A squealing swarm of arms and legs brush past me, a couple of glass jars bobbing at the top. The jars are homes to a somewhat unfortunate locust and a pair of butterflies. I don't say anything, yet. The insects will have to be released sometime soon, but for now I'm relishing the fact that a visit from family friends have enthused our children bug hunting. Otso lets the locust crawl up his arm. This is about as close to Gerald Durrell as we've got so far, even though we've been living on the land for over a year now. But I'm hoping that the effects are not all as visible and obvious, but more subtle and deep than meets the eye. One of the reasons for living on the land for us was that we wanted to offer the children an opportunity for a closer relationship with nature. For the Finns nature and especially the forest is a part of their identity and that relationship is treasured collectively by the whole nation. Many of my happiest childhood memories are of building dens or gathering mushrooms and berries in the woods, swimming in the river, walking in the dark with the reflecting snow as my only light or leaving the sleepover tent for a midnight adventure in the charge of the romantic white light of the northern sun.
Dan, on the other hand, had very dramatically different childhood experiences in nature; the waves of the Persian Gulf spraying his bedroom window, being enveloped by those waves, the blistering heat of sand underfoot, the homely chirrup of ghekkoes, hunting with hawks in the desert.
We don't have a religion to offer the children, but I'd like to think that through nature they could understand something about their purpose and place in the world. In England, even though we lived in a small rural village, surrounded by beautiful moorland, our daily existence was such that the children had little opportunity to experience nature as something essential, comforting or awe-inspiring, to feel to be a part of it.
Now we have it on our doorstep and in the summer months the house itself extends into the garden as we cook and eat outdoors. The boys play outside a lot, but they roam, explore, climb and dig less than I expected and want to go on the computer more than I expected. Perhaps I read too much Enid Blyton in my time. But I make a mental note every time I hear Otso say: "oh, I love the smell of the grass in the morning", when he jumps and dances in the rain, when he calls me to admire a bird of pray gliding over us or when he lies in the hammock and tells me there is a castle in the sky.