For our shared reading event, the whole campus community was invited to read the book we'd chosen last spring. Early this afternoon, we gathered in Lounge Named After an Imaginary Person to share our thoughts and ideas about the book. The students gathered in the middle of the room, most of them sitting on the floor, dropping backpacks and pulling out the book as they arrived. Earlier this summer, I'd lined up staff and faculty as discussion leaders, so once everyone arrived, I divided them into random groups and sent each group outside, handing them the discussion questions I'd written. I always cut the sheet of discussion questions up so the facilitator can pass the questions around, so that the responsibility for asking the questions is shared.
The sun was shining but the breeze was cool, a perfect day for sitting on a grass and talking about a book. I walked about to make sure that the discussion leaders had what they needed: every group seemed fine. Librarian and her group were plopped on the grass near the library. Dark-haired Writing Instructor had gathered her group on the edge of our small quad, enjoying the sun. The students in Science Guy's group were clustered near the bike rack, and I could see him gesturing. Paper Science Guy was climbing up the hill to take his group into the cemetery that adjoins our campus, the students clutching the book as they searched for the best spot to sit down. Landscape Architect was leading her group into a building, in search of a quiet lounge.
No one needed any help from me, so I joined Ornithologist and his group, sitting down on the grass beside him and jumping into the discussion. The premise of the book we'd read, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, is that the current generation of children being raised in this country today spend very little unstructured time in nature, a stark difference compared to their parents' generation and their grandparents. The book connects this separation from nature to all kinds of things, everything from ADHD in children to depression in adults, backing these connections up with all kinds of data. We had a lively discussion that began with personal experiences and ended with talk about climate change, environmental activism, and some philosophical speculation about the healing powers of nature.
"Whenever I go for a hike or a walk," Ornithologist said, "it's like going through a wall and coming out the other side. All that stuff I carry with me gets left behind."
The discussion circles lasted an hour; then it was time to send the students on our way and go home ourselves. The shadows along the buildings had gotten longer, and clouds were turning that bluish colour they get in late afternoon. I stopped to talk to Librarian and Chemistry Lab Guy, to see how their groups had gone.
"Wasn't this cool?" I said to Librarian. "It was like being at a liberal arts college. Groups of people on quad, sitting in circles, talking about books!"
The scientists in the group laughed at my enthusiasm, but I could tell they had enjoyed the event. I drove home still thinking about all the students had said, filled with their ideas and their energy. The light seemed just right for a photograph, so I stopped at the canal to climb down, snap a picture, and sit near a patch of purple loosestrife. Traffic hummed by on the road above the canal, but the sun shone warm against my arms and I could smell the drying grasses on the towpath. I rested for a moment, thinking about the satisfying day I'd had, absorbing the peaceful scene, before getting back into the car and continue home.