Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lessons from the Rubberband Bus

            Do you ever feel like the typical jack-of-all-trades and master of none?  I do.  It's partly to do with the fact that I'm so easily fascinated by things, but also so easily distracted as well.  I think of all the things I love to do, like writing, taking photographs, supporting mommies in labor, gardening, drawing, teaching children, and learning about the history of our world.  There's so much that I feel like I'm living song lyrics.  I hear in my mind Louis Armstrong singing, "I hear babies cry, I watch them grow...they'll learn much more than I'll ever know, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world."  And then I'm humming that song from "The Lion King:" "There's more to see, than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done."  To learn more is to learn how much more there is to learn!  The best times in life, I've noticed, though, are those times when we are wholeheartedly and intentionally living in the act of discovery.  It makes the big wide world a lot less daunting.  
          Growing up, school sometimes didn't make sense to me.  Why did I have to learn this laundry list of things, arbitrarily set before me?  In middle school, you get to take electives:  classes you "elect" to take.  This was when learning became exciting!  I could choose to learn about things I really wanted to learn, like German language, and later on photography, and even a second language.  It is in this treatment of learning where I differ from the norm in our schools.  We are so focused on a "liberal arts education," that our children forget that it's ok sometimes to have tunnel vision!  The truly brilliant discoveries and social changes of our time have not been made because a scientist covered exactly 4 core science subjects, or because a writer has taken college courses in English Literature.  I think of Anton van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microscopy.  He began working with magnification as an apprentice counting threads in a dry goods shop.  He was so fascinated with these lenses, that he began creating microscopes, He was the first to describe bacteria to discover the abundance of life that is in water.  He had no higher education, just a fascination that led to astounding discoveries.  And then there's Jack Kerouac, the famous Beat poet, who wrote in a crazy new way that may never have developed, had he stayed and completed his studies at Columbia University.   
         When you're in school for 13 years, graduate, and then pay to go to school again, and more people there decide to tell you what you need to know, you start to wonder if you really know what you should.  Should?  I think standards and a vague idea of what we "should" know is what kills creativity, and stifles  the passion that naturally comes with learning something new.  If we are to truly learn, we cannot be  concerned with what there is to know, only with how we are to achieve the knowledge we desire.  When we are taught how to teach ourselves, we do not see knowledge as something to be mastered: something that has an end.     
          Strangely, these are the lessons that the rubberband bus in the tulip fields taught me.  I have been going to visit the Skagit Valley farmers' tulip fields with my children for nine years now.  It is beautiful to see farmers growing something so impractical as a flower, and then to plop children in the middle of it all, just to see what they will do, and in turn to document it with photography.  I have loved photography since high school, and asked for an SLR camera until I finally was given one for a graduation present.  I have often noticed the wall there is between the natural skill I have, and the technological knowhow that inherently pairs itself with such a hobby.  I have always learned just what I needed to know, and not more.  Recently, I have been pressuring myself to learn more, with no other reason, but that I have been at it for 10 years, and should know more.  I dreaded going to the tulips and being faced with my inadequacy to do what I should be able to do better.  It had become a chore and not a joy.  It was something to be learned.  But I went anyway.  
     For the past 6 years, I have visited the tulips with one of my closest friends in the world, a fellow mother of many with an affinity for chaos and photography.  Whenever we go, we always come away laughing at the insanity of mud, flowers and rules we try to enforce, but never manage to fully keep.  There was one thing that has loomed in my mind as a menace for the past three or four years, however, and that is the rubberband bus,  It is exactly that:  a school bus filled with rubberbands, and plopped in the middle of a tulip field.  Logically, I understand that it must be a good place for the field workers to come out of the rain, and an excellently dry place to store the rubberbands that must bind each bouquet of Safeway-bound tulips.  Emotionally, I see it as a gigantic test of my patience and parenting skills.  School buses engender infatuation in even the youngest of children, as do rubberbands.  What do you get when you see an abandoned bus filled with the childhood contraband that is the rubberband?  You get pure bliss.  The first year the kids discovered the rubberband bus, we quickly scolded and ushered thm away, grumpy that they wouldn't listen the first time every time.  The second year, there it was again, and we pretended we didn't see our 5 year old boys running toward it with abandon.  We finally decided we should collect them, and scolded them that year as well.  This year, we planned ahead of time to embrace all that the rubberband bus had to offer, and even pointed it out as we entered the field.  The kids climbed aboard, utter joy in every cell of their bodies.  We explained that the bus did indeed have an engine, and was probably used regularly, and that they needed to leave it neater than they found it, and then let them have about ten minutes of absolute wonder. 

       I realized that this is what discovery is about:  experiencing with a background of basic knowledge of something, then diving in with complete passion and fun!  It is when we understand that we are free to say that we do not know exactly why the rubberband bus is there, but we allow ourselves to enjoy it, that it teaches us.  We see the world how it was meant to be seen, not overly concerned with how we should see it, and we want to know more.  



  1. I love the rubberband bus philosophy!

  2. i love that the rubberband bus promotes philosophical thoughts. ;)

  3. Wonderful!! Thank you for sharing in honesty.

  4. Just read again because, well, your blog offered it up. Love it again!


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