Sunday, September 23, 2012
Botany studied in Waldorf schools is an act of following metamorphosis. From Early Childhood classes on, the children follow seasonal metamorphosis. I began with botany so our fifth graders could vividly experience the blazing heat of summer fading into the cooler, wetter ripening of autumn. We have been walking to the garden to observe specific plants. Each student chose one for themselves to draw over the course of several days and to continue to watch across this whole month. The sunflowers are blooming, the peas and eggplants are fruiting, and the crab apples are even slightly tasty, albeit very sour. The pucker of lips and cheeks is marvelous to behold and their grins as they find ripe red raspberries and wrap them each with a lemon balm leaf: sweet! Tomatoes (fruits!) are sampled, fresh and hot from the sun. We have enjoyed the expansiveness of summer in all it's tasty and colorful glory by walking quickly to the Ruby Garden in the early morning, to sit among the tall plants or lie on our bellies in the green grass and gaze at the world from a worm's eye view.
The product of all this visceral experience pours out into their bookwork, painting and modeling. We began with the imagination of a springtime seed, hard and compact in the dark earth, swelling with spring's moisture and building heat. The sun awakens the seed. "The Plant seeds are quickened in the night of the earth"...begins our lunchtime grace. We learned that the first root out of the seed tries to find DOWN, and its name is radical - the same word we use for someone with new ideas just bursting from them. The shoots then push up and we have a picture of expansion. These expansions and contractions continue as we follow growth up stem and out into leaf. We modeled leaves out of beeswax and drew the different kinds of expansions that leaves exhibit. This is different than classifying leaves based upon their outlines. We see, instead, the pushing and suctioning forces that spread and lengthen a leaf as a dynamic process.
We separated leaves from sage, purple shiso (like purple basil), and lemon balm. We tried to arrange them artistically as they grew up the stem. We were able to notice how the leaves changed their shapes as they moved from cotyledons, or first leaves, up through true leaves and onwards up to the flower, itself a metamorphosized leaf form. We ironed our artistic arrangements into wax paper and taped them to our windows.
Taking the root's path down into the earth, we modeled carrots as they pushed down and swelled out. We tried to include the little sideways rootlets that grow 15 feet out to the sides of the main root! Their first leaves, the cotyledons give way to true leaves and we spent a lot of time in the leaf world. Here the plant takes in light from the sun and with moisture from the earth and minerals carried up through the roots, makes food for itself, the animals and humankind. We could not live without this miraculous ability of plants. And astronauts in space have trouble gardening because the poor roots don't know where down is!
We all brought in roots and made root soup. With the abundance of aromatic herbs blooming in our gardens, we also added those and one rhizome - ginger (really a swollen root) and some mineral - salt. The day we spent cutting up roots and shoots and eating our soup was our first cold fall-like day. It felt very right, cozy and warm to fill ourselves with the summer heat's produce. As the plant lives between earth and sun, so we too participate as part of the whole.
We painted first the blending of yellow from sunlight with blue from water below and created a breathing realm of green as a blend. We were re-establishing basic brush skills. Our second painting was a long process: first a wash of yellow for sunlight from above. Again blue for water in the earth below. Then a wash of red over the blue creates purple for the dark of the earth. Then we planted a blue little seed. Washing clean and wiping our brushes dry, we took away paint to create white roots growing down. The blue seed sprouted up into the yellow light and created the green shoots. Growing up the stems to branch out into true leaves, the green raised itself up towards the sun and contracted into little buds. How to show the yellow blossoms when the background is also yellow? We brought red from above and created the yellow leaves by surrounding them with the warmth of the sun, revealing the thin, delicate blossoms that are almost more light and color than substance. Our third painting brought us up to the flower itself. We washed the whole page with yellow and then took away color to make a figure 8, a lemniscate. We walked the lemniscate on our classroom floor and discovered that if you hold out your arm, on one half of the form your arm is waving outside and on the other half it is inside the form! This gave us an experience of out and in and we painted one part of our figure 8 with blue to make a green bud, tight and round with inwardness. The other half opened out into the air so again bringing down a bit of dark red, we gave shape to the bright, light, expanding flower petals. We added sepals, stamens and pollen anthers. We had painted an apple blossom swelling with new fruit and loosing its flower petals, but it could have been a rose for we learned that both belong to the same family and are organized around the number 5. We cut up apples to see the five-pointed star of seeds inside the fruit.
We will continue our flower, fruit and seed study into this last week. By tasting apples and grapes from the farmer's markets we will have the experience of the sweet, softly swollen flesh of the fruit and the hard, tiny, compact seed ready to begin the entire process of expansion and contraction over again. We will end up with the mushrooms: children of the moon at night and water. What we think of as mushroom is actually its fruit. The largest plant in the entire world is a single mushroom whose roots cover the entire eastern portion of Canada and whose fruits sprout up everywhere there after dark, wet nights.
Beeswax leaves, carrot and seed: We modeled leaves out of beeswax and drew the different kinds of ex
6 beeswax carrots:Taking the root's path down into the earth, we modeled carrots as they pushed down
4 beeswax carrots