Let’s Just Be.

It has been a long hiatus for this blog! I have been doing some writing for another blog I started about writing and life called LifesFirstDraft (that you can visit here if you’d like!) as well as some other BIG writing projects that have taken up my free time. But I have been spending most my time as a naturalist and have been busy getting my hands dirty, literally a lot of times. I am finding that I am really enjoying most of the work that I am doing, but that I am really drawn to education. I should have known this given that I went into college thinking I was going to be an education major, but for some reason I didn’t foresee how much love I would have for this non-traditional teaching that I do. The more I settle in, the more I am finding new ways to convince kids to love where they live. I think that is the greatest thing I can ask for.

I recently visited a nature-based preschool, and it was about one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen (Ask all the people I keep telling about it!). There were no computer screens, no time spent in front of technology at all in fact. Just nature and the outdoors. Their classroom was small, filled to the brim with birds nests and log cabin forts made from recycled milk jugs and chairs that were nothing more than chunks of trees. This was cool, but there really was not much time spent here. The children gathered and played, waiting for their friends to arrive, and as soon as everyone was there the teacher played The Flight of the Bumblebee. The kid’s cue to begin cleaning up. I hardly even noticed it playing. I just noticed that all of the sudden all these little 3-5 year old hands were grabbing paint and chalk and markers and hastening around the room to put them back in their designated homes.

Like clockwork, the song was over and their butts were sitting in a circle on a lilly pad covered blue carpet waiting for instructions. They weren’t all still but they were all listening. Some kids just need to move ya know?

The instructions done we went immediately outside. We traveled first to “Mud Mountain”, a great hit I am told. Especially on the last day of school when the students have field day and are allowed one bucket from the creek to pour over the mountain to create the sloppy mess that, deep down, we all desire to play in. Parents are told that day not to expect those clothes to ever be the same again.

I was speaking with the director about the children while they played but I suddenly found myself saying, “I really do want to talk about this but I am being called to play on Mud Mountain.”

“Go!” She exclaimed. I’m sure she could think of nothing more important. I feigned weakness and asked for help up the “mountain” in a strained voice.

“Pull me up! I can’t make it!” I said.

“JUST CLIMB UP!” They all yelled as more and more of them grabbed my hands to pull me up the mountain with all their might, giggling with the humor of it all.

We played a while and then it was time to move on. We walked all the way around their pond, to a lovely swing, passed a swampy flooded woodland, up and down hills. A total of 1.5 miles, and not one single child whined about the distance. They never said they were tired. They ran ahead and knew when to stop. They knew all the cues and when they had gone too far.

We dug for “The Key to China”, we climbed up “The Big Tree”, we played in the “Dinosaur Boneyard”. All the while not one child whined that we had walked too far, that they were tired or bored. They lay on the forest floor, they climbed fallen trees to sit in during story time. They ate their snacks crisscross on the forest floor, and when they spilled it was ok, because we were outside.

The favorite of their toys were the sticks. The further we walked the more the sticks became. They were bows to shoot an arrow, they were swords to fight a villain, they were billows to stoke the fire of a steam engine while the conductor hollered, “All aboard!”

One child ripped his long sleeve shirt from elbow to wrist. I said, “What happened here??” and I looked at his arm to see a long pink cut.

“Oh I don’t know, I just caught it on a thing over there,” he said as he sat casually, bouncing on a large grape vine. Not once did he cry. Never did he ask for a band aid. He just kept playing. Cause in his words “it happens”. Only once did I hear tears. There had been an accidental injury during an intense medieval sword fight. The boy came over and said that he was bleeding. He actually was. He said a boy hit him. His teacher said, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t see it. I would really like if you would go over and talk to him yourself. Or, if you don’t want to, you can go back and play.” The boy looked at her, told her his arm still hurt, she rubbed it and did what she called “hocus pocus magic” and by the end the boys tears had dried and he was giggling, ready to be back to playing. I don’t know whether he ever talked it out with his buddy, but I do know that within 5 minutes they were back to playing like nothing had ever happened.

All day I heard polite young voices. Sharing their snack, asking to play, offering a hand to hold. They counted petals on flowers. They recognized letters and words on trail signs and in storybooks.

