Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Landscape of Imagination

I mentioned that I had begun reading "The Natural World of Winnie the Pooh: A Walk thru the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood" by Kathryn Aalto

It's a wonderful peek into the world of Winnie the Pooh's creator, A.A. Milne and the landscape, childhood memories and characters (his own son, Christopher Robin, and his stuffed animals that became the characters) that bring to life the Pooh books we all know.

I want to share a passage with you and then, a realization it opened for me.

In recent years, there has been concern that the very nature of childhood has changed. People have begun questioning if there has already been a "last generation" to play outside.  In "Last Child in the Woods", author Richard Louv writes about the modern disconnection between children and nature and the importance of providing children some autonomy in the natural world. "Whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Nature can frighten a child too and this fright serves a purpose, too. In Nature a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy, a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace."

When we are young, tramping through forests also leaves footprints on paths well into our adulthoods.

Throughout the writing of this book, for example, I heard laments from grandparents and parents about the diminishing range our children are now allowed to wander. Milne's childhood and his stories are touchstones of a paradise lost, of a bygone time that many - writers, psychologists, parents - believe is important in the development of a child. with these rising concerns over the nature of childhood itself, Milne's books offer a reminder about the importance of freedom in nature.

And that took me into thinking, as I so often do, about my own childhood.

I often say I grew up in a city, which I did.  A large industrial eastern US steel town. One decaying under the weight of the loss of those mills and industry. And many of my childhood experiences and the process of "becoming" are tied to very city-like adventures. Riding streetcars by myself, exploring downtown and all the people and activity of a city. But I immediately recognized something that I now feel so eternally grateful for. That in the midst of the urban life, I was fortunate to have woods, dense tree covered hillsides, (under which old mines lay) on either side of the house that I spent much of my childhood in. Entire days were spent exploring, making tree-houses (even if many of them were just a board slung through the branches to sit upon), following birds and squirrels, digging, climbing and creating worlds apart from the ones of my family and their adulthood. Time to be whatever and whoever I dreamed of being.

Much of what I write about in the short stories I am working on came from those childhood experiences and the imagination that the time. A mix of city experiences like "pitching nickels" with school friends against buildings and walls downtown. And also the woodland adventures scouting from treetops and crossing imaginary bogs and quicksand pits. Hiding from trolls under large spruce trees. . .

But to choose, one or the other? It's not even a question. The woods were far far more important to my future self.

The freedom of nature.

A separate peace.

And there was much in the world around me to necessitate that peace, that break from the slip-slide into adulthood.

Even today, my conversations with my own mother, who never had such a childhood and who I used to think of as being so overprotective but who, in comparison to many parents today would have been seen as very permissive, tend to be fraught with her lamenting the daily decline of the world around her. The news blaring from her tv all day long. And me, with no tv at all, no social media feeds, no newspapers. . . still the dreamer and believer, and every day seeking a deeper connection to that childhood me instead of that adult "other".

Maybe part of the problem is that it's the adults who forget and who become so lost in the very ideal of their own adulthood and it's many pitfalls and traps, that childhood seems eons away. Like a distant dream nearly unattainable now.

Or maybe more and more adults are coming from a childhood that lacks that time in nature, that freedom, that ability to develop those skills of nature's teaching?

I am saddened by the way kids become more screen bound and less independently imaginative with each passing year. I see it in the small town I live in, one surrounded with woods, blackberry patches, out of the places all bordering an expansive estuary/coastline/bay. The computers at the library are always in use. . . while many, many great and inspiring books, graphic novels and natural resources are not.

People defend this modern age as just the changing of the times and I do not disagree. Change is a given. . . but that simplified view asks us to accept that all change is, or can be, good, and that all change has an equal exchange within it of what is lost and gained.

It does not.

Losing the natural world, the freedom to explore, the ability to develop self-taught skills and stir imagination from within. . . there is no substitution for those.

All this is to say I never gave those woods, that space I had growing up, it's due. I took it for granted as just being part of the landscape but see now, thru the eyes of Pooh's creator, how very important it truly was. My own little "Hundred Acre Wood".

I see how it just being there for me each and every day amid the grind, noise and weight of the city, and of impending adulthood, was more important than I could have ever known.

Thank you for reading,


I imagined building little cottages like this in my own childhood woods/forest many times.


