Once again, I’m finding that I don’t post here as much as I’d like.  Lots of relevant stuff going on, but I never seem to find the time to sit down and write about it.

Seems like we are now making the typical Central Indiana leap from Winter to Summer.  We had snow flurries on Wednesday, and now yesterday and today temperatures are in the 80’s.   The apparent lack of spring is one of the few things that I don’t particularly like about the weather here.

The steady rains that we’ve had for the past few weeks, coupled with the warmer turn in the weather, have been really good for our plants.  Tomatoes, peppers and sunflowers are starting to peek out of the ground in their starter pots, lettuce and spinach has been coming up nicely in the garden.  On Friday night we had our regular dinner with our friends and neighbors and we brought a huge salad of lettuce and spinach — this was stuff that survived the winter under plastic and then really took off once we pulled the plastic off in March.  Man, that salad was tasty!  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

All this snow that we’ve had recently — including several more inches this morning — and our kids’s desire to be out playing in it has given me an opportunity to think anew about the role of play in urban naturalism and in our lives in general.

What do I mean by “play”?  Play is creative, spontaneous and collaborative engagement with one’s surroundings.   Play is creative in that the imagination of the participants is only minimally constrained by mutual agreements and by the appropriate demands of propriety and safety.  People, objects and plotlines are freely imagined and sometimes creative substitutions are made (this stick becomes a sword, that bag becomes a hat).  Play is spontaneous in that the structure and/or “rules” are not detemrined beforehand.  Finally, play is collaborative in that if there are multiple people involved, it does not become a competitive event.  A game of pick-up soccer, which undoubtedly would be fun for many people, is not play by this definition.  (Additionally, I think many of the recreational activities of adults from shopping to video games to sports leagues are by this criteria not play).  The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a recent clinical report in which they conclude:

“Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.”

Despite the benefits of play, it has been my experience in mainstream American culture that as we mature into adulthood, we are socially formed to wean ourselves off of play.  Some social scientists have described play as a child’s work (E.g., Vivian Gussey Paley, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play), and while I understand that the nature of play changes as become older and take on additional responsibilities, I think it is unfortunate that we tend to lose our ability to play.  Tom Hodgkinson, whose work I’ve discovered only recently, has had similar realizations about our inability to play, out of which he started “The Idler” magazine and now has written a couple of books on idleness ( most notably How To Be Idle, and most recently The Idle Parent — not yet available in the US.)  He said the following in an interview:

“Idleness for me is not a giving up on life but a spirited grabbing hold of it. I was idle when faced with wage slavery, i.e., doing boring work for somebody else at times of their choosing, in return for money. In that situation, I would become very lazy. But idleness really consists of doing stuff which is not really recognized as productive behaviour in our profit-driven economies. I might look as if I am lying in bed, but in fact I am turning ideas over. Often I get good ideas in the bath, when I am perfectly relaxed and my mind is flowing freely. And now that I am in control of my own work, I find that I am quite productive. Since retiring from the world five years ago, I have written three books, edited twelve more, written countless articles, run a small magazine from home, and had time left over to play a role in our local community, teaching ukulele at the local school, for instance, and to play with our children. In general I work from nine am till 1, and the rest of the day is for sleeping, outdoor work, walking, playing, cleaning, etc.”

So, we’ve had all this snow recently, and our kids — especially Miriam — have been so excited to go out and play in it and Jeni and I have gone out several times with them.  One evening, the kids and I played for a long time on the mounds of snow that had been plowed up in the church parking lot.   Some other kids had dug tunnels in the mounds earlier in the day and our kids loved that and I helped them dig a new tunnel.

On Sunday afternoon, all five of us spent awhile outside building a snowman, which the kids had never done before (The last couple of winters have been too warm for much snow.)  The kids all loved making the snowman and Miriam had the idea of using black olives for the eyes and mouth.   Playing together in the snow is fun for all of us, and the kids are learning to enjoy the wintry weather.

We’ve gotten 10+ inches of snow in the last day, so most things were shut down around Indy today.  Kind of nice to be forced into a Sabbath of sorts (Okay, so my wife will point out that I didn’t really take the day off, but I did nix my plans to run errands and instead caught up on email and spent awhile this afternoon just sitting and reading).

Jeni and the kids played outside for awhile this afternoon, shoveling walkways, trying unsuccessfully to build a snow man (snow is too dry) and decorating the snow in front of our house with spray bottles full of water and food coloring. I’m so glad that we’ve actually gotten some real snow this winter, even if it did take this long to get here.  If it’s going to be cold, I’d much rather have snow than not!

Indianapolis weather this afternoon:
Clear, sunny and bitter cold!
(Feels like -17°F with wind chill)

Here’s a thought on the coldest day of the winter to-date, a day when I’m inside at my desk pounding away on my keyboard.  The is a part deep inside me that wishes I could agree with Liberty Hyde Bailey’s views on the weather: e.g.,

No man is efficient who is at cross-purposes with the main currents of his life; no man is content and happy who is out of sympathy with the environment in which he is born to live: so the habit of grumbling at the weather is the most senseless and futile of all expenditures of human effort. Day by day we complain and fret at the weather, and when we are done with it we have—the weather. There is no other effort at which human beings are so persistent, and none at which they are so universally unsuccessful. [Outlook to Nature 42]

Generally, I agree with Bailey and since Bailey first bludgeoned me with this point three months ago, I’ve been trying to live more contentedly with the weather as it comes, but the exception to this rule is bitter cold days like today.  I tried to go exploring last week on a day when it was almost this cold and I lasted about 15 minutes.  Maybe I am such a creature of comfort that I just can’t handle the cold, and certainly people like my friends in Minneapolis brave much colder weather than we do here in Indy.

Bailey later emphasizes this point further:

The person who has never been caught in rain and enjoyed it has missed a privilege and a blessing. I never want to live in one of those featureless climates that cannot get up spunk enough to raise a storm. Give us the rain and the hail and the snow, the mist, the crashing thunder, and the cold biting wind!  Let us be men enough to face it, and poets enough to enjoy it. In “bad” weather is the time to go abroad in field and wood. You are fellow then with bird and stream and tree; and you are escaped from the crowd that is forever crying and clanging at your heels. [Outlook to Nature 47]

Maybe after work today, I will muster up the courage at least to get out and shovel the snow off our sidewalk!