The Changing Year

In volume 1, Mason said “… there is no part of a child’s education more important than that he should lay, by his own observation, a wide basis of facts towards scientific knowledge in the future.” (Volume 1 p264) And in volume 6: “The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords…” (Volume 6 p223). Having contact with the Things was essential in Mason’s eyes. The literature was critical, but supportive of this direct contact. Begin your outdoor visit today with an excerpt from the month of April from The Changing Year by Florence M. Haines: 


“A country name for the Cowslip is ‘Fairy Cups,’ and we know ‘When pattering raindrops begin to fall, tiny faces look wistfully through blades of grass for some friendly cowslip. In a moment little gossamer-robed forms are clambering up the stalks, rushing each one, into the nearest bell. Then comes a symphony of soft sweet voices, and he who listens may hear, perchance, a melody of Fairyland.’ The Cowslip (Primula veris) is the German Schlüsselblume, the Key-flower which admits into the Palace of Nature, also the Himmelschlüsselchen, or Keys of Heaven, while an old name is St. Peter’s Herb or Herb Peter, and in Holland and Sweden the flower is the Key of May. Old herbalists valued the plant as a remedy against palsy, and called it herba paralysis, and in some parts of England it is still known as Palsy-wort, also Paigle, which possibly means ‘drooping.’ Ben Jonson, in Pan’s Anniversary, speaks of


‘Blue harebells, pagles, pansies, calaminth.’


Like the Cowslip, the Oxlip (Primula elatior) is a member of the Primrose family, the close connection between the three is easily apparent if we split a Primrose plant in two, when the flower-stalks will be seen to spring from a common stem, as do those of the Cowslip and Oxlip.


The Common Arum, Cuckoo-pint, or Wake Robin (Arum maculatum) belongs to the same family as the Trumpet-lily or Calla, and its pale-green spathe is unmistakable. Inside is the club-like spadix, purple or yellowish-white, surrounded at foot by the anthers and seed-vessels, the latter producing the rings of scarlet berries so conspicuous in autumn. It is uncertain whether the flies so often found within the spathe are imprisoned solely for purposes of fertilization, which in the Arum is most interesting and curious, or whether they are utilised as food. Children know this plant as ‘Lords and Ladies,’ the purple spikes being the Lords, the pale-coloured ones the Ladies; it has been suggested that the name was originally Our Lord and Our Lady, and the plant is considered an Emblem of the Passion, representing the Column and the Scourge; the leaves, too, are spotted with Blood from the Cross, whence the Arum is known as ‘Passion Flower’ and ‘Gethsemane’, the latter name is also given to the Early Purple Orchid, whose leaves are similarly marked. Though the Arum is highly poisonous, containing sharp needle-like crystals which effectually protect its leaves from cattle, etc., a kind of flour was formerly prepared from the root, and known as Portland arrowroot.”


Narrate: Recall favorite wildflowers. Consider what details and memories make those favorites come alive in your mind. Find a wildflower that is present with you today. If it is an old friend, try to notice something new about it today. If it is new, study it closely. What strikes you about this particular flower? Does it remind you of anything else? Look even closer, do you notice anything else? Look around the flower and notice where it lives. Add to your notebook, as appropriate.


As a student becomes comfortable with seeing the natural world, they choose subjects for “special studies.” Inspired by The Changing Year (or another seasonal reader), the student selects whatever inspires them to look closer and follows that subject over a number of weeks or months to know it in a special way. Consider what you might choose as a special study. It may be a flower, a tree, a bird, a stream, or even a crack in the driveway. Select at least one to follow on your nature walks during the remainder of this course. You can see how thinking about wildflowers in this way helps to establish a relationship with the Things of our world. We begin to develop an affection for them, to know them, to love them. Read chapter 3 from C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves: Affection. Consider how regular experiences like that in our lesson today, impact a person’s relationship with the Things of the world around them. What other implications do Lewis’ ideas about affection have when the other is an area of knowledge? What about a person who has a lot of negative experiences in nature? What about a person who has had very few experiences?