“Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller
“What is something you love about yourself?”
We were working our way through a list of get-to-know-you questions on a walk through a nature preserve.
I didn’t even have to think about it; the answer bubbled from within.
“I love that I become more childlike as I get older.”
I paused, feeling for the words before I spoke them. “Honestly, I think I’m more in tune with this sense of childlike wonder now than I ever knew how to be as a child.” I looked back at him suddenly uncertain, “Does that sound crazy?”
He shook his head. “No, in fact, it’s probably true. I love this about you too.”
My eyes must have glowed then.
Further on down the path, I knelt beside a patch of enchanted green moss with wispy, yellow tendrils shooting up from within. “See this?” I said, “It looks like a fairy garden belongs here.”
Being a newcomer with a hunger for connection to my natural surroundings has invited me into deeper wonder.
I squealed the first time I saw a chipmunk here.
Where I came from, I only saw squirrels (and never grew tired of them). When I noticed the large, pudgy rodents ambling in the grass alongside roads and in yards, and learned they were groundhogs, my eyes grew wide and I whispered, “Oh my goodness…groundhogs,” as if they were as precious as pangolins or hairy-nosed wombats.
I was biking uphill the first time I spotted a cardinal. A flash of red streaked in front of me and disappeared into the woods. I braked and hopped off my bike, pointed toward the trees, and exclaimed for no one but myself, “A cardinal! I’ve never seen one before!”
Each time the skies darken, thunder rumbles, and rains pour here, I slip on my rain boots and leaf-colored jacket, and run outside to stand beneath the catalpa tree until my clothes and skin are drenched.
Walking through the parking lot to our car the other morning, I froze in my tracks and my jaw dropped open. At the edge of the woods, a pair of wild turkeys strutted with their brood of mini-me’s. I jumped in place, whirled around, and flashed my partner a gleeful grin. “Did you see that? A wild turkey family!”
Just the week before, during a thunderstorm, I’d found two magnificent turkey feathers in a grassy clearing beside the woods. I brought them inside and laid them on my altar below the window.
Since arriving, I’ve been full of questions he mostly can’t answer, though bless him, he tries to care.
“What are those wild orange flowers blooming everywhere right now?”
“What is this corncob cone shooting up from the ground?”
“Are those fireflies? When do they show up during the year and for how long?” (He knew the answers to these ones.)
“What kind of insect is this?” (After trapping and releasing my second large, unidentified black one in the apartment.)
“What are these berries? Are they edible?”
“Who is making that rattling sound in the treetops?” We were walking once again when I asked this.
He stopped and cocked his head. “You know, I’ve grown up hearing this sound all my life and never once thought to ask where it comes from.”
I like to think this is one of the gifts a newcomer offers those whose surroundings she’s entering. A fresh perspective and insatiable curiosity, inviting others to see the magic that may have been hidden in plain sight all their lives.
Madeleine L’Engle once said, “I am still every age that I have been.”
I understand this now in layer upon layer of pure, vibrant experience of the world. That girl of eight who cried crocodile tears when her earthworm Ed died and who created habitats for woolly caterpillars is still very much alive in me.
And the girl of 11 who climbed trees and searched for owls in the distant field still does so today.
But today, these girls are inside the body of a 39-year-old woman whose sight and senses are even more attentive than they were back then. She has trained herself to notice who is in the skies—the great blue heron trailing long, spindly legs—and who is in the trees.
She stops to feel bark and examine leaves and wonder aloud the names of everyone she meets. She hears the sighs of a groundhog beneath an old Bronco, feels the eyes of an owl before she sees them, notices the buzzing and clicking of hummingbirds in flight, and catches sight of the doe hiding in the bushes.
These may be gifts we possess as children, but we may not know how to unwrap them fully until we’re much older.
I hear many adults talking of “losing touch” with their childlike nature as they get older, as if it’s something that needs to be found once more.
It’s been the opposite for me. I never lost touch with those younger parts of myself. Instead, as I shed more and more layers of who I thought I needed to be, I am setting myself free at all the ages I’ve ever been.
The child in me is more free than she ever knew how to be when I was young. And that child is coming out to play with wild, joyful abandon.
If you’re struggling to connect with these younger parts of yourself, you may need to experiment and find the things that best unlock that childlike wonder again.
Here are some of my favorite ways to nurture an orientation of wonder in my daily life:
1. Carry a notebook, sketchpad, or journal wherever you go.
Tuck it in your purse or pocket if it’s small, and always have a pen or pencil on hand. Take notes of the cool tree you noticed for the first time so you can try to identify it. Sketch the wildflower you pass by on your usual walking route and learn its name. Describe the call of your favorite bird. Record when you had your first wild berry of the season and what it tasted like.
Ask questions about the world the way that children do. Learn to be a student of the world around you, whether it’s familiar or foreign, and you’ll find it open up to you in surprising ways.
2. S.L.O.W. down.
When you go for a walk, run, or bike ride, try to leave the AirPods at home and soak in the sounds around you. Let your thoughts wander. Allow yourself to stop when something catches your attention. Crouch down and check out that dragonfly on the sidewalk and marvel at its iridescent wings. Say hi to the squirrels. Crane your neck and look up at the hawks circling in the sky, the doves on the telephone wires, the woodpeckers pounding on trunks.
Put some boots on and splash in puddles. Take your shoes off and feel the grass between your toes. Search for a four-leaf clover.
Do any of this or none of it. Put aside, for a few moments, the incessant tug to be productive and serious, and just immerse yourself in the moment. This is where the childlike dwell.
3. Let go of the need to look cool.
I was still too self-conscious in my 20s to let my childlike self fully reemerge. Thankfully, staring down the big 4-0, I can honestly say I don’t give a flying f*ck what others think about my oddities. I don’t care about appearing sophisticated, cool, or appropriately “grown-up.”
I’ve learned to just do me, and that me includes all the younger versions of myself.
There’s a paradox about childlikeness.
We are born into this innocence, but as we grow older, we must unlearn the self-consciousness that is programmed into us through the years.
We grow up into maturity, we hope, but we also must grow back into the childlikeness we began with.
In this way, “growing up” includes our returning, our willingness to humble ourselves, and quiet our egos to remember this essential part of who we are.
May the child in each of us remind us daily how to see the wonders that are right in front of our eyes—should we learn again to see.