Tonight we went to the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington and 50 people showed up.

Display at the RBG: "Reach in and discover the stomach contents of this life size Giant Catfish"

Display at the RBG: "Reach in and discover the stomach contents of this life size Giant Catfish"

Each night the staff open up with a song called “Go Outside“.  Chris Gilmore of  Earth Mentorship, opened up with a story about a red fox that would show up at his high school weekend bonfires.  The amazing thing was it only showed up when they were playing music.  It would come out and sit on this little hill and listen, every time.

Threads from the talk tonight:

Deep Nature connection requires mentoring.  Left to my own devices I will continue to be aware of what I already know.  Its the mentors choice to increase awareness of the one that is learning.  I remembered back to when I didn’t know what a robin was.  There were no robins.  I played on that lawn.  I was there every day.  But I know now, where there are lawns there are robins.  A mentor showed me my first robin.  And then they hooked up my ears to hear their song.  Then through curiosity I was led to discovering the nest.  Now my yard is magic, watching birds of many species rear their young.

The same is true for parenting.  What the parent gives attention to the children will consider important.   If nature doesn’t exist for the parents it won’t exist for the children.

To be indigenous means to be connected to place.  I told the story of going to Tyrol, Austria, where the people there inspired me with indigenous song, knowledge of place and the feeling of being like the mountains.  I sang a yodel to the audience that I learned in Tyrol, a high lonesome sound, sung in the high meadows.

Although research shows that imaginative play in unstructured settings is developmentally healthy, initiatives such as No Child Left Behind take our children in another direction.  The requirements in schools today drive the schools to cut back on recess, reduce gym, art and music, to make assessments or fit in more information.  The modern approach to creating smarter children: less play, less outdoor time, less gym.

As it turns out, our ancestors actually moved quite a bit on a daily basis.  Brain research shows that exercise actually increases test scores.  Hmmm.

How do people feel when they are running and using their senses ?  The audience said ” Awake, strong, creative, unstoppable !”  “That sounds like resilience,” I said.  “Maybe we should raise our children that way”

I have a longing to connect with people.  Listening, being curious and asking questions are what fuel the bonding.  A few years ago I crossed paths with Protassia Gatendoh, a Gikuyu Grandmother (Kenya).  She was questing for an answer to her cultural struggles back home around women’s rites of passage.  As it turned out I shared with her how I created an initiation experience for teens in Vermont, from scratch.  She wrote her thesis doing a comparative study between her Traditional Gikuyu rite of passage and one designed in a modern context at my nature program, vermont wilderness school.

I spent some time introducing the word Regenerative.  I told a story about Ray Anderson, the carpet manufacturer who transformed his carpet factory.  His goal was to have the water leaving the factory be cleaner than the local water entering the factory.  That’s regenerative. As opposed to sustainable.  Sustainable these days is not enough.  Sustainable means that were good with sustaining it the way it is.  Penny Livingston describes it like this: How would you like to describe your relationship ? Sustainable ?

To explain nature connection I painted a metaphor of two people with very different states of connection: one youth in an isolated non bonded divided nuclear family setting.  The other, woven into a diverse set of committed extended family relationships.  What is the impact on these two youth ?  What is the comparison of their mental, emotional and physical health ?  I see nature connection / disconnection the same way.

I shared research that explains why certain adults act like nature is a priority.  This study from Cornell university revealed some surprising and humbling insights about the impact in childhood of “wild” nature vs domesticated nature vs. traditional environmental education requirements.

At the end of the talk a bright 21 yr old came up to me and told me that he loved survival skills and wandering but he injured himself recently and was unable to continue these things.  He picked up coyote’s guide to nature connection and took up the sit spot, something he could do.  “I really didn’t want to, but I didn’t have much choice.”  After a while doing the sensory awareness routines, he really loved it and couldn’t get enough of it.  ” So I started making a ‘Sit Spot’ Zine, I have been handing them out tonight to anyone who is interested”.

Tomorrow we have a whole day planned at the nature center, including core routines and child’s passions.

At night we go to Toronto for an evening talk of roughly 150 people.

I will let you know how it goes !

1 reply
  1. Katie West
    Katie West says:

    Hi Mark,

    So nice to meet you at the RBG talk and again at the workshop. It’s wonderful to experience the good message being shared in our neck of the woods. Thanks also for your sharing about finding Asclepias exaltata L. All Good Medicine.

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