  1. So glad you liked my book! Ideas for so many more...

    And i think i would really love the winnie the pooh book you talk about as well. I have always loved pooh and his friends and his philosophy of life so it would be great to see and hear about how it came about. I also love the book ('Tao of Pooh' ).
    I do agree, too many kids don't get that freedom in nature, but it is a struggle. I was afraid to give my kids freedom because of all the dangers there are now but i did still try to instill a love of nature and let them be in it as much as possible. I think i achieved a balance but i still see them and their friends glued to their phones and video games way too often.

    1. Andrea, Well, I am always leery of saying too much because I chose to never become a parent. . . some of what we see today with kids is just the age they live in of course, regardless of location. Even here, in a very rural area, the kids are all on their phones all the time. My concern is the dramatic shifts I see. I watched a teenager on a bus a few years back who was unable to use visual, real world references to find their bus stop. . .they were actually looking at a phone app instead of out the window of the bus to see where they were. That scares me. lol

      I argue with my mother to this day that the world is not becoming worse but that we just are fed more and more of the worst of it and it seems to be what makes people tune in. I'd say the atmosphere in schools has gotten worse for cure but in the world around us? I am not sure. . . maybe. . . I know that I'd be under lock and key if I were a child today given my mother's tendency to over worry everything. lol But even in my childhood there were real worries, of course. I was truly lucky to have those woods so close to home. Just across the street. . .

      Yes the Bee book is wonderful! Can't wait to see what's next. If the alphabet kids go to print, I know that I want one! :)

  2. When I see the kids these days, and interact with them, something is lost and it is so sad. I'm even talking about teenagers. They don't know how to interact/socialize. They all have their heads down on cell phones, computers. They live in boxes. For them to look at a bird and get enjoyment out of it, is a joke. I don't like this change!
    I pray, that they realize, without nature, we are dead! I pray they wake up!
    Yes, I have my blog, etsy shop, and pinterest. But, as you know, I am not on Facebook, twitter, and all the rest of them. I don't even own a cell phone! I told this to one teenager and there was like panic in his eyes! It was like, how do I live? That was so sad to see!
    I will still have hope!!!!
    Big Hugs!

    1. I listened to a podcast recently where they interviewed a group of high school girls about social media and the "etiquette" of comments, likes, etc. It broke my heart that they have so much pressure on a moment to moment basis to be liked, accepted and popular. The expectations of replies, texts etc. I rarely speak of this but one of the man reasons I knew (a blessing to be sure) it was time to sell my coffeehouse and get out of the city was the quick change I saw from a time when no one would have dreamed of bringing a phone to work with them to the point where every employee I had under the age of 25 not only had their phone on them all the time but was on it or checking it every chance they got. And to say something, even in a kind way, it was like I was infringing on THEIR rights!

      I'd not stop short of using the word addiction. Anything one cannot stop compulsively doing is an addiction, yes? So how is it different? lol

      But, in truth, I am not interested in changing them and am actually grateful as I think I have little to worry about in the next 30 years creatively. The more these kids, who then become adults, and who never had the benefit of developing their imagination, exploring in nature, grow up, unable to function and cope and set themselves apart. . . the less competition there will be for those of us who work with our hands and imaginations/minds to create worlds to daydream in and about. :)

      Social media is the number one thing I am asked about with my work because, if am a working artist, I must have figured out how to maximize social media. And that look you describe, I know so well when I say none, zero, zip. I blog because I want to and enjoy the writing. Other than that, no social media, just skill development and ideas. Their look says; "Whaaaaaaaaat????" :)

  3. Wonderful insightful read, as always Nicolas. I think these are just inevitable changes of technology and we have no idea what kind of life the next generation is going to have. Enter robots, and so on. There is for sure the degree of awareness and engagement / communication being taken away. Particularly the forming of new friendships, eye contact... the eyes are always on the screens. I find it sad too. But there is the aspect of these children and teenagers being exposed to a mass of information. Some parents are not so good at explaining certain things and the child is left to figure out for himself, or they might be too embarrassed to discuss it or not understand it. Now they have a way to find information that might fall into these categories, and even enter forums to discuss with others. The subjects I am referring to are not light. But I do think about this as a vehicle for awareness and being on alert/ what is right and wrong. There are many positive things about the internet and social media that helps connect people who are otherwise extremely isolated. But in general I hear you through and through. I grew up camping and hiking and being in the bush, when we played inside we had Lego and Snakes and Ladders. :) It's also as you say above, addiction. And humans are creatures of habit. Our brains are pretty similar to a hard drive on a computer actually. ;) xx

    1. Louise, Yes, of course, we can't know what the results will be down the line but we can step back and make an educated guess. :) My mother, in her 80's, cannot. . . literally cannot. . . listen to a podcast because there is "nothing to watch". She grew up on the cusp of the television phenomenon and that radically changed her/the world. BUT my grandparents, just as she would do to me, limited access/viewing hours. Imagine if our parents could have toted a tv around with them all day long?

