Imagine wild spaces of tangled greenery adjacent to grassy clearings that irresistibly beckon children and inspire imaginative play. An area of tall trees, shrubs and cedars is ideal for designing households and headquarters in secluded alcoves. A creepy path with thorny vines hanging down invites sneaking through and hiding from pursuers. Trees invite climbing and strong limbs embrace wounded souls and help dry their tears.
To the casual observer, their first impression is likely a simple one: a group of children having a glorious time, sharing imaginative adventures. But if one considers the situation more deeply, they might discover that much more is occurring than simply fun in wild spaces. Nature is stimulating interior wild spaces—the realms of the child’s mind—and activating the genius within.
Edith Cobb, author of Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, collected 300 volumes of biographical recollections of childhood by creative thinkers. Her conclusion was that the inventiveness and imagination of nearly all of the people she studied were rooted in early experiences in nature. According to Cobb, “Memories of awakening to the existence of some potential,” are scattered throughout the literature of scientific and aesthetic invention. Most will agree that nature inspires painters and poets, but scientists are seen as another sort of duck.
One afternoon, Nikola Tesla, a genius of rare stature,was enjoying the scents and sounds of nature as he walked among tall pines in a city park. Marveling at the golden glow of the setting sun, he was moved to recite poetry by Goethe. As he spoke the words “See my motor here; watch me reverse it,” Tesla claims in his autobiography that that a flash of inspiration hit him, and the idea of an alternating current motor was born. Not a man made technical laboratory, but nature’s own lab revealed this secret that changed the world.
Observing children in wild spaces, we may sense this triggering of genius. Louise Chawla, author of Growing up in an Urbanising World, describes ecstatic sensorial momentsin nature as “radioactive jewels…across the years of our lives.”
Vicki Johnston MEd, AMS, is the founding director of the Robert Muller School and Center for Living Ethics.