Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods

From the Blog

The Little Things

On Thanksgiving

The little things. The click of your wife's makeup bottles and brushes in the bathroom in the morning, the subsurface sound of them, a kind of music. The accompaniments: the older boy's bedroom door opening and shutting in haste, a faucet running, a gust of wind in the eucalyptus, the last rain on the window. The little things are what we remember, what we know, of family life. Of life.

The large events have their place, but even the large events of a family's passage are assembled from little things. The rush to the emergency room and the way the air feels there and the brave little chin thrust up beneath the mask, the small choked cry and the sound—especially this sound—of the thread being pulled through the wound, and the way the little hand holds tight to your finger. The little things.

Without realizing it, we can neglect the little things.

Though I have never divorced and my vow is for life, I have experienced a broken relationship or two. Grief does not attach itself so much to the empty space left by the other person, a loss often too abstract to grasp, but to the little things. The vertical space in the closet where familiar clothes once hung. The smell on the pillow or, on the street, a stranger's accent that conjures up a silenced voice.

When our parents and loved ones die, little things come back. Returning home after a death, you find a quilt that wrapped around you long ago, and you remember how the hands felt as they tucked you in. You find yourself startled by the way the dishes are arranged in your parent's kitchen cabinet; you are surprised because you know the arrangement, and you did not know it was so familiar until you looked at it within the context of loss.

The impression most remembered from my grandmother's death is not of the large fact of her body in the casket, but of coming into her cold kitchen a few days afterward and seeing the jar of mincemeat cookies, which she often made for me and my brother. In the jar, then, they were covered with mold.

Just as family grief is articulated by little things, so is joy. Here is an exercise: Go through your house when everyone is away and, in the silence, look for these little things.

In my house, I see the drawing of Wyoming with the owl in the tree singing, "Ho, ho, ho," and the little wooden toolbox, with the name Matt carved on the side, filled with crayons, some of them peeled. The smell of them connects you in time. The crumbs on top of the toaster, the empty cereal boxes left out, seem suddenly precious. So do the stacks of games—Candyland, Clue, Monopoly. Each family's Monopoly is stamped with its own unique patina of worn corners and stained Chance cards. Little things.

The fishing rods leaning against the corner of the garage, some from my own childhood, some bought for the boys. The rods stand tall together. Shelves filled with books; most of them old, neglected friends, each with a story to tell.

A balsa glider on the stairs. At the top of the landing, a small landscape, a stop-time mountain scene painted in oils by the boys' grandfather. Once, twice, the bullfrog in my older son's room harrumphs, because spring is coming; in a distant time, when my sons or my wife or I, alone or together, drive past some stream or pond surrounded by reeds shaking with redwing blackbirds, we will hear this particular booming sound and in it recognize these years of our family life.

In the largest bedroom, the smell of a comforter; and in the closet, my wife's clothing hangs neat and fresh. And all around the room the bottles of roses, which she has carefully dried over 17 years, all the roses I have given, not one missed. And beside the bathtub a thick, red, scented candle with lots of time left in it.

Here is the next part of this exercise: When your family is home again, listen to them, watch them, wait for the sounds and smells and tilted chins and the shouted competitions between the children and the sighs of the house as it slips into sleep. Hold these things. These little things are everything.

__________ 

Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network and author of eight books, including THE NATURE PRINCIPLE, LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS, and THE WEB OF LIFE (Conari Press, 1996), from which this essay is drawn.

The photo was taken during a visit to the shack where Aldo Leopold and his family lived for several summers, as they restored the land, and Leopold wrote portions of The Sand County Almanac.

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Comments

Richard:

Excellent writing. The experience that you are speaking of is in alignment with what has been termed “mindfulness”. I’ve been exploring books on mindfulness intending to incorporate it as a way of life. Your article articulates it very well. It was powerful reading for me. Many thanks!!

