John bought his first pair of hiking boots last week. He and Katerina were away on Academic Travel (field studies) in Gstaad from Wednesday afternoon, and a pair of boots was definitely in order for him. They greatly enjoyed their time there in the outdoors where they hiked, built igloos, climbed, did Via Ferrata, cycled, made rope bridges, negotiated a ropes course, tackled a bridge swing, and more.
I was elated to see them when they returned yesterday evening. The house had been empty for too long. They were very tired, but excited to tell me of their adventures and to show me what they had bought. Katerina had purchased chocolate from the chocolate factory and John acquired a fridge magnet from Gruyere and a postcard which he intends to frame. John and I talked for a little while more about things unrelated and then it was time for bed. An early night for all of us.
I haven’t had much physical activity lately; my body has been yearning to move, antsy is a word I like here, and so it was when I woke up this morning. I didn’t want to leave them and go out alone and so I asked both children if they wanted to go out with me for a long walk. To be honest, I didn’t expect either of them to want to leave the comfort of the apartment, not after all their activity of the past three days, however, I was pleasantly surprised when John said he would.
“I want to go outdoors,” he said. “I want to use my new boots.”
Given that Kat decided to stay back, we couldn’t go too far, but you don’t need to go far to find peace in the little streets and forests that are part of this neighbourhood. We hadn’t walked long when we came across a lavender bush. John stopped, and asked if it was lavender or rosemary. I suggested he brush his hand across it and smell it, which he gleefully did.
“Its lavender, baba. I love the smell of lavender and rosemary but not in soaps and lotion. It’s beautiful. Do you?”
Isn’t it strange how the innocent comments from a child can be so incisive as to take your breath away?
We took a photo of the shrub and I suggested to John that he decide what other photos we take during our walk.
As we walked and commented on the difference in temperature within the sun and shade we caught a glimpse of an alpine meadow on a faraway hilltop. That prompted him to ask why, in Switzerland, so much land is used for rearing animals rather than growing crops. About forty percent of land is used for agriculture here, and two thirds of this is pastures and meadows. We shared a little about this, he far more conversant of farming than I, before he moved onto talking about the energy centre he went to on Saturday morning.
Well, knock me down with a feather, as the saying goes, if the child wasn’t a plethora of information. He spoke of animal waste being used as biofuel, rattled off statistics of energy production and usage, and told me that incandescent Christmas lights are rated at forty-eight watts, while the LED ones are rated at eight watts.
However, it wasn’t the recall of information itself that was important, but how he contextualised it. He continued talking about using LED lighting and commented that this is not going to save the planet, because we use so much energy in other ways. Besides, he suggested, the embodied carbon of LED’s (the total carbon emitted to get LED’s from raw material to the light fixture) is something that no one talks about. He also added that blue light cast by LED’s that are best for street lighting have also been reported to disrupt our sleep, and affect plant growth, animal migration, predation, and communication. Then came the real insight. Using LED lights actually makes us feel good because we are reducing energy use and, because we feel good about ourselves, we might ignore other impactful ways of change.
“Like walking?” I asked.
“Yes like walking, and turning things off,” he replied. “And eating local food, like from the garden, and not wasting food.”
The last one is a big one for him. He feels terribly guilty, remorseful, if he can’t finish all of the food on his plate.
As we continued to stroll along the path, I asked him whether they had given him this information at the energy centre. They hadn’t. He had learned this from watching videos and reading articles online, and “just thinking”.
If that had been the end of our conversation I would have been very pleased with what he said, but there was more. He began talking about how our ways of life negatively impact other people far removed from us and, in doing so, referenced poverty he had seen in South-east Asia.
As he spoke, I couldn’t help but feel an immense sense of respect for this young boy. He was looking, seeing, feeling, and thinking.
If he didn’t have a pair of new green boots I may never have heard the words he shared with me today.
But he does and, for this, I am very grateful.