by Maegan Puzas, teacher of Woods in the Woods
& Persephone Sarantidis, photography
Creative Minds and Exploratory Finds
Around six months or so ago, I found myself listening to the hum of the life around me in a local coffee shop in Northampton. It was early Autumn and I was waiting for a fellow colleague and Biocitizen educator of mine to arrive for a long anticipated meeting. As I scanned the little shop in wait, I couldn’t help but notice the cyclical pattern of the noise around me. Everyone was busy in conversation, yet it seemed as though the totality of the voices sounded the same. However, if I found myself zoning in on one or two voices, I would notice that they sounded so different. Thus, I came to a realization that even though our voices are born in differing tones and dialects, as a total entity we sound the same. I believe this is the same way our walks with nature exist, in that, everyone experiences nature differently yet we have the ability to have our perspective and place in nature impacted as a whole. John Muir, a wise Environmental Conservationist and Explorer of the natural world, once said “in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” With that said, we all have an ability to be affected by nature and we all have an ability to learn from this nature and even from ourselves in the process.
When my meeting with Erin Mahon-Moore began, we started to discuss how our lives were and what sorts of directions we wanted to take with the Biocitizen School. Even though we were both involved with the Our Place Summercamp program in varying ways, we both shared the feeling of enjoyment in getting the chance to explore the Valley over the summer and help educate students about the simplicities and complexities of the natural world. However, one strong commonality that Erin and I also realized we shared is our love of writing. With that said, an idea struck us like a fresh breeze in Spring. What if we incorporated writing and creativity into a program we could run during the year as a supplemental education for students? And with Erin’s experience in Women’s Studies and English Education and my experience in Biology and Poetry, why don’t we make the program for younger girls, to help empower them and boost self confidence in our walks with nature, all while promoting the creative mind through writing and art? Thus, Words in the Woods was born.
After months of coordinating, organizing, and gaining a great sense of support from the community, we were able to begin the first class on Sunday January 11th, 2015 and it was a big moment for Biocitizen. As one of the co-educators of the class, who helped build the class from the ground up, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride. So when Day 1 commenced, we took our packs into the woods of the William Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA. As a local Valley poet of the 19th century, Bryant serves as a real pioneer in the natural community of this land we call “our place.” Hence, Erin and I hoped that visiting this homestead would give the girls’ some real perspective to feed their creative and exploratory needs in nature.
As we began our walk on the Rivulet trail with the sun shining down upon us and the chilly wind of winter circulating around us, we began to experience the true essence of the woods. Our senses were heightened when we decided to lead the girls’ through an activity that we hoped would facilitate what it is really like to rely on our senses when exploring and build trust. This small exercise of “finding your tree,” while one partner was blindfolded and another partner lead the girl to a tree of choice really established natural exploration at its finest, where the girls’ had to trust that their partner wouldn’t lead them into any obstacles along the way. Using the senses (except sight), each girl had to investigate their tree and see if they were correct in the tree their partner chose for them.
Towards the conclusion of our walk in our blazing of the forest trail, we discovered the “Rivulet” itself. One of William Cullen Bryant’s most legendary poems was titled The Rivulet and we were standing at the very source of this literary inspiration. Prepared with copies of this poem, Erin and I led the girls’ in a collaborative reading, so we could all gain a sense of how powerful and inspirational it would feel to be standing in the very place we were standing: on the frozen water of the “Rivulet.” Paired with shocked gazes and surprised faces when the girls’ learned that this poem was written a couple of hundred years ago, they really had a moment realizing the lasting impact of nature and how it is preserved. After years and years, this one rivulet was still flowing in the Spring and freezing over in the Winter. The key point is that it was still there. And that concept is the one of the defining concepts of nature: its cyclical process of self-renewal. As human beings, we still have a lot to learn and experience from the land and just one defining experience, like our discovery of the “Rivulet” with the girls’, proves that even just this one walk with nature can make us realize and discover so much about the natural world.
Hence, this connectivity and creativity of what we are learning and discovering and feeling in the landscape is one defining goal of “Words in the Woods.” And together, with the creativity flowing and the exploratory faces glowing, we can often discover much more than we realize.