The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a sense of Wonder through the Seasons by Amanda Blake Soule with Stephen Soule (Shambhala Publications/Trumpeter Books, 2011) ISBN: 978-1-59030-777-9. Review by Susan Clare.
The Rhythm of Family is about just that: the authors’ family progressing through the rhythms of nature, season by season. Nicely written for easy reading and organized month-by-month, the arrangement makes each chapter familiar. A brief essay by Ms. Soule (Mama) and a brief essay by Mr. Soule (Papa) are followed by “make and do” suggestions for the entire family.
At times, I find the book almost too positive, too sweet. However, it avoids crossing the line, by virtue of its warmth and conciseness. The Soule family lives on a farm in Maine, but they write here about what might be any family examining the value and beauty of nature, the comforts of slow living, and the education of children through play, art, and their relationship to the natural world.
Many photographic illustrations (particularly snapshots of the kids, wearing mismatched and sensible playclothes, with their little hands and legs busy experiencing the natural world) make the book aesthetically pleasing
The book opens with a quote from environmentalist Rachel Carson: Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.
In the introduction, the authors make a case for sometimes slowing our busy lives (and our children’s). It is only by spending time in the natural world, by paying attention and noticing, that we see… changes the earth experiences.
Though life for Americans is necessarily busy, occasional respites to daydream and observe will teach children how to ease themselves from the bustle. It’s an important time we can give our children: An appreciation and love of being still. Frequent days when there is no schedule, no plan, no rushing about from here to there. (Ms. Soule)
At still times, it is possible for parents themselves to daydream and observe. I watch, with my children at my side, and I recall the past. I imagine the future. I feel the present. (Mr. Soule)
I was happy to find that the Soule family makes a habit of what’s become a tradition in my family: the observation of the new season by taking a “first day walk.” My grandchildren enjoy looking for evidence of a new season as we walk, and it’s possible to do this without heading for the country. We notice a kid stumbling across the street on his skateboard, a lady wearing sandals rather than boots, the swelling buds on tree branches, and the crocuses peeking above ground.
All “make and do” activities in the book are intended for families. Even those requiring some cooking or the use of sharp tools have components allowing children of all ages to pitch in. Some of my favorite suggestions from the book include sun catchers made of ice, muffin bags for storing breads of various sorts (no plastic used), and making art from nature. As Mr. Soule says, The art materials of the earth are really the finest of tools and loveliest of toys. They are our gifts from the earth.
There are the inevitable recipes, and they reflect the seasons admirably. Oat bread and dandelion tempura are two I’ll copy out to try with my family.
How does this tie in with sustainable living? Foremost, it meets the definition of sustainability: it uses few nonrenewable energy resources, does not pollute, is easy on finances, and is unlimited in duration (we can keep doing it as long as we live).
Mr. Soule takes it into a concern for Earth herself: … Just as last spring stretched far into summer and against rhythm… I worry to myself that these patterns could be the cumulative effect of our years of using the earth’s gifts without repaying our debt back to her. I try to hold back the sadness that creeps in as I look at our children in all their wonder while thinking of how the natural world continues to struggle and fall to the spirit of greed.
He stresses, as well, our basic and critical relationship with Earth. The kids humming in tune with the vibrations of our surroundings, further proof that we remain deeply connected to this spinning planet, its essence working into our bodies, largely unacknowledged.
It’s not all about the doings of nature and our imperative to steward the earth, however. We must sustain ourselves emotionally and spiritually. As Ms. Soule says, We must keep looking and searching for the places that bring us peace, dreams, and comfort throughout our lives. And when we do find them, share them with the ones we love.
Near the end of the book, Mr. Soule marvels at spending a snowstorm with his family. A miracle of circumstances has brought me here as conscious witness to my own people that I rise with in the morning and lay down with each evening. It is a promise that the practice of watching and learning from nature will be worth the effort.