Kids don’t need to learn how to write their name when they are 3. They don’t need the stress of having to sit down and learn to add and subtract at 5 so that they can succeed in kindergarten. This world is stressful enough. Children need to play. They are still figuring out what it is to be a human in this world, something that is still difficult even for adults. They need to learn kindness, and forgiveness, and just to be. People are forgetting how to be. And it breaks my heart.

I want more of this. I may be just one person, but I know that I am going to do absolutely everything I can to fight the stress we are putting on children to succeed. To let them exist again in our eyes rather than on paper. For them to be seen. And for them to just be.

The Birds and the Bees. Without the Birds.

Imagine that you are a walking down the sidewalk when, suddenly, you hear a buzzing from behind you.  You do not have much time to react before a black and yellow blur comes straight at you.  You scream at the bee that has just startled you and say that “he” must be in a bad mood.  What most people do not know is that bees are not attempting to scare, sting, or eat you.  They are only acting on a single-minded mission to protect and provide for their colony.

Honey bees actually have a complicated social structure called a caste system that gives them a specific role in their hive.  This system has drones (males), workers (sterile females), and a queen (reproductive female).  That bee that flew towards you on the sidewalk was probably not a “he” because the only members that go far away from the hive are the workers, who all happen to be females.

These workers grow from fertilized eggs laid by the queen and are chosen to be a part of this group while they are still larva.  They make up a majority of the hive’s population and get the joy of running the hive with none of the benefits.  When they are young they air condition the hive by beating their wings and as they grow up they leave the hive to forage for food and protect the area from danger.  Since they are the only group that is able to sting and are irrelevant to reproduction, they will then forage for nectar for about 45 days and die.

Drones, on the other hand, are kept around a little while longer so that they can mate with the queen.  Drones are determined by being laid by the queen as unfertilized eggs.  Have you ever heard a woman say “I wish we could lock men up and only use them when we want to have kids,”?  Well, bees actually do that!  Drones are the only male members of the colony and their sole purpose is to mate with the queen, and other than that all they do is consume nutrients.  In fact, in the winter when resources are low, the queen will actually kick the drones out into the cold to die! That’s cold.  Pun intended.

The queen is obviously the most important to the hive in terms of continuing the population.  Among the entire population of female larva born, a select few will be chosen to be fed a special nutrient called “royal jelly”.  This means that more than one queen at a time is grown, but only one will survive to reproduce.  The first of all of the possible queens to mature will search the hive for the other growing queens and kill them to become the only reproductive female.  At this point the queen will briefly leave the hive to mate, and after her first flight she will rarely leave again.  This is most likely the only time she will be away from the hive.

So imagine a world where there is one queen, barely any men that all live in the dungeons waiting for the queen to call, and huge amounts of women harvesting food and fighting armies who threaten their city.  If you can imagine all of that, you know how the caste system of the honey bee works.

The Mountains Are Calling, and I Must Go.

The following is a journal entry I wrote June 15 in an attempt to express the feeling of living in the Western mountains.  At this point I had lived in or within sight of the Sierra, Bitterroot, San Gorgonio, and Tehachapi mountains.  There is so much history there and I learned a lot during my time in the mountains.  I have connected with non-living nature in a way I did not know was possible and the only way I know how to convey that connection is through sharing my own words in the form of a journal entry and the words of John Muir.  “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

Journal 6/15/2014

‘I just wrote the date on this page.  June 15, 2014.  I don’t know when it became June because I don’t remember it ever being March, April, or May.  In fact now that I think of it I am not sure my mind has truly known the month since January.  Why is this?  Maybe because I have been removed from the world, or that is how some would put it since I have been without television or internet for most of that time.  If it came to the words of John Muir he would probably say not that I had been removed from the world, but that I had, for the first time, entered it.

For the last 8 months I have been living near or in the mountains.

February-March just outside the Sierras, less than 2 hours from where John Muir himself was inspired by the Yosemite Vally.  April-May in Northern Idaho in the Bitterroot Range which Lewis and Clark traveled through.  June in the San Bernardino Mountains close to the tallest peak in Southern California: San Gorgonio. And finally, July in the Tehachapi Mountains.  They were all very different in climate and appearance but in the end they had very much the same effect on me.

Tehachapi Mountains

Tehachapi Mountains June 26, 2014

IMG_2528

San Bernardino Mountains June 11, 2014

They called me.

John Muir said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” and now I understand why.

