Some of the most constructive time I spend with small children at my Childcare is time that is not “organized”. It has no specific “curriculum” other than “hanging out”. Basically, the kids just tag along as I potter about doing chores in my usual disorganized manner. Sometimes they help me, but usually not.

I tend to be hit by a non-stop stream of questions, and sometimes I answer them seriously, and sometimes with an absurd answer, and sometimes with an answer that becomes so long and elaborate that the children start drifting away.

As I potter about I often stop to pull a few random weeds, and each time a child will ask “What are you doing?” After answering, “pulling a few random weeds” the first hundred times, during the early days of the Childcare over a decade ago, I got a bit fed up, and began answering in a spurious manner, just to entertain myself by watching how the children responded. For example, I might answer, “making a fudge cookie.” Some children would look at me with owlish innocence, while others would think a bit and then a slow smile would spread across their faces and they’d exclaim, “You’re fooling us!”

Rather than slowing the onslaught of dumb questions, giving facetious answers increased the questions, because the kids liked some of the absurd answers I’d come up with. And I confess I rather liked it myself. It could make dull weeding a time of jocular hilarity, if I stated that I pulled a certain weed because it had magic powers and could turn my dog into an elephant. Sometimes we’d even sidetrack over to the dog to see if the herb worked. When it didn’t, I’d scratch my head and say, “That’s odd. Elephants look just like dogs, today.”

Of course, I had to take care to judge the nature of the child. Some children were totally trusting, and I’d need to make sure they knew I was joking, or they’d be misinformed. One time I misinformed a gullible child without intending to, and he came in one morning and folded his arms and greeted me with the challenging statement, “My Dad says there’s no such thing as walking trees.” Other children were simply serious by nature and didn’t like jokes. However, I was usually surprised by the adroit ability children had (and have) to enter into nonsense. The world of make-believe is second nature for many children.

My wife didn’t always approve of my ability to get children “stirred up”, because she felt I was not so good at getting them to be serious again. I disagreed, but she said my way of getting things back under control involved too much growling.

Anyway, after more than a decade just hanging out with the kids, (and getting paid for it), I am very certain children absorb like sponges, when they hang out with pottering old men. They are not merely learning a slew of factoids but are learning social skills such as how to tell a joke, and how to challenge a person who may be pulling their leg. Maybe they learn how to spot a liar, which is unfortunately an important skill to have in this fallen, modern world. Perhaps most important of all, they, by being outside so much with a person who loves the outdoors, learn how complex and amazing nature is. The green things are more than “plants” and the wiggly things are more than “bugs.” “Plants” and “bugs” turn from two nouns to a hundred interacting species, and the kids get to increase their vocabulary by a hundred in a single summer.

Some might say all this could be done by watching videos indoors, but there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Also, there is no predicting how the children will react to the so-called curriculum of a setting, both individually and as a group. Two years ago, I could not keep the kids away from the garden’s patch of edible podded peas; this year the children were relatively indifferent, only occasionally munching a few. In like manner, most kids don’t mind watching me pick the potato bugs from the potatoes, but dislike actually touching the bugs, especially the slimy larvae, and they are in no hurry to help me. Yet there was one particular boy who just loved waging war on potato bugs. He would plead with me to be allowed to do the job. I’d set him to it, and he’d easily spend an happy hour in the sunshine, moving down the long row meticulously removing the bugs.

Some tasks, such as digging the potatoes, are always a hit, and I have to ration the plants to make sure everyone gets a turn experiencing the delight of digging up a treasure:

So, I suppose “digging potatoes” could count as an official “curriculum”, and as something you could put down on paper in the manner bureaucrats prefer, as a scheduled “activity” of the Childcare, but to me that seems more like an exception than a rule.

For example, in the process of seeing the noun “bird” divide into numerous species the kids tend to scrutinize various birds and see things that simply can’t be matched by videos. This is not to say that I might not turn to a YouTube video to let the kids hear a particular birdsong when that particular bird is refusing to sing, but there is nothing like the real thing.

The other day it was very hot and humid, and I sought out the deepest shade I could find with a cluster of grouchy small girls. I had only a short time before they could rush to the pool, and then their petulance would be cured, but sometimes twenty minutes can seem an eternity. It was while we were in the deep shade that I pointed out a catbird. Catbirds are very curious, investigative birds, and, though they always try to always keep a bough or cluster of leaves between you and them, they can come quite close as they investigate what we humans are up to. This bird came close enough to distract the girls from their crabbiness. They exclaimed it was “practically tame”, and then, because I said it was called a catbird because it had a squeaky, scratchy caw something like a cat’s meow, all the girls started meowing to the bird. I said, “Not like that; more like this,” and did my best rendition of a catbird’s meow. All the girls began copying me and then, with perfect timing, the catbird hopped onto a nearby twig and showed us how to meow properly. All the girls looked utterly amazed, looking at each other with eyes round as owls, and then burst into gleeful laughter.

