Reaching Nature Connection

by Bernard Cook

Last weekend, me ‘n Chickadee (Sarah Hubbard) went up to the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina to hone our mentoring skills at the Reaching Nature Connection conference, held at Earthaven Ecovillage near Black Mountain. We attended a two-day class by three ladies from the Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers Lia Grippo, Kelly Villarruel, and Erin Boehme. I think all put together they add up to about 60-ish years of experience with early childhood education and nature connection work. So to say they’ve been around the block (trail?) [wait.. is there a trail?] a few times is an understatement!

photo by Sarah Hubbard

Earthaven Ecovillage, sitting on 329 acres, founded in 1995, is super impressive. They must have been busy these last 22 years because there are awesome timber frame/cob buildings and permaculture-y food/forestry projects all over the place. The mission statement from the website is “To create a village which is a living laboratory and educational seed bank for a sustainable human future.” As far as I can tell from being there just two days, I’d say they are nailing it. The vibes and physical evidence are strong. It’s an independent-income intentional community. In other words, people choose to live intentionally with each other and must earn their own income, so some members have created businesses, one of which is SOIL – School of Integrated Living.

photo by Sarah Hubbard

SOIL is the entity within Earthaven that actually held the conference. They were well organized and on top of everything. We had originally arranged to stay outside the community, but a snow storm (yay!) Saturday night would have made coming Sunday morning impossible, so they managed to get us all put up in beds for the night on pretty short notice. I really appreciated that and have only good things to say. Coming up they have a number of great programs and classes – shoe making, Permaculture Design Certification, natural building workshop… I will be back for sure.

Now, back to the class. A week later I am still going through my notes and digesting everything I learned. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from these wise women, true masters of their craft. I feel like they have already helped take what we do to a whole new level. Since returning from the class, I have gotten to try out some of their ideas in the field (forest, actually) with great results. I wouldn’t call it “techniques” or “lessons” or something like that. At the end of the day, their message is so potently simple – I’ll let Lia speak for herself with this quote from the website (emphasis mine):


“As educators, we can never give a child what we don’t have. In many ways, we ourselves are the curriculum. Many years ago, during a period of intense study of birds, bird language, and bird behavior, I was with my class of young ones in the forest. Every bird I heard, I tried to imitate. I wasn’t always good at it, but I tried. Never having spoken to the children about what I was doing, I simply paid attention and responded in their presence, all the while serving the snack, or tying someone’s shoes, grinding rocks for paint, or any number of other tasks that needed tending. After many weeks of this, at the end of the morning, a 4-year-old girl was occupied with packing her lunch back into her backpack. Her focus and attention was directed on the effort when a nearby acorn woodpecker called out from the tall sycamore tree above. “Wacka wacka wacka,” it called, as if to greet a family member returning from a forage. Without lifting her head or pausing in her undertaking, the girl answered the woodpecker with her own “wacka, wacka, wacka.” I remained silent on the matter with great difficulty. Inside, I was cheering and celebrating her broadened awareness, her sense of connection, and her sense of normalcy in it all. Being in relationship with the world around her was a given.  It would likely always be.”

~ Lia Grippo (Reaching Nature Connection Conference presenter, The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, Co-founder/Instructor)

photo by Sarah Hubbard

I can think of another teacher who had a similar message.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks to SOIL, Earthaven Ecovillage, Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, and the Appalachian mountains for a whole lot of inspiration and the tools to put it to work.


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