Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Childhood and Exploring Nature

When I reread the Green Knowe books, what struck me most about them was how much time the children in the books - Tolly, Ping, Ida, Oskar, Susan,and Jacob spent exploring the outdoors. Tolly climbs the beech tree to pretend that he is a sailor boy on the mast of a ship:



He spends hours searching through shrubbery to find a lost tunnel, feeds birds, rescues carp, trims the chess men and pets the green deer:




In Treasure of Green Knowe, Tolly overlaps with Jacob and Susan, two eighteen-century children who also spend their days exploring the garden and the river.

Ping learns not only the secrets of the bamboo grove in the garden in A Stranger at Green Knowe, but also of the islands surrounding the house. In The River at Green Knowe, Ping, Ida, and Oskar spend their time exploring the River Ouse on a canoe. They wake up before dawn so that they can explore before the river is taken over by tourists, and map the islands surrounding the house. Much of their time is spent observing birds such as swans and owls, the terrain of the different islands, and the people who adapted their lives to live on them. In one episode, the three children take the canoe out after a storm and are rescued by River Patrol. Ida's aunt, when told that she will be presented with a bill for the rescue, comments only that it will be cheaper than three funerals. The writing in River is particuarly evocative since the children are not used to going outside at night, and are therefore sensitive to their physical environment.

The children themselves feel a sense of welcome and protection from the house. They know that they can go out and explore the unknown world around them, but always have the safety of the house at the end of the day. Tolly plays that the house is Noah's Ark in Children of Green Knowe, safe in the midst of the flood waters of the Ouse, which have caused the moat to overflow and turn the house into an island.

This freedom to explore is not something readily available to a twenty-first century child. Most parks are sanitized, with little shrubbery and playground equipment designed to produce the least physical damage. Children are rarely let out alone and unsupervised to play, even in yards; no child would be allowed to play alone for hours in the ramble at Central Park or the ravine at Prospect Park. While adults kayak on the Hudson, three children would not be allowed to do so without adult supervision; they would need an adult present even on the Staten Island ferry. While children in less urban areas might have some more freedom, they will still have little unstructured free time outside of school and extracurricular activities to just explore.

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