      I won't ever have too hard of feelings for the tech. It is, after all, what made making a living doing what I do possible. I just think it will be a wash. It will, as you deftly observe, help some who would otherwise be disconnected and it will equally turn out to be a disconnect for some who lose the ability to actually interact on a human level, which is what I see most in these early years of it.

      I would definitely agree that the access to information and to worldwide events as they unfold, or in telling the stories of those events on the ground, is worth the step into the unknown all in and of itself. Though I suspect that I will always be nostalgic for the days when a library was a place where the books were the main resource and not the bank of computer terminals. :)

      I'll just point to the current fascination with Pokemon Go. Half a dozen stories this morning alone of people being hit by cars, falling off cliffs and being robbed or carjacked all while being completely oblivious because they were lost in the new smartphone app craze instead of looking at what is going on right around them. Now, I do not blame the technology of course, I blame the people using it, but it's likely the tip of an iceberg and indicative of another kind of information that is being lost and not passed on. . . how to pay attention to what and who is right around you.

      I think I shall comfortably slip into the later years of my life as disconnected from the modern world as possible and I'll write about nature and the imagination and self-reliance that, no matter how great the tech becomes, will always be a part of a well rounded and functional human being in our world. :)

      Or, as Pooh said,

      Think, Think, Think. :)

  4. I'm right with you on your thoughts Nicolas. That's why we do what we do. And I, like you too probably, feel that the digital part of the shooting / downloading / uploading of the tangible item we have made is somewhat of a red herring. I'd take a library over Google any day. Sideways rain and wind over hot summer days. ;) I do not know what the latest craze over Pokemon is all about. I remember playing a computer game called Digger in the 80s, but that was all we had on the machine. I think you're doing pretty well in your future plan so far. :)

  5. Your posts are always so interesting to read, Nicolas.

    I often wish I could take a leap back in time for all the reasons you mentioned. Life seemed so simple without all the technological advances we have today. I grew up in the suburbs with strict and overprotective parents. Even though we rarely went anywhere, I still remember being fascinated with botany and animals as a young girl. I would even pretend I was a botanist and kept a notebook with little drawings I'd do of the plants, weeds, flowers, and insects around our yard. I look back on many happy times with my four siblings. We were a close family and only had each other as all our relatives, including grandparents, lived overseas. We immigrated to Australia when I was four and I didn't see our relatives again until my mid-teens.

    I went on to have five children and the first four grew up in a time before the internet so they would always be outside playing make-believe games in our yard. They also loved nature and wildlife documentaries on TV. Even mobile phones were reasonably new to us. Then, my fifth child came along to a second marriage and he grew up in the digital age. In his younger years, he and I would go on nature walks and even sketch and paint together. He loved the nature/wildlife documentaries too but then...along came high school and the teen years. Now, almost 18, he is fixated with his mobile phone and connecting with his friends via social media. He's big into the GO Pokemon craze too. He always has his ear-pods in listening to music so I have to text to get his attention. Don't get me wrong, he and I are still close and we still go for the occasional country drive where we can appreciate the natural landscapes. However, I do miss those earlier years when he wasn't a slave to his phone. Sadly, it seems to be the way of young people in this generation.

    On the other hand, my eldest son is legally blind and hearing impaired and digital technology has been a God-send for him. He still lives at home and we are also very close. He is big into computers and music and uses social media to connect with other visually impaired friends but not in an addictive way at all. That said, he enjoys our drives out to the country or the beach. Nothing like the sounds of peaceful and relaxing.

    As for myself, my blog was my first real connection to people around the world. I started it in 2006 and I still love blogging today. I did venture into other social media realms and my poor blog was a little neglected but, in recent times I started to crave a more simple, minimalist lifestyle so I decided to no longer frequent Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. I plan to delete them too and focus my attention back to what I really enjoyed doing...blogging.

