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Walking in the Rain

December, 2020

As predicted in the weather forecast, the rain arrived right on time, at 12:45pm, right after lunch, and just as my hands were clawing at weeds and scooping up fallen leaves in the garden. First a light mist, then a sudden startling shower. It felt so good dripping all around me, like a visit from a long-lost friend. I kept on working in the garden, reveling in every droplet, intent on removing the leaves under the plants covering the soil so that the falling rain could penetrate the earth. We have prayed and waited for so long for this fortuitous event. This rainfall ends our long summer fire season and fills me with great relief, hope and joy! I can now unpack the items from our car that we had packed to evacuate in case of fire.

Petrichor, the earthy fragrance after the rain, fills the air, reminding me of the microscopic streptomycete bacteria residing in the soil. They are busy at work producing this fragrantly sweet compound that I am enjoying, called geosmin. As I work, I can almost hear the joyful communication between the bacteria and the creatures living with them in the soil between my gloved fingers. (See Precipitation and Communication, October 17, 2020) Like me, they have been waiting a long time for the gift of rainfall.

A short time later a walk through the wet woods reveals a variety of others waiting so patiently for this seasonal rainwater. Mosses and lichens come to life on trees, rocks and ground, transforming all. Newly clothed in soft textures and multi-shades of green, my hands are drawn to touch each. What a stark contrast to the rough, dry, flaky surfaces the previous day. My hands love the feather-like texture of the fern moss as I run them down the “pop-up” tree trunk forest. A chartreuse velvet carpet springs to life under my feet beckoning me to take off my socks and shoes to feel the carpet moss with my bare feet. On the trunk of the towering oak above me a (foliose?) lichen circle comes to life, resembling a bull’s-eye target or revealing a secret message from long- ago, like a cave painting. A collage of lichens spring to life on twigs under my feet: the infinite spider, the dixie reindeer, the futicose and my favorite; the filamentose. Such a variety of textures and design to delight my fingertips and eyes.

According to Dr. Montessori, the tactile sense is considered as one of the most important of the five senses. It is the first sense organ that develops in the human embryo. It is the way that the infant begins to know the objects around them after being born. It is the largest sense organ, allowing one to experience minute stimulations. It is through the finger-tips that most minute stimulation is experienced.

The perception of objects through the tactile sense is much more important for children than through visual perception alone. This is because through touching objects, children build up a tangible idea of objects, so they remain in their memory. Therefore the concepts of space, time, form, depth, quality, quantity and structure are developed to a large extent through the tactile experience of the child.

The construction of the human being’s visual world has its base in the development of the tactile sense. The human’s senses develop in a specific order: first tactile, then auditory, then sight. Thus, sight depends on the development of the tactile sense. In children’s first years it is important that they be allowed to experiment with tactile and auditory stimulation along with the visual so their sense impressions of the world are complete. There is no mental thought in the human which has not been constructed through the sense organs. The world is constructed in children’s minds through their sense organs and is measured and made valid through tactile criteria.

The education of the senses is a key area of the whole Montessori approach to education. The focus is on “the child” but what a wonderful way to explore the world together as a family. Taking regular walks outdoors noticing minute and dramatic changes through your senses throughout the four seasons. Feeling a variety of tree bark textures as you name the variety, feeling the contours of the leaf shapes that fall from the trees and naming the particular shape, feeling the variety of leaf margins to notice a serrated edge versus a smooth edge are just a few sensory walk ideas.

As I reveled in the first rain feeling my way through the woods with my hands and feet, I felt like a young child exploring some familiar textures and sights and some new. I was filled with wonder to learn more about the moss and lichen that surrounded me. The remainder of my day was spent extending my knowledge of the difference between moss and lichen and identifying the varieties I found. Sensory exploration leads to new knowledge for all ages. I hope that your family will enjoy this gift of nature and structure into your family life regular and seasonal sensory walks through your outdoor environment.

It is more important now than ever to integrate these tactile walks intentionally. It is such a temptation to give young children access to exploring on a computer screen versus outdoors. A computer screen is so convenient, and children are so interested in them as they are interested in everything in their environment. Where the computer screen in lacking is with the most important sensory organ, the tactile sense. The only tactile sensation through the body is touching the computer keys. We don’t want to rob our children the experience of touching the rough dry texture of the moss one day and the moist lush fern-like foliage after the rain. A computer screen is just one dimension and nature is multi-dimensional!

What is the difference between moss and lichen?

The main difference between moss and lichen is that

a moss is a bryophyte, which is a primitive plant with undifferentiated plant body into stem, leaves, and roots whereas lichen is the result of a symbiotic relationship between fungus and algae or cyanobacteria.

It’s no wonder that people confuse the two groups. Historically, the term “moss” has often also been applied to lichens. After all, they are both small things that grow in shaded places and resemble neither a mushroom nor a vascular plant. They are both also cryptogams, meaning they reproduce without seeds or flowers.

So, what’s the difference? In short, a moss is a simple plant, and a lichen is a fungi-algae sandwich. Botanists often say that, “Freddie Fungus and Alice Algae took a ‘liken’ to each other”.

What is moss and lichen’s function? They function as a filter to clean the air and serve as a canary in the coal mine – an indicator of excessive pollution. They have been used as insulation in homes from indigenous times, and they provide nesting material for many types of birds.

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