I have been looking at the rights formulated by the United Nations for children in the International Year of the Child, just past, trying to find some right that mankind could not usurp. The right to a name, affection, education -- nothing has permanence. I have been searching through political rights, inalienable rights, and religious rights for something that mankind could not alter, and what I have found is crabgrass, trees, and stars.
I came across these gifts while spending a week with my family at a cabin in central Wisconsin. The cabin lies several miles from frequently traveled roads. We usually hear more planes than cars, see more cars than people, and see people seldom.
Sara, the youngest in the family, sensitive and uncertain, is becoming an individual. That week she was busy forming likes and dislikes, tasting the world to find what she wanted to do and have, rather than hadm to do and have. She had already decided some years earlier that she did not like the snarl of a bobcat.
One afternoon she and I played "How Does It Feel to Be a Tree?" while lying on sawhorses looking skyward. Sometime during the game she mentioned oaks forcing up sidewalks with their roots. It pleased me to think, then, of oak roots shattering concrete, of willows seeking water and destroying walls and sewers, and of crabgrass poking its way through crevices to rise above driveways , parking lots, and sidewalks. When I thought of starvation, the immense population density, and the vague and unachievable rights of children, I found comfort and pleasure in finding a beauty and strength that could not be dismissed.
When the early darkness came, with her hand gripped firmly in mine, we trekked to a clearing to watch the stars come in. We did not have an unobscured vision of the sky. Oaks were too plentiful. But we could see the Dippers, the Northern Cross, w-shaped (some say chair-shaped) Cassiopeia, and more. I recounted the legends of the stars and their names, Sara particularly liking the stories of the twins of Gemini and the bears, of which the Dippers are a part.
The stars were, and are, beyond mankind's technological capacity. Sara and I were somehow in touch with that -- that no matter how incredible and terrifying Earth became, the stars would remain as a refuge. Crabgrass and trees have their allure, but the shape and beauty of the stars is beyond man's grasp. Sara , even if she could not understand this refuge, could find it later in her life. And I hoped that other children could find it also.
When I looked into the field of stars, I could not think of the Milky Way and universe as awesome or awe-inspiring. Awe implies some dread or fear. But not the field of stars.
Returning to the cabin, the pain caused by thoughts of a world of suffering and technological dominance were healed by the crunch of acorns beneath our feet and the starlit shadows we traveled through, and Sara and I sang nonsense songs until we entered the porch, raising our voices to the sky.
Now, when I am making a comic spectacle of myself, staring at the heavens, or bending down to examine a blade of crabgrass, I think of ten o'clock news broadcasts and the extension of a world no longer organic or physical. I think of a migrant worker in the fields of a Wisconsin muck farm who told me "the rich may own the ground but I own the stars."
There is comfort in that, in knowing one may own what cannot be developed or rearranged, comfort in knowing that somewhere exists some form that mankind cannot tinker with and possibly destroy.
For the children and the future children beyond the International Year of the Child, the crabgrass, the trees, and the stars give their sanctuary.