Writing from Nature - a Highlights Foundation Workshop
It was like summer camp for adults only it took place in late April at Boyds Mill, the homestead of Highlights magazine founders Caroline and Garry Myers, in Honesdale, PA.
Attended by nine "renaissance women" including a former NASA scientist, college professor and two Alaska gals, the five-day workshop was filled with nature activities led by Mark Baldwin of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute (www.rtpi.org) in Jamestown, NY (see my post on the Highlights Writers Workshop in Chautauqua), journalling activities facilitated by Andy Boyles, science editor of Highlights magazine, and a photography seminar led by Sarah Campbell,
author/photographer of the award-winning Wolfsnail book. Officially the workshop is called Writing from Nature - Blazing a Trail from Field Journal to Publication. You could add Living in Nature to the title as accomodations are rustic cabins, well-furnished with a bookshelf of treasures and a rocking chair on the porch.
We learned how to make a toolkit for personal discovery and the importance of keeping a field journal. I was shocked to discover that I didn't know the proper way to use a hand lens. OOPS! Now I hold the lens close to my dominant eye and bring the object close to the lens until it pops into focus.
As Rachel Carson puts it in my favorite book, The Sense of Wonder,
"a lens-aided view into a patch of moss reveals a dense tropical jungle, in which insects as large as tigers prowl amid strangely formed, luxuriant trees."
We spent time outside searching for signs of spring. Many of the trees had swollen buds ready to burst into flower and leaf.
There were fuzzy fiddleheads popping up through the leaf litter, spring beauties and violets reaching for the sun and the Stinking Benjamin Trillium (Trillium erectum) growing along the creek's edge. I can attest to the fact that the cranberry blossom smells like a wet dog! Its foul odor attracts flies for pollination.
Sound mapping, smell mapping, all kinds of maps were added to our nature journals. Hannah Hinchman in her book, A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place, introduces the Event Map. "It's a simple mixing of words, images and symbols on a page, but it achieves things that drawing alone, or writing alone, seem to fall short of. As maps go, it's more like the fifteenth-century map-pa mundi, produced in the early stages of world exploration, heavily illustrated, with detailed insets of particular regions. Its purpose is to create a trail of encounters as you, the explorer, move through a particular place, at a particular moment, asking, 'What's going on here?'"
Hiking through the woods with a forester, exploring Caulkins Creek
with dippers and nets searching for larvae (we found caddisfly, stonefly and the predatory dobson fly hellgramite), fish, frogs and salamanders - who could ask for more?
Reminds me of my favorite saying - "Do not be afraid to touch the earth and let it touch you."
Participating in this nature writing workshop helped me return to my naturalist roots. It had been over twenty years since I had experienced the arrival of spring in a deciduous forest. I missed it and my soul needed to be nourished... and it was.
I realized that now, more than ever, our children need to have these same kinds of outdoor experiences but unfortunately, many kids are suffering from nature deprivation. Check out the bestseller, Last Child in the Woods - saving our children from nature-deficit disorder, by Richard Louv. Louv brings together cutting-edge studies that point to direct exposure to nature as essential for a child's healthy physical and emotional development. It's also essential for the health of our planet. Children need to be aware of nature so that an understanding and appreciation can build. Ultimately, that leads to conservation. "The study of natural history should be the primary avenue for creating environmentalists" said Roger Tory Peterson, the author of the Field Guide to Birds, one of the 100 most important books of the twentieth century as determined by the New York Public Library.
So how can you make children aware of nature? Take them for a walk in the woods or the desert, explore your backyard, listen for nature's sounds. Vacation at a national park instead of a theme park. Choose a nature book to read together. There are beautifully illustrated (and well-written) picture books that can serve as an introduction to nature. Sadly many schools have eliminated environmental education. I created a workshop for teachers called Sharing Nature through Picture Books (see my post on professional development opportunities for teachers) which encourages the exploration of a wonder bucket of nature objects in the classroom, writing nature poetry and exploring nature themes with award-winning books. Email me, email@example.com, for my bibliography of favorite nature picture books especially if you have not yet met Miss Rumphius!
The Writing from Nature workshop sponsored by the Highlights Foundation, www.HighlightsFoundation.org, is being offered again this year. Treat yourself to a wonderful experience.