taught me how not to live.
Many years after Grandfather's physical death, I was on another beach, awaiting the sunrise. The ocean was still black, the waves accented by the pale glow of first dawn. The silhouettes of gulls appeared at the edge of the darkness. Lonely cries of gulls, the soft wind moving the sand in a gentle hissing, and the light clap of waves created soothing music for the soul. Prayers seemed to reach to the skies, penetrating the scant cloud cover, now etched in the liquid gold of dawn. The beach was deserted except for a lone fisherman who sat on a beach chair a dozen yards from me.
He was gray and weathered, his skin showed overexposure to the sun and surf, and his clothes were of styles long forgotten. He stared intently at the tip of his rod, watching it bob and shift with the rise and fall of the wave and wind. He seemed to concentrate solely on that rod tip, looking away only to his watch, probably out of habit...
As my thoughts drifted with the tides, I unconsciously picked up a handful of beach sand and began studying its texture and color. I smelled it awhile, then held it up to the sunlight, watching it sparkle and change color. I've always loved beach sand and how it changes its size, color, shape, and texture with each new beach. I guess I was so caught up in what I was doing that I didn't notice the fisherman staring at me. He must of thought I was holding some kind of shell when he asked me, "What you got there?" Taken back somewhat at his question, I answered matter-of-fatly, "Beach sand!" "It's all the same, white and gray; sticks to everything," he responded. I wouldn't have paid this statement even a second thought except that it had been uttered mockingly. "White and gray?" I asked. "Old man, please pick up some beach sand and look". He grumbled something and went back to watching his pole.
I got up and had walked a few steps away when some feeding terns caught my eye and I sat back down to watch. While I was watching them hovering and diving near the edge of the jetty I happened to glance back at the fisherman. In his weathered hand he had a handful of beach sand, stirring it around with his finger, and holding it close to his face. I heard him talking, half out loud and half to himself. "My God," he exclaimed, his voice bitter and breaking, "My God, I never realized." As I left the area I glanced back at the old man to wave good-bye but he wasn't watching me. In his outstretched hands he held a bluefish to the sun. I could see the color glistening in the sun and I could see the tears on the old man's cheeks. His hands trembled. Dropping the fish he hunched over, sobbing silently to himself. I wanted to go to him, but I knew there was nothing I could do.
The horror, I thought. Here was a man who had spent the better part of his lifetime fishing these beaches but who did not know what beach sand looked like. Here was an old man, who in the twilight of his life had seen a bluefish for the first time. A fish he loved so much to catch but never really knew. The words of Marcus Aurelius thundered in my brain. "It is not dying that a man should fear, but a man should fear never having lived at all." This is what had brought the old fisherman to tears: realizing that at this late time in life all the things he had missed, all the things he would never see, all the wasted time; time that has been spent, never to be made up; the horror of it all, the absolute senseless waste of life, the living dead. I learned from that man more than he could ever know. I learned not to waste my life, living to die, but rather live a life of rapture and wonderment.
Story excerpt from Tom Brown's Field Guide: Nature and Survival for Children by Tom Brown Jr. Read the story in its entirety at the Wildwood Tracking website.
What about you? Are you going through life as Grandfather or as the Fisherman? How can you cultivate rapture in your own life?
For a long time this innate longing to hear stories and experience cultures different from my own was real. It still is today. Yes, I acquired understanding and perspective through good books over time. But as a photographer I want to see. To add visuals to the layers detailing a place or a person.
I have not done a lot of international travel and I have not seen nearly as far to the ends of the earth as I would love to. Still, I am fortunate for the unique places I have been. Killarney, Lake Superior, Halifax + Nova Scotia in Canada as well as Cairo, Alexandria + El Gouna in Egypt.
During quarantine I managed to sort through boxes of photographs and negatives from the past 20 years. I found travel photographs reflective of a timid photographer–shooting through windows, capturing drive-by photos that couldn’t possibly sum up any sort of feeling or understanding of the people or place they mirror.
Still, I understand that they are part of what brought me to my work today.
As my experience with photography has grown, it rings true that "less is more." Photographer Sally Mann says in her book Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs,
I believe that photographs actually rob all of us of our memory.
I have been contemplating this a lot lately. Thinking of the legacy of photographs I will someday leave behind, I have come to understand there must be a balance between capturing life in a nostalgic way, while not capturing so much that I become less present. Or so that my boys don't have their own unique experiences of childhood preserved without my visuals of it. Rather than trying to capture full events, my photos focus on specific details + moments strategically conjuring up memories of a specific person or season of ones’ life. Mann also wrote,
I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by experience but the last time you recalled it. With tiny differences creeping in at each cycle, the exercise of our memory does not bring us closer to the past but draws us further away.
The mini photo story I put together with film photos includes the poem "Travel" by Robert Louis Stevenson. I love the way the poem addresses actual travel as well as a boy's dreams and stories about new places he hopes to one day encounter.
You may not have made the conscious decision to homeschool as I did before quarantine began. You may feel forced and stuck into this difficult new balance of work, home life, alone time, and teaching! But give yourself grace and remember how much of life is learning without ever opening a textbook. I hope in this season we can take advantage of slower days and less noise–a sort of a reset in listening and exploration of our own love of life.
Hi. I'm Suzanna.
I like running outside, eating real food and crafting beautiful images. I am captivated by documenting everyday life–revealing what authentic, adventurous and lovers of life we all are.
Life is full.
Sign up for my newsletter, PRISM, for creative inspiration to remember the details that count.
Look for a new PRISM in your inbox very soon.