    Digital technology may have its perks but there is a lot to be said for simplicity too.

    I'm so, so sorry for the long comment. You brought out the nostalgia in me.

    Have a lovely week. :)

    1. Just wanted to add that I thoroughly enjoyed reading snippets from your childhood.

    2. Serena, I SO appreciate you sharing this above and your own experiences. When i think about the good f technology it is easy to lose sight of the negative possibilities andI fear I come off sounding like an old luddite. lol

      I think what technology does for all of us, especially in cases as with your son, is a wonder but I also think we who grew up without it have been able to balance (well, some of us have) it's use with the older forms of communication. Nothing is more delightful than receiving a handwritten letter. TRULY handwritten. . . not an email or a text. Remember passing handwritten notes in school? Adding little doodles and flourishes to them? A text with emojis has never felt quite the same. :)

      I also recall a dear friend, years ago, who lost his corporate job and retreated to the cabin in the Amish country woods that his family owned, He took to cutting back trees, wood chopping and brush clearing and when I visited him (at his family's request and concern for him) all I could report was that he seemed happier than I had seen him in years. Then he gave it up to go back to the city and find a job and, the truth is, I never saw him that happy and at peace again.

      And a word about blogging: Your blog is a lovely haven to visit Serena. I think it's funny that blogs hit a peak when everyone had one so as to be "in touch" and have sharply declined since. . . but, I am told, are back on the rise again with people turning back to them for just the reasons you mentioned and the one always gravitate to. Facebook's genius is that it leveled the social media playing field in so many ways (an idea the rest of the social media world have taken to) and made everyone feel equal, or, as I called it, the Stepford Site syndrome. No one stands out and no one has to feel "less than" because they don't or won't take the time to learn how to beautify their site or make it interesting and different. It's a plug and go world. Blogs (and the old artists forums like myspace) allow for a range of artistic input and individuality to show thru. And I greatly appreciate it when someone makes their blog a delight to see/read. :)

      Thank you for taking the time to leave your lovely commentary and have a magical and inspired week there!

    3. I fully agree, Nicolas. I also believe we are able to find a healthy balance because of our experience growing up without technology. OH yes, I LOVE handwritten letters! One of my online friends and I write regularly to each other and have done so for years now. It adds so much more enrichment to our lives on top of following each other's blogs.

      It's a pity your friend gave up that simpler life to go back to the city. I know of an illustrator, Dan Price, who lives in a hobbit style house. Here is the link on YouTube if you interested in checking it out - Dan is very much about living the simple life. I found Dan Price through an illustrated journal group I belong to. He wrote and illustrated The Moonlight Chronicles which were illustrated journals of his life experiences.

      Thanks for your lovely words about my blog. Yes, I have also heard that blogs are making a comeback. I also enjoy your blog immensely as I love your writing style and the beautiful artistic pieces you create.

      I hope you enjoy a magical and inspiring week too.

    4. Thank you Serena! I will check out Dan Price as soon as I have a few moments to indulge!! :)

      So glad to know you have a handwriting pen-pal! It is a joy to receive such a letter and I think, when I consider all the books out there about various artists handwritten correspondences, from Van Gogh to Galileo, it's a fascinating peek into the thoughts and feelings of those people and somehow, I feel, they would never be as personal or revealing if they were exchanges passed thru today's texts, emails and instant thought dumps. lol

  6. What an amazing and well written post, Nicolas. It's sad to see where our world is today, for some many reasons! But yes, you said it best - "I am saddened by the way kids become more screen bound and less independently imaginative with each passing year." It's so true and makes me wonder where books, let alone, children's books will be in the future, as kids grow up in an environment that is not as engaging with the imagination as it used to be.

    I also enjoyed you sharing snippets from your childhood, as well. I could totally picture it in my mind as I sat here and closed my eyes.

    Hope you have a wonderful week!

    1. Thank you Alexandra!

      Our local, rural county library is actually wonderfully equipped to spark imagination but I am saddened when some of the great books of the YA and Graphic Novel genres are almost never off the shelf it seems.

      Almost every new one that comes out, and that our library receives, I am on it and usually the first one to reserve it once it is in circulation . . . but if it were a fiction novel or a book that is geared for adults to read, I may be a dozen holds down on that same reserve list, if I am lucky, when it is released. . .

