There are two trails that run through my mind: the trail of my experiences and another of my thoughts. In experience, I have not made it easy on myself or on those around me. Often, I have picked the harder, less traveled trail because of my own stubbornness. In my thoughts, I feel the tug of the current me at conflict with the younger version of myself that loved playing outside and adventure. As a child of the beginning of the technology explosion, I cannot fathom the need for the technology that our students require and demand on a daily basis. Although, I do catch myself checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and email on my phone more often now than I did in the beginning. I feel that our students and children are experiencing this conflict too between their two trails, but have no guide or motivation to change. Many only have one trail because they do not venture beyond the safety of their own yard or neighborhood, and many rarely venture out of the house.
We have created the idea of the world that we live in as separate from nature; however, this can’t be further from the real truth. We enclose ourselves in our safe little homes, in safe-guarded communities, in safe little vacuums that only want what’s easy. Our children are beginning to suffer from this idea of safety because they are satisfied with being expected to be self-sufficient from a young age, but dependent upon the idea of safety due to technology. In short, we sit our children in front of television or computer to keep them occupied and out of our hair because we only have a limited amount of time in our busy lives. If all of our technology is meant to save us time, then why do adults and children alike complain of not having enough time to fit everything they want to do in a standard day? Along with technology, the food we consume and our children consume is that of convenience. At school and home alike, the food that students eat is hardly appetizing and barely nutritious. Don’t get me wrong Mrs. Obama is trying to get the schools on board with her nutrition initiatives, but the students suffer again because their school food is barely tolerable. So, when kids get home they purge on fattening foods and video games until they are out of shape and obese. Again, our children do not connect to the natural flow of food and seasonality. Technology allows us to have whatever fruit and vegetable we want all year long; however, if you truly eat seasonally you soon realize that the supermarket cannot offer the true freshness of a peach in peak in July. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our current problems with the same thinking that created them”. That being said, we cannot simply think that by giving children better food that they will be healthy. If we give them the outside and nature, then they surely will enjoy it to the fullest? No, what we must give them is a different way of thinking about the problem and a different way of thinking about solving their problems.
There in the middle of nowhere, atop a green mountain surrounded by beautiful trees and endless wildlife was a skinny, blonde haired boy that loved being outside. The only distraction was the vastness of the mountain and the lack of the few pleasures that a small southern city could provide. My summers of my youth were spent in part of Virginia’s Appalachia. No running water, electricity, or air conditioning. What was my parents thinking in shipping me off to my maternal grandmother’s farm on top of Jewel Ridge, Virginia? This is where the other trail began in my thinking. This is where my current trail returns to for guidance. I spent my days and nights helping my grandmother farm, dig roots like ginseng, mile cows, kill chickens, and especially playing throughout the day in what seemed like an ocean of forests. Not until later in my life did I appreciate the respite from city life in Roanoke, Virginia; which really ain’t that big on the scales of world-wide cities.
However, I see that my parents were wise to put me there in the middle of nowhere. I still got into trouble, but because I felt a connection to the land, my ancestors, and this magical place; I had an outlet that inspired me and challenged me. The outside world of Nature had a place in my mind, and my soul yearned to be there. Here I learned that being wild meant that I knew where the trails would lead, what to eat in the summer, or how to can it for later use in the winter. My grandmother was self-sufficient long before it was hip. It was a way of life, not choice. She was poor, but happy. I never went hungry or needed anything in the summers, my Maw Maw made sure that I had what I needed. Work coupled with play. Adventure couple with discipline. Life connected to the small world of that mountain. I often did not want to return to the big city life, but had to go because of school. My grandmother was my mentor for loving the outside world, but also the person who lead me to see that we need the “Wildness of the Forest” to give us a place of connectedness.
In this technological, fast paced, stress laden society that we have created we must do as Einstein suggested in finding a new way of thinking about the problems we have created. Nature is not a cure all for all our woes. Walking a trail in life leads from smaller trails to larger ones and vice versa. However, we must start by not letting our thinking or believing that we are separate from this wild world. But, that our life is connected in many deep and meaningful ways to our world and our places in this world. In TTEC, we have seen the importance of placed based learning. However, I suggest that we see that we are immersed in placed based learning in life. We must choose the better places to live and learn. Often, as I walk in the woods I hear my Maw Maw telling me of the trees, plants, and animals in her own way. I hear her calling me, but truly it is the place of Nature calling me. We must mentor our children and students in this way. To help them see that in the forest, on the trails of life, we travel and learn to be connected by being in balance with nature, not away from it.
There are many trails that we travel on in our lives, but just getting out and finding our connection to the world often leads us to unexpected places. Make a path, find a connection for students to see that we are all connected to our Mother Earth. Being a mentor, and learning beside our student is the best of all paths.