Nowhere have I experienced peace like I have standing by myself among the mountains.  You don’t feel alone because the mountains feel like they have souls.  They feel ominous and sometimes conscious.  AND IT IS SCARY, because you feel a little crazy that you feel like a huge chunk of rock is conscious.  But it is also comforting.  They feel like a big brother who only wants to keep a sideways eye on you while you play, just to make sure you are safe. I would never have understood John Muir if I had not entered some of the very mountains he spent his life in.  The mountains do feel alive, and therefore they can call.  They call like a siren, unavoidable and beautiful, and take you away from the hustle and bustle of the civilized world to live with the land.  It makes you want to stay forever and takes you from time.

Time moves slowly during the days and it feels like you have time to do all the things you desire, but since there are no dramatic stresses or events you can easily lose track of what day of the week it is, or even what month.  Even though I work here (I wish I didn’t have to) I am still captivated by the mountains.  It is nearly impossible to understand if you haven’t experienced it but I am glad now that I can say first hand that I understand John Muir.  The mountains are calling, and I must go.’

 

I don’t know if this will mean anything to anyone or make you feel any of what it feels like to be at the base of a 10,000 foot mountain but or stand on its peak but its the best I can do!  And someday if you get the chance you should experience it yourself!

 

Famous Fanatics: John Muir

I haven’t written anything since my first post because BLOGGING IS HARD. That is all.
Just kidding. Seriously I have been on a 10 month journey with AmeriCorps traveling all over the west coast living in all kinds of different places with very little time in the day after work and generally no internet. So you could say I am a bit behind.

However, this experience has been very difficult in many ways, but has also been a phenomenal learning experience for me. I have spent every single waking hour with the same group of people, lived without many comforts I am used to, and gotten to see so many things I never would have seen.  My love for nature became greater during my 10 months in the west than it has ever been, not only because of its beauty but because of its history.

Because of all the knowledge I gained I want to use my first returning post to discuss someone who is very underrated and generally unknown and glossed over in the classroom where I am from.

John Muir.

John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt at Glacier Point, Yosemite

John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt at Glacier Point, Yosemite

John Muir’s Influences

 

In its very short summary version, the story of John Muir began with a of a love of nature in a time where technology and modernization sought to take over.  Specifically, this time was the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and the place was Yosemite National Park in California.

Muir lived in the Yosemite Valley in a time before it was a national park and he fell in love. He was a naturalist from the beginning but this park is the main reason he is famous today as an advocate for preserving nature. He was struck by its beauty and saddened by what people were doing to it. The Hetch-Hetchy Valley that he loved was flooded and made into a reservoir, giant sequoia trees that were hundreds of years old were being chopped down for sport (Paul Bunyan style), and he needed to do something about it.  He began to lobby for the area to be federally protected and showed people the beauty that they were destroying.

He camped in Yosemite with Theodore Roosevelt for three days in 1903, the entire time showing him parts of the Valley he knew would strike at the love the president had for the beauty of the natural world.  Muir had the ear of the president largely to himself for three full days, something that even the first lady would rarely get, and he spent it convincing Roosevelt why this beauty needed to be protected.  Roosevelt was so struck by the beauty and serenity he felt in Yosemite that he decided to take action.  He joined all the lands of Yosemite into one National Park in 1906, only 3 years after his life changing camping trip with John Muir.

Muir-Roosevelt Campsite Photo taken Feb

Muir-Roosevelt Campsite
Photo taken Feb. 16, 2014

 

There are many groups, organizations, and places now named after John Muir (example John Muir trail in Yosemite shown below) but all of these seem to be in the Western part of the U.S.  Obviously this is because of the fact that John Muir lived and became famous in the West, but it means that the other half of the country rarely hears about him and some do not know who he is.  Hopefully with recent publicity on John Muir including the Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan documentary on Yosemite (watch a great clip from their documentary about Roosevelt’s visit to Yosemite here), and with discussions like this, people will come to know the “Father of our National Parks” and the beginning of generations of naturalists, John Muir.

Top of John Muir Trail

View from the top of John Muir Trail, Yosemite    Feb. 16, 2014

 

John Muir was a world traveler and did many other extraordinary things in his life, but there is just not time in the day to talk about it so if you want to learn more you will find everything you ever wanted to know about him here:

National Parks Service

Sierra Club: John Muir Exhibit