      I get the way computers can also become a spark of imagination and I have seen amazing digital artwork and talent that blows my mind, to be sure. Yet, to me, if you give a kid a box of colored pencils, they really only have one option from the outset. . . create/draw/color and through that, they can open the larger doors within. If you give the same kid a digital device capable of everything under the sun, they will, for the most part, gravitate to what is easiest and offers the quickest reward. . . and that is what I fear most because art is never about ease of reward. It's something so much deeper that unlocks entire worlds in the soul but that must be sought and coaxed and desired! :)

      Hoping your preparations for your move are all in place and I cannot WAIT to hear about your UK experiences and to see how they flow into your work Alexandra!

      Thank you for coming by and commenting!!

  7. It certainly is a very differant world being destroyed by screens everywhere. Kids never play outside anymore. I remember growing up in the late 60's summer was spent outside exploring. You heard kids having fun. I always remember how after the first day of school it became so very quiet outside just like it is all the time now. Children today are becoming so socially retarded and their relationships now all happen behind a screen. How very, very sad. I am a 56 yr old female and like you I have my inner personal connections to my childhood. How I loved Teddy bears which adorn my home now. I always since 10 had a love for keeping aquariums. I now have 3. To me these are the things that keep you connected to your past. I believe it's still buried inside of us and for many they have a total disconnect. I've also always enjoyed hearing outside birds sing. It's early morning now and I hear them outside my kitchen window. I also always have a beautiful birdbath for my feathered friends. As a small child my father said I had to have a birdbath outside my window which I still do. Time passes so very quickly and how sad to not enjoy things from your past. I am the person who recently purchased your two gnomes. They are so beautiful as is all your things. I'm always looking to see which houses I want to purchase. Your things are so very special. I could see all the love and care you put into them. Something you could NEVER purchase in a store. Anyways reading your blog just made me think of childhood and I totally agree with your points of view. My big technology splurge is my iPad Pro. It never replaces human relationships! Well I've said too much already. Thank you for sharing your talent with us!

    1. Linda . . . thank you, thank you. . . for sharing these kind words as well as your lovely memories. :)

      I'd like to take the opportunity to share something here that I have also shared in the past but it fits the occasion and I revisit it SEVERAL times a year for my own heart and soul.

      It was written by a man who lived near where I grew up and, in his later years, took to collecting and organizing a website dedicated to the history of cardboard christmas houses (Putz houses). It would not be too much of a stretch to say that his words and love for his own childhood, discovered at a critical time in my life path, had a huge impact on my decision to go all-in on making a life from my childhood loves. Changing my direction, creatively, immersing myself in that world and it's beauty every day over floundering in what many call "reality" these days. So, the passage, given his subject matter, is Christmas oriented but, I took it to apply to childhoods and memories of any season or experience.

      "I think that that is what collecting, of any sort, is about. . .especially for those who collect for LOVE and not for sterile speculation. This is most true of the toys and trappings of Christmas. Artifacts. Actual, tangible contacts with our past. It is true that we forget nothing. The power that an object unseen in decades can have to transport us in mind and spirit back to a specific period or moment of our lives - to unlock long-closed doors in the mansion of our memory - is the true value that it has.

      We can hold such an object in our hands and know those times were real, and welcome back whole parts of who we were into who we are ...and let the inner child in each of us out to play again - to live as part of us and help us see again through our own Magic Window .

      You will find that those old objects will take you back in time, but never listen to those sad fools who say that you are "living in the past." We are what we are because of our pasts. Would that we could! But we can bring them forward, to live within us as we face the present and the future. Those pasts taught us everything we know.

      Never be ashamed of your nostalgia was, and is, your reverence for the life you had and the path that you have traveled."

      Papa Ted Althoff

      <> <> <>

      Thank you Linda! I am happy you found the blog and that it allowed you to reach back and embrace those dear memories. . .

      And Sofie makes her own old fashioned Teddy Bears, the traditional way, from mohair, hand sewn and stuffed with excelsior/wood shavings so we love them too. :)

      May the birds sing and the wonders of the past stay with you in every day ahead. And thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts! They are always welcome here.


  8. Thank you for sharing that. Yes I sure do remember putz houses too. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and things are also put in our life path for a reason. Hopefully they can become a defining moment for us. That seems what happened with you. That is truly a very lucky thing. Some people never find their direction in life very sad. Life should be lived with love and passion no other way!