Earthwalks and Nature Connection
By Jon Cree
“Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher”
William Wordsworth (The Major Works)
“Surely any outdoor learning is a good thing and is creating nature connection, at least we’re getting them out there, nature teaches all the time”.
This is a mantra I often hear from outdoor and indeed environmental educators.
Having been involved in the EE (environmental education) /OE (outdoor education) movement for 40 years, I know this is not necessarily the case. In fact done badly, and without a congruent value system that dictates an educators practice, it can create disconnection from the natural world and the very ecological systems on which we all depend for sustenance and beauty.
Is the recent upsurge of the nature “connection” movement a good thing regarding the long term relationship with our planet? When we read and experience the breaking of ecological systems, as evidenced by the latest IPCC reports on climate change, the latest statistics coming from the amazon, where soya production is increasing the rate rain forest destruction due to our meat eating habits – I fear we have failed in our attempts to build connection and relationship to the planet in the contemporary EE/OE movement.
In this short article I would like to explore what we mean by nature connection, and raise questions about practises, such as Earthwalks, that embody this that could lead to regenerative systems.
So what do we mean by nature connection? For me it is about a continuous relationship with the natural world and it’s ecological systems, i.e, the planet itself. It is about the improvised duet between our animal body and the fluid breathing land which we inhabit – a participatory relationship. There is an active dialogue with all life – between the human and the non human, between the inner mind and the outer world.
Steve van Matre, author of ‘Earthwalks – an alternative nature experience’, recently wrote; “…this (environmental education) is not a matter of planting seeds. That’s what most everyone in our field claims they are doing, but without careful cultivation, most of the intended growth withers and dies. It is choked out by other desires and demands on learners lives………most seeds did not and don’t make it”
Relationship takes time, effort and cultivation – it is not a one off field trip or a momentary wow atop a mountain or deep in a bluebell blooming wood.
What nature connection is really about, is rich first hand contact with the natural world that engenders reverence, respect, kinship, joy AND, importantly, love and understanding. A key to cultivating these emotions is a deep ‘knowing’ of the ways the ecological processes of the planet operate and how we as humans are part and parcel of it all.
Nature connection is reciprocal…indeed all relationships depend on reciprocity and that can only happen when we humans recognise how we are fed physically as well as emotionally by the natural world.
Steve van Matre goes on to say; “…in a loving relationship there are three entities; two people plus the relationship itself…”
I take from this that for both people to gain from this they have to sacrifice in the
relationship. In our relationship with the natural world we have taken the relationship for granted and not sacrificed enough and now the natural world is kicking back in the many environmental ways it only knows how to kick back (rising temperatures, surging methane, species loss etc).
Developing this relationship and knowing what to sacrifice takes intentional time. When we are open to it and know the workings we can see ourselves as part of this vast interconnected web and really connect rather than have that all too brief in-comprehensive contact that is often equated to connection. What, as Van Matre states, we need to do is to “sharpen our senses and open our minds…letting nature flow into us and to really deepen our understandings in order to ‘give back’ rather than take”.
Sustainable development has often been construed as something that can help human growth, and make meaning for ourselves. However after thirty years of sustainable development speak we are in a worse situation and the term has meant, in the end, more growth – we need new language and dialogue.
As Herbert Girardet has said we now need ‘regeneration’ not ‘development’.
Just having nature contact does not necessarily enable learners formulate a deep integral meaning of what our true ecology is which can then enable a regeneration of our planetary systems and ourselves. It does not necessarily help us understand the basic energy flows and material cycles – how sunlight flows into our veins to enable our ancient friend carbon to move and connect all living beings on the planet.
How do we then enable the deeper connection that is required to restore and regenerate the ecological systems that are currently at tipping points? I fear that much EE misses the reciprocity, the giving back to the cycles of life (AIR, WATER and SOIL), the giving of gratitude to the natural world, when taking children and learners into the woods.
If we are to have true connection we need to get off the paths and develop rich close contact with the natural world – it is more than a view from a mountain top or momentarily ‘seeing’ the bluebell wood. Earthwalks are defined as “a light, refreshing touch of nature that focuses on reawakening individual senses and sharpening perceptions fostering joy, kinship, reverence and love for the earth and it’s life”.
This multi-sensory walk that has a ‘flow’ to it encourages new perspectives; viewing a log from the perspective of a small creature, tracing our own ‘veins’ and seeing how they are reflected in the patterning in a tree or leaf veins, taking off shoes and socks in reverence to nature and, without the use of sight, revelling in the reverence for natures grandeur and ‘ordinary’; finishing with genuine gratitude.
In the new Earthwalk book there are many experiences that can be woven to take people to a deeper place of ‘contact’ with nature that encourages ‘connection’. When you combine the joy, kinship, reverence and love, that are fostered in an Earthwalk with a deeper understanding of the ecological system we are ‘experiencing’ then we can encourage a deeper ‘gut and body’ felt connection. A multi-sensory approach to nature connection is essential and Earthwalks are one way of starting to reinvigorate.
I leave you with four questions about nature connection to intentionally and mindfully consider when looking at this deeper connection question;
- What does constitute deeper nature connection practise where we can rewire and really understand the workings of the planet?
- What routines do we have to embody to realise a regenerative relationship and not see nature as a separate entity – as an IT, but as a whole where there is a unity that can regenerate?
- How do we gain new perspectives through daily routines?
- What sacrifices do we have to make for the natural world in order to reinvigorate dynamic restorative ecological systems that can include the young whippersnapper – ‘human’?
In the end it is not just going out into nature, making contact and knowing what it can do for us in terms of learning and development, we need to feel this two way relationship between ourselves and animate natural world. Nature connection, as opposed to nature contact, is about letting nature into our everyday lives and making US and IT a WE, fulfilled and integral.
Earthwalks with Jon Cree
If you want to know more about Earthwalks, in particular how to facilitate these dynamic experiences do consider attending the leading Earthwalks workshop with myself and Circle of Life Rediscovery on 23rd November 2019:
What you will gain:
- An introduction to earth education and where Earthwalks ‘fit’ in our programmes
- A chance to plan and review your own Earthwalk
- Experience two different Earthwalks
- In-depth analysis on leadership, mechanics, and flow of an Earthwalk
- Tools and confidence to lead Earthwalks
- An update on earth education developments
Please visit the website for more details.
Date: 23rd November 2019.
Lead Facilitator: Jon Cree.
Location: Parkwood Campsite, Poynings, East Sussex.
Time: 09.00 – 17.00.
Booking: Please book online here.
Transforming education, health and family through nature.
We provide exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.