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The Call To Take People To Nature

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” ~ John Muir

What was left of the daylight was rapidly fading. The primeval silence of the forest was as much a presence as the Douglas firs that towered above us. The deep hoot of a great horned owl suddenly punctuated the silence. It could not have been better timed as each of us “solo hiked” out of the canyon on Ursula’s last evening of Nature Retreat Leader Training. I was no more than 50 yards ahead of her, yet this distance, and the owl making its presence known, seemed to amplify the feeling of being truly immersed in wild Nature – exactly what I was after!  Moments later we reunited along the trail and shared … what it felt like to be out there, what came up, did we each hear the owl?, were we scared?

Ursula Nature Retreat Leader

Over the course of three days and evenings, Ursula hiked, learned to properly use binoculars and some basics of birdwatching, examined a dried out aster with a hand lens, spent time alone on a sunny hillside with her thoughts and her journal, was introduced to using a dichotomous key in identifying conifer trees… and discussed numerous subjects related to safely providing people with opportunities to connect with the natural world. Ursula Nature Retreat Leader Tree(Not only Nature subjects, but business subjects too – running a successful Nature Retreat business requires both.) And, most important of all, Ursula got to rekindle her own connection to Nature before she flew back to her busy life in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania.

As the 21st century flies through its 2nd decade, chock full of more and more technological wizardry, frightening environmental news, and societal upheavals, it seems that more and more of us are wanting – no, needing – to find our way back to Nature.

Now I don’t mean selling it all and moving to a homestead in the woods. I simply mean to step away from the peopled and built worlds for an hour, a day, a week, and experience that other world, the one that many of us felt much more connected to when we were children. Maybe it was the backyard, or the neighborhood park, or the climbing tree along a city street, or the scouts – this is where most of us established our connection to the natural world. Then we grew up, and, well, you know what happened.

Ursula Nature Retreat Leader Rock

Ursula currently makes a living in the corporate world, which, as so many of us can relate to, takes up so much of her time. She also feels the pull of the natural world – she knows she misses it, and she is actively working on re-establishing her connection to it. But Ursula also feels that she is being called to help others connect – or reconnect – with Nature.

And that is how I got to know her, through the Nature Retreat Leader Training that my partner Helene Van Manen and I offer. Ursula is working on taking her many skills that she uses in her current career and combining them with what she is learning through our training to create a new livelihood, one that is all about connecting people and Nature.

When I think back on that evening hike into Devil’s Canyon, I know that I will remember it for some time, as it truly was magical. I have a feeling that Ursula feels the same way about it. My hunch is that it will not be long before Ursula is providing folks in her neck of the Pennsylvania woods with the same kind of meaningful and magical experiences in Nature.

 

Dave Van Manen / Healthy Planet Blog

Why John Muir is One Of My Nature Heroes

I’m reading yet another book on John Muir, this one by a fine writer, Kim Heacox, about Muir’s travels to Alaska to observe and explore glaciers.

John Muir imagesI am always moved by accounts of how Muir’s love of wild places was such a driving force in all that he did. I especially appreciate the story about Muir’s meeting of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was 1871, Emerson was 68, Muir 33. In spite of Emerson’s entourage, who were concerned about the old man’s health, Muir begged Emerson to spend more time with him in Yosemite and camp in a grove of big trees, sleeping on the ground. “You are yourself a Sequoia. Stop and get acquainted with your brethren…It will do you good.” I love this – encouraging the old man to stay and spend time among his brethren, big old Sequoia trees. Emerson’s acolytes prevailed, and Emerson went on his way. Even so, Emerson considered Muir one of the most inspiring people he had ever met. Thanks to good books, I too consider John Muir one of my most inspiring and influential people.

 

Dave Van Manen – www.DaveVanManen.com

How Loud Did He Burp? What Kids Learn At Summer Camp

Ah, summer – long hot days, rainstorms, no school, vacations from work, fishing, swimming, picnics, visits to National Parks, trips to the beach… We all have our own associations when we think of summer, these and others. Last week, I picked up my 10-year old grandson Jude from a summer camp that he attended, one that focused on wilderness skills such as shelter building, finding safe drinking water, and how to build a friction fire. I thought that summer camp will likely be on his list of summer associations when he is an adult. I hope so.

Dave Van ManenAlong with being fun, summer camp can be one of the most valuable experiences that a young person can have. Jude talked about learning to use friction to start a fire and how his shelter, built out of sticks and pine needles, was a bit small for sleeping. Beyond the wilderness skills, he talked about how he ran out of lunch snacks because he ate all of them on the first day, and how tired he was on the last night because he was up so late the nights before, and how there was this kid who could burp really loud, like at 50 decibels. He said that he wasn’t at all scared when a thunderstorm rolled through just as he was falling asleep on the first night, but some other campers were, and so he told them that thunder couldn’t hurt them, but that they should always be on guard about lightning.

You see, along with giving kids experiences in Nature, which are so important since so many of our children suffer from Nature-deficit disorder, summer camp also provides young people many opportunities to practice being more on their own, without a parent telling them when to go to bed, or constantly reminding them not eat all their lunch food at once. Sure, the camp counselors are looking out for their campers, but camp counselors are not their parents. From the sounds of Jude’s comments on his counselors, they were all about keeping the campers safe relative to fire and bear etiquette and the like, but they didn’t hover over them when it came to lots of other not-so-dangerous things. They told them the rules, and then they let the kids run with them. From the sounds if it, they were good camp counselors who understood that camp is about having fun, and being safe, and learning all sorts of cool things. But they also recognized that summer camp is just as much about kids learning to be responsible for themselves, and that includes making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.

camperThis morning, I ran into a Mom who sent her son to many of the camps that I used to oversee when I ran an environmental education center. Her son is now finishing up college, with a major in environmental studies. She said she was just talking to him about his college experience, and what kind of jobs he is looking at, and how pleased they both are about the direction he took with his education. She said that her son always mentions that the summer camps he attended had a lot to do with why he decided to major in environmental studies, and also why he now loves to backpack, and hike, and spend time in Nature. She said he is an activist for the environment, and summer camp had a lot to do with why.

Yes, for many people, going to camp is a memorable association with summer. But summer camp may very well be so much more. Along with learning things about Nature, and being safe in the wilderness, and how getting enough rest is important, and how if you eat all of your food there won’t be any for later, and that Nature needs folks to act on her behalf, a child also might learn how to burp at 50 decibels.