As I write this, manic gusts of wind scatter the steadily falling snow; a trillion dazed skydivers tangle themselves in tree branches, blanket the ground, pile up on the outside railings, and conceal the jagged mountains outside our Canmore window.
January in Alberta, with its scarcity of daylight and icy temperatures, can be a challenge even for a devoted snow-lover. It takes a childlike imagination to discover beauty and hope in the bleakest of days… to picture the microorganisms thriving beneath the ground frost, animals tucked into cozy hibernation, and the perennials that will survive the freeze.
Fortunately, living at the Children’s Reading Place has fed my imagination! Surrounded by children’s books, colourful art, and cozy nooks, I have watched countless families brave the cold of winter to clump up onto the front porch and enter the warmth of the house; to laugh, read together, and discover the magic of books.
After volunteering on a particularly memorable Saturday, and witnessing both enthusiastic first-timers and dedicated folks returning to the house, I went to sleep in the upstairs loft. Contentedly tired, I soon fell into a deep dream:
A vast field of freshly tilled, bat-black soil. The snow has melted and the furrows glisten after an early Spring rain. Mist rises to touch the soft morning light and birds sing praises. Over the crest of a nearby hill there is slow motion; blurred figures dot the landscape. Zen-like movement with intent, coming slowly into focus.
The literacy farmers arrive carrying garden hoes and burlap shoulder bags. The bags are full to bursting and the workers rested and ready, for today they will sow the word fields…
With a sharp corner of their hoes the farmers turn over the ground, making divots in the rich, black earth. Reaching into their bags they carefully unfurl strips of rice paper to place in every hole. Each piece of delicate paper has a different word written on it. The workers bend over and push paper-words deeply into the ground as they walk in formation.
They bury these word-strips, pulling hoes gently across the holes to back fill them. At the close of the day, in the evening light, they watch the darkening sky, hoping for soft rain, a good soaking, and following sunshine to optimize growth.
Underneath the topsoil the word-strips slowly germinate, bud, sprout, and entwine… words combine and strengthen one another… “Calm” and “Waters” entangle to become “Calm Waters”…
These word pairs slowly create full lines: “Beneath Calm Waters Lie…” Lines form paragraphs, paragraphs turn into chapters, and chapters become books. Shoots rise out of the soil and form vines laden with new stories, ripe for the picking!
The dream continues in the warmth of summer, with the literacy farmers returning to gaze out over their colourful fields. They stand in silent amazement, witnessing endless rows of intertwined vines covered with ripening books!
My immediate thoughts tied the dream to the gift of literacy. Each of us arrives into this world helpless, requiring others to feed, clothe, shelter and inspire us.
When a parent, grandparent, uncle, sibling, teacher or volunteer reads to us, they begin sowing the seeds of literacy within us. Although words initially can be difficult to read and comprehend, with proper nourishment and repetition, each of us can grow a vocabulary and with this gift, unlock the magic of reading; we gain access to the infinite and imaginative world of books!
So this winter, as the cold drives you indoors for warmth, pull out your books, give thanks to the literacy farmers in your life, and immerse yourself in distant lands and stories created one word at a time.
Warmly and with gratitude,
Terry (Reader in Residence)