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Land as Language Teacher: A Sesame Street Pace

My parents gave my older sister and me a Sheltie puppy when I was in 7th grade. We named him Simba after a handsome Argentinian Collie by the same name. He was my first ever dog and an excellent companion. Together he and I explored the wild spaces that bordered our subdivision. I followed game trails made by coyotes and cougars while Simba chased rabbits through the thick brush. After he exhausted himself, we’d rest on flat boulders and I’d watch clouds shapeshift across the open sky. Making sense of morphing imagery felt a lot like reading, and stories would emerge for telling later around the dinner table. I credit those times on the trail for teaching me how to be in relationship with Nature.

Spending time on the land helps us develop our language and break out of habitual ways of expressing ourselves. When my children were toddlers, it would take us forever to cover any distance. I called it the Sesame Street pace because the speed and direction were solely determined by their curiosity and whim. They’d pour their whole self into whatever it was that caught their attention, first by coming to a full stop and then by falling into a deep sensorial investigation. Questions were welcome but so was silence. In the silence we receive messages that we might not normally feel, hear, or see, so before I answered their questions, I’d ask them what they saw so they could reach for new words and share their ideas. I didn’t always know the thing by its scientific or common name so we created our own and together we shaped language from our direct experiences with nature.

Simba is long gone and my children are grown, but I still walk the trails with my dog and practice Sesame Street paced walks. I recommend both. Lean into the flower and smell it by filling your lungs with her essence. Pause for a bird call and let it shower you with song while you try to find him on a branch. Hug a tree like she’s someone you haven’t seen in years. Feel her bark and look into the canopy to acquaint yourself with her leaves. Or just sit and observe the sky.

Slowing down encourages language specific to our natural surroundings because in noticing, there is curiosity and questioning and eventually conversations, and sharing stories. What is the name of the flower, bird, or tree, and why did I notice them? What are the messages? These small acts of attention for our more-than-human kin help develop our language and remind us that we belong and are intimately connected.

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