That can’t be matched by a video, though I’ll try:

An even better example involved an eastern phoebe.

Photo Credit: Jill Staake Birds&Blooms

We have several families of phoebes nesting in outbuildings around the farm, and I likely have bored the older boys pointing them out as they hop about in my garden, praising phoebes for eating so many bugs. Phoebe have a very distinctive way of twitching their tails up and down as they sit on a fencepost, and also an interesting way of sometimes fluffing the feathers on top of their heads into a small crest, and I’ve likely bored the boys pointing that out as well.

I had a group of particularly jaded five-, six- and seven-year-old boys around me one hot morning last week. I wasn’t actually “on the schedule”, but I could see that they were giving a member of my staff trouble as she tried to organize the smaller children for a hike. All the children must be swabbed with repellant and sunscreen, and mischievous boys can complicate the process, so I asked them if they’d like to come in the garden and see the first ripe broccoli and cauliflower. They always seem eager to hang out with me (if not to help), so they came over, and a few accepted samples of broccoli, while some announced they hated broccoli. I rambled away in my gravelly voice, saying some people have tastebuds that that taste the bitterness in broccoli, while others don’t, and then telling the old joke about the difference between green broccoli and green boogers being that small children won’t eat broccoli, and then pointed out a phoebe hopping in the dirt down at the end of the row. I was moving on to saying broccoli was in the cabbage family, and I was likely boring the boys by pointing how the nearby cabbage and cauliflower and Brussel sprouts all looked the same, when suddenly the phoebe began flying towards us.

The bird flew clumsily and erratically, bumping into plants on either side. My first thought was that it must be sick, perhaps with the dreaded avian ‘flu, but I had no time to talk, for the bird swooped up and came to an awkward landing directly on top of one of the boy’s baseball cap. Only then did I say, “It is a fledgling. Just learning to fly.”

Meanwhile the fledgling was looking about with a rather alarmed expression. You could almost hear it thinking, “Holy crap! Look where I landed.” Then it bolted, flying straight into the side of an above-ground-pool and crashing to the ground. The boys rushed over and formed a circle around the bird as I said, “Don’t touch it! Let’s see what it will do!”

The bird seemed to be shaking off the effects of a concussion (do birds hear birdies?) and then it looked up at all the faces looking down, and again you could imagine it thinking “Holy Crap!” It panicked and shot straight up around fifteen feet, before it wobbled away to the peak of the roof of a nearby shed. The boys were all laughing and commenting when another phoebe came gracefully flitting over and landed by the first phoebe’s side. Without any prompting from me one of the boys exclaimed, “It’s his mother!” whereupon all the other boys began cheering, “It’s the mother! It’s the mother!” almost like they were spectators at a horse race. Then a staff member called them off to hike, and they rushed away to tell her what they had seen.

I knew I could claim no credit for “showing” the boys anything, and just looked up to the sky and was thankful. It’s amazing what you can see by doing nothing.

Off the beaten path long trampled by those
Thirsting for fortune and hungry for fame
I sit by myself and twirl summer's rose
And wonder if being unknown is a shame.
I don't make fame queen, nor the dollar king,
But am like a boy who has escaped school,
And classmate's shaming, and teacher's hollering.
I forget how it feels to feel like a fool.
I just bask in sunshine like it is a bath
Washing away aches of schooling's cruel wrath.
Though I'm just sitting I progress a path
Which adds up to healing. You do the math.
Soon bells will toll, and they'll resume classes
But I'll not be schooled by roomfuls of asses.

LOCAL VIEW —Time out for taxes—

It is time to do my taxes, which is an accused time for me, and utterly against my nature. It always reminds me of some filthy miser holed up in an attic, stacking and counting coins rather than caring for his fellow man.

It has always been my nature to spend every cent I have in the present, because there are always plenty of needs in the present. I drive more frugal people nuts, because I sometimes have failed to even save for the rent or next mortgage payment, let alone for “a rainy day”.

I’m not sensible. Sensible people “allot” parts of their pay for this, that and the other thing. Therefore, when they get their pay, and have five hundred in their pocket, and face a person in dire need of five hundred, they can say their pockets are empty, because their money is “allotted”. I can’t do that. If I have five hundred in my pocket, and a person is in dire need of five hundred, I’m swiftly broke.

Not that anyone returns the favor, when my rent is due and I am short five hundred. If I’ve learned one thing in my knavish existence, it is that everyone is your friend when you have five hundred in your pocket, but they all vanish when you are five hundred short.

Consequently I’ve slept in my car more than most people I know. Oddly, now that decades have past, a surprising number of the “sensible” people who once rolled their eyes at my behavior are dead, while I totter on, in surprising good shape for a fellow who has been extremely impractical. My “sensible” friends who haven’t died do have pot bellies and, to be honest, are largely in deplorable shape.

