How Noticing Becomes an Act of Reflection and Care

Maria Wysocki with Nicole Land

It has been quite a journey to observe and live with the children the relational ways that ‘masteries’ and ‘ownership’ come to happen with the yard, as we study its dynamic of movement and life collectively. We move and we notice, and vice-versa, in this environment that offers endless experiential moments in which we enlarge our understanding of who we are, how we move, and what disrupts our movements, shaping our experiences and understandings on intrinsic human – nature relations and dependencies.

Our trees and branches in the yard have been a big part of children’s movements, ‘mastery’ making and capacity developing in relation to what lives and how we share this life that happens around us in the yard. 

It started with the climbing to higher branches and rocks, balancing, fitting bodies through entangled twigs and leafed branches, which arched down, almost in service of, as if allowing children to own them, calling them their home, their castle, and many other imaginary places.

As children moved, climbed and jumped and took places as their own, we noticed movements of collective plays and ideas, with roles and rules that seem so important for the children involved.  Spaces were barricaded and enclosed, where only the chosen ones or “family members” could live within.  Lines were drawn on the ground that indicated borders, which “only those” with chalk lines in their shoes could cross over; unruly and adventurers friends who could climb the bending tree branches, or to the highest branch, “gained” the right to be there and share those moments and spaces.

To provoke the children’s movements and thinking around collective climbing spaces, built or provided by nature, we questioned together our ideas and feelings for the living components in our surroundings and the life that they hold on ‘their own’. Can we continue to use them as our property, determining who can come in or not, belong or not? Should we pay more attention to how we move in these spaces? Can we own things that are alive, as we negotiate spaces and ideas, and we pick leaves that are yet to fall off the tree?

As educators, we questioned, observed and reflected on how all experiences started shaping care, responsibility and ethics, in a common space where mastery and ownership seemed to hold the higher place.  

A disruptive moment to these complex narratives happened when many of the climbing and enclosing branches in the yard were cut down.  Sadly, J stood by the glass door watching the back and forth movements of the person working in the yard, carrying all the cut off branches to the truck, parked outside our fence. As soon as A stepped outside, he ran to the place where once was his “castle” and his “backyard”. “Oh, where is my house?” he said with a sigh.

New places had to be found in the yard; we were forced to create new relations to homes, castles, and backyards – and this took some adjustment and careful work. Conversations started to take place about the changes that occurred in the environment and many “whys” were asked: why were ‘our’ trees cut down? At the same time, we questioned what it is to think of this tree removal as removing ‘our’ trees: how does the logic of ‘our’ and ownership, property, and of mastery over the natural world, shape how we have formed relations with these trees? How does this then limit the ways we might respond? When we thought of the trees as ‘ours’, we knew there was nothing that we could do about the actions of cutting trees in the yard. It felt like what we took as ‘ours’ before was no longer there; we were not consulted and we had not consented to it. The decisions made to cut the trees, and the marks this made on the yard we now live within each day, were out of our control. We wondered how else we might mourn with the trees: what if we pay attention to how the trees are not just ‘ours’? What other relationships and stories are entangled with the removal of the trees? In ‘our’ yard, we now had to act with this present; a present where the trees that children told stories of ‘owning’ or ‘mastering’ had been cut down and removed.

Slowly, we noticed that the insects still had their spaces to live; tree logs and leaves have slowed us down in the yard, as we stop to pay attention to their movements. The legacies of the trees that we had known as ‘ours’ are sustain life that persists when ‘our’ ways of ‘using’ those trees have been severed. In addition, the big trees in the yard were starting to lose their leaves. “Do you see this? M once asked me, pointing at the leaves on the ground. “Soon the trees will have no leaves, because it’s Fall, and it’s getting cold,” she informed me. “And do you know that some people burned trees?’ “I saw it with my dad last night!” M exclaimed, with a frown on her face and seemingly very shocked about that information. “How can you do that?” she continued, “How can you cut or burn the trees? We need them, we love them,” she proclaimed opening her arms wide and raising her voice. As I continued to probe into the “burnt trees” conversation with M, I gained an understanding into how much M was attentive and cared for the life in our yard, how trees (and cut off branches) have an impact in her life. This made me think and question: what connects us with what is not ‘ours’? What relations with trees and more-than-human lives does thinking of the yard, and trees, as ‘ours’ make possible and impossible? What types of connections do we nourish? 

This conversation with M probed my thinking into understandings around “noticing”, and “caring”, and how to promote a disposition that values what surrounds and lives with us, in interdependence and co-existence.

And so I asked her, “What are we going to do about it?”

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