Hugo

When you are young and eager for life’s experiences, and full of the weight of responsibility for family and career, the little things are mostly invisible….clutter that gets in the way of important decisions and events where actions must be taken.  At my age, heading into the serenity of the seventies, there is time to appreciate the little things of today, and to remember those from the past.  The holiday season brings them to the surface at surprising times, triggered by the sights and sounds and smells that you write about….or just drifting memories that fade in and out.  The new Manager of the Chicago Cubs was quoted recently as saying, “you are only as good as you are today.”  I believe that is true, and hopefully better tomorrow, but I can’t shake the past.  Thanks for this validation, beautifully written as always.  jt

Thank you for reminding us of the little things. I,too, have so many memories like this stored away in my heart!

Thank you Richard Louv.  Beautifully written - so artful.  I can smell those roses and see that mold.  I come to your site to read about the environment and was surprised to find this lovely tribute to the small things (which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have been pleased to read about the environment!)

Kathryn

Interesting thoughts. I’m just finishing reading Last Child in the Woods, & sadly too much still rings true in 2011. I try to focus on what remains the same in nature as when I was a child. Too many these days miss so much. And, I have learned that life is about the little things. little clips in time are the things you remember. Dove soap always takes me back to my grandparents’ home, for example. Cantalope & bubblewrap brings my stepdaughter to mind and fart smellers & toads bring my dad back instantaneously. And, those are always good things. If I could tell anybody one thing to remember, I would tell them to enjoy all the little things in life as they are happening & quit chasing after big stuff.

We do not remember days, we remember moments.
  —Cesare Pavese

I love reading your writing Richard. Your book, “Last Child in the Woods” is one of my favorites, and I keep coming back to it. This is beautiful and represent my entire day today - reminding myself, again and again to notice the small things. Everything.

Richard I am also big fan of your book “Last Child in the Woods” , this the whole different angle for me. I hope there will be another book from you soon. Regards.

thanks Richard you have a wonderful writing skill keep up the love

So good, so true, so you, Rich. Thank you for this absolutely lovely piece of writing and remembrance. Makes me think of so many, many little things I’ve been blessed with over the years. I can smell my grandmother’s Palmolive soap and sour cream cookies right now!

Thank you for your beautiful message. This rings so true. My family didn’t have a lot of money when we were growing up but we were wealthy! Parents who read aloud to us, took us camping, taught us about the natural world around us, and spent time with us. We had the kind of wealth money can’t buy!

Lovely writing that resonated with me so much that I did my exercises, as instructed!  Your piece eminded me of my nightly go-to-sleep exercise: I pick one of nine houses I know well, houses from my past. Four I grew up in; five belonged to grandparents long gone but still strong and telling presences in my psyche. I choose the house; I go room by room and wall by wall, seeing drapes, side tables, Readers Digest in the bathroom, the cold of the spare room in the old house in the small Nebraska town, the trellis covered in morning glories, the jar of bag balm by the olive-green bathtub, the smell of Dove soap and well water. We really are the sum of the little things.  Thanks for the reminder.

Our two children are off on their own adventures now as of September when our youngest road the train from Wisconsin to Oregon to college and our daughter returned to her studies in soil science.  I go into both their vacated bedrooms on occasion and revisit our times together as they grew up before our eyes.  Both will be home this Christmas for a month before one launches off to Australia and New Zealand and the other returns to Oregon.  Our two golden retrievers will be thrilled as will the two proud parents.  We will happily readjust to them being back for this moment and soak in the wonderful feeling of the house being alive with them once again!

Thank you! So warm. This story really touched me!

What a beautiful and insightful piece of writing. Life is indeed made up of little things, that are so easy to grasp, so easy to miss and so profoundly full of personal meanings. A meditation indeed and great exercise in paradoxical thankfulness and loss. Thank you.

I enjoy your writing very much.  The topic of “The Little Things” really grabbed my attention; the smells of things otherwise neglected, caught me by surprise.  How do I subscribe to your blog, Richard?
Sincerely,

Susan Parnell; San Diego

Superb, as always. So wonderful that you are changing the world with your wonderful words.

That’s awesome. Your write-up always makes me inspired. This time your write-up about Little Things is really wonderful.

Wow I like the way you describe the little things. I often missed the little things in my life, I thought those little things were not important. But once when I lost the loved one (my father), those little things come up and leave thousand memories. If only I could turn back the time, I won’t miss any minute of my togetherness with him.

thank you

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