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Nature as Teacher

Although I have left Japan for a year to travel in and explore Australia, I am happy to be able to continue writing occasional articles for "Monthly Articles on Children" as I have done during the past six years. My themes will focus on different encounters from my present life, though I'll try to relate them to my 25 years of teaching experience in Japan with learners of all ages.

During this year away from Japan, I'm hoping to do some writing and thinking about teaching, learning and living, and share some of these thoughts with readers of "What's New?" I'm also like to include some pictures that will help readers see my new life, perhaps quite different from their own. And possibly some sounds too. And poems! All in an attempt to think and feel for a bit, in the midst of a life filled with busy-ness, about the possible gifts of nature, if we only look!

My home now is in Mt. Tamborine, located south of Brisbane in Queensland Australia. If you're interested in this area, there is a good site, (including some bird songs!) hosted by a local real estate company - The most impressive thing for me in my new life is the abundant nature of Australia which is a part of my daily life. In Japan, though I lived in Hakodate which Japanese people consider to be filled with beautiful nature. There, I was able to enjoy natural views of beautiful skies, ocean and trees. But because of my busy work schedule and life style, theses views seemed to be unconnected to me and my daily life. I would often stop and look at sunset, the moon or lovely stars, but it was just a momentary pause in the regular flow of my busy lifestyle. Such scenes always seemed to be just that - "a view" something not very connected to me, and slightly distant; almost as though I were watching a movie or looking at a picture. In Japan, many people come to Hokkaido to enjoy nature, but then they return to the bustling city lives. For me, even living in Hokkaido, enjoying nature was just a momentary pause in a busy life!

I remember two situations in Japan when I felt particularly close to nature, not just in a momentary way, but in a rather enveloping way. Interestingly enough, both of them are related to sound. One was in the summertime when semi(cicadas) would come out. For a few weeks, during the daytime, no matter where I was or what I was doing, the sound of semi was overwhelming, but for me, in a positive way. I loved this season and the closeness I felt toward the natural world. The second situation was whenever I was around suzu mushi(singing crickets). Again I felt that the natural world was very close to me.

The place I have chosen to live in Australia is a lovely artistic mountain community in the rainforest, so nature is very close to me, and part of every breath I take. There's seldom a moment that I can't hear birds sing or see trees from a window. Particularly, I'm beginning to establish a close relationship with the birds around, who come to sing and get food any time I'm at home. Like a dog I had in my childhood, and some cats I've had in my adult life, some of these birds even come to greet me when I come home each day! Of course it's mostly - or perhaps totally - the idea of food, which motivates such affection but still there is a certain close relationship evolving that is new and fascinating for me.

I'd like to share with you a poem I've been working on about the world at the end of a day, at a time especially meaningful to me: twilight. In order to set some constraints for myself, I've tried to utilize the haiku form of 5-7-5 syllables and a basic feeling of self-discovery in nature.

Twilight: Birds and sky
Multicolored feathered clouds
Stop to praise the day

Because of the birds around me, I've started to read books about birds and try to observe them closely. I don't think such interest could have been achieved simply from studying about birds in a classroom. Learning from books and learning "in the field" are completely different in the way our body and mind are affected.

Recently on a local Australian TV show, I saw a short film about the Parma village in Italy where the very famous Reggio Parmesan cheese is created and has been created for the past 80 years by the same group of families. One of the men was talking about how he knew what to do. He said that he knew because he could feel the way of doing his work. "This isn't something I need a manual for - to measure temperature and amounts. I've been doing this since my childhood, so I don't need a number from a book; I can feel it in my hands!"

When we think about how my daily experience of living with and feeding birds differs from studying about birds in books or how the cheese maker learns his craft, it makes me regret the un-naturalness of most school environments. The motivation for so much learning is not to use the knowledge to improve or uphold our lives or to relate ourselves to other natural creatures of the world, but to pass a test or to impress a teacher about what we know. As a result, such knowledge doesn't grow to be an integral part of our lives.

I wonder what we can do about this in our teaching and learning, in our friendships and parenting with children? And in our own lives?
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