One thing that got them into sad shape was sticking with a job they loathed, but felt they had to stick with because it was “sensible” to have health insurance. In truth, sticking with the loathsome job destroyed their health.

Others stuck with jobs they loathed for a pension. I have lots of peers who retired in their fifties, as I myself see no end to my work. In some cases retirement killed some peers within six months.  They had spent thirty years ignoring a side of themselves that yearned to grow, so that, when they retired, they were faced with a sort of void, in terms of growth.

In a sense it reminds me of people who dream of winning the lottery, and then win it, and discover their life becomes sheer hell. Money, and so-called “financial security”, is a false god, if you think that sitting in an attic and stacking coins is anything close to as beautiful as being flat broke, but alive, with others who are flat broke but alive. It is far better to be out striving in the sleet with brothers and sisters, than to be too alone by a warm fire.

However the government does not appreciate my philosophy, and insists that, once a year, I am reduced to stacking coins, because it is a coin-stacking government, of grossly nonspiritual misers.

As I am reduced to this scumbag level of filthy lucre, I feel I am part of a government taking a tedious census. a census not merely of the fact I exist, but wanting to know every crumby detail of how I spent every lousy penny. It is a census that counts right down to the level of whether or not the sandwich I ate was a business expense or not. When I grow a row of radishes at my Farm-childcare for the children to delight in, the government wants to know if I dared eat one myself, for that must be subtracted from “Business expense” as it was for “Home use.”

The government is in such a money-grubbing mode, attempting to squeeze blood from the stone of impoverished masses, that it fails to account for higher things.

For example, in Exodus 30:12 God apparently told Moses,  “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.”

Please notice that it is not the IRS that gets paid the ransom.  Rather It is the Highest of the high. I’m sure the IRS assumes that Moses only pretended God was talking to him, and that Moses was actually just a a crafty con-artist who wanted to make sure he got his hands on the “ransom” people were giving to God. However, suppose it wasn’t that low level of IRS logic. Suppose some “higher truth” was involved.

Fast-forward to 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1, where King David wants to gloat a bit over how mighty he has become, and decides to take a census of his mighty army.  To cut a long story short, 70,000 of his army then died of the plague.  King David was sort of like the IRS, full of vanity, and thinking he was the boss, and then discovering he wasn’t God.

The vanity of the IRS is only a reflection of the ignorance of our leaders in Washington, who have the power-mad belief they are God, when they are in truth bringing a pox down onto both their houses. They seek to avoid the fact they are earning a plague, by diddling with economic terms such as “the law of unintended consequences” and “killing the goose that laid the golden egg”,  however the spiritual truth of the matter is that they are failing to pay the required ransom to the LORD.

What is that ransom?  I figure it is giving all you have, right now, and not telling people you have no money in your pocket because that money is “allotted” to some tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come. And ordinary, hard-working people, who live paycheck to paycheck, may not understand this spiritual reality, but they are forced to live it. Blessed are the poor. What they gain is something the rich have chosen to lose, yet crave.

In any case, once a year I am forced to descend to the stinking, low-life level of filthy lucre and taxes, and to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. In other words, give filthy lucre to people enamored of filth.

I honestly would prefer to clean a pigsty. Then I might at least have some manure for my garden. Doing taxes is just wading through stacks of receipts,  attempting to explain my business to idiots who don’t know how to mind their own. In the end I just have to pay them for being idiots.

Around a week from now I’ll be able to get back to the business of real life. Until then my blog entries will, if they happen at all, be short and sweet, like this:

We had a brief hint of true spring surge by, with temperatures up near 60° (15.5° Celsius), as a storm approached from the west.

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Thunder got as far north as Boston, but not up here 60 miles northwest, as the the warmth was swept away by cold. A Snowstorm blew up over Maine, but we only got flurries.

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The warm wave reduced the snow-cover in the garden from eight to three inches. I have started flats of lettuce and broccoli seedlings. Maple sap poured out, and then halted as the cold came back. The swamp maple buds are showing the first signs of swelling just enough to crack the buds casings a sixteenth of an inch. I have produced a fair amount of maple sugar, to the delight of the children at the Farm-childcare. Three small boys went so far as to “raid the cookie jar” and steal some of the candy from my stash. They were able to get away with it because two horses got spring fever, and were galloping up and down the road in front of our Childcare, and I was busy being a good neighbor and convincing the horses to go back to the paddock where they belonged.

During the warm wave I saw our first blue heron, flying overhead and looking down in obvious disgust at the still-frozen ponds. Also five vultures came north, circling on the south wind. I expect they are less disgusted than the heron, as the shrinking snow reveals what the hard winter killed, out in the woods.