Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Bird in the Hand.....

“Hope is the thing with feathers” ~Emily Dickinson

The Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE) activity of mist netting and bird banding illustrates beautifully the moment when students truly engage in and connect with nature. In the cognitive domain, it enables students to fully participate in important scientific research. In the affective domain, it allows the students to observe the traits of the neotropical migrant, and incorporate them into one’s own fabric. Both actions serve to unearth a sense of potential within that is vital to becoming an effective leader.

The bird banding activity is part of a larger scientific research project of the Institute for Bird Populations. The specific outreach project of the institute is called the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) Program. According to its website at www.birdpop.org/maps.htm, MAPS “comprises a continent-wide network of hundreds of constant-effort mist netting stations. Analyses of the resulting banding data provide critical information relating to the ecology, conservation, and management of North American landbird populations, and the factors responsible for changes in their populations.” GLADE staff members Dr. Janice Greene and Andrew Kinslow participate annually in the census project.

The MAPS project provides an opportunity to impact humans as well as birds. The convergence of life paths between these nearly weightless, beautiful, long-distance sojourners and the GLADE naturalists brings knowledge of and appreciation for the survival strategies of the neotropical migrants. The migratory routes of these birds also connect two worlds for the youth. Our own Ozarks habitats and Central and South American habitats, where nesting migratory species of the Ozarks spend much of their lives, are suddenly linked in the minds of the young people. The bird banding activity literally and figuratively expands horizons, and increases global ecological awareness. It provides a key to unlocking an overwhelming appreciation for all life and an opportunity to think about the possibilities of conservation partnerships across the entire geographic range of these fascinating avian travelers.

During the morning activity, resident and neotropical species are netted, bagged and taken to an open-air banding table, where students engage in ornithological pursuits---measuring, aging, sexing, weighing, and banding cause the time to stand still. Students embrace the experience with the resident and neotropical species. In doing so, they develop a new perspective on birds. A sense of calm becomes palpable within the group of young naturalists. Countenances reveal an inner change taking place.

They say that a picture says a thousand words. If so, the photographs of Kelsey Rumley, GLADE 2010, spin a heartwarming tale.

Taylor gazes at an Indigo Bunting while Martha observes.

Introspective onlookers watch Heather, as Baillie delights in an Indigo Bunting.

A brightly colored male Summer Tanager puts a glow on Jessi’s face.

Jessi appreciates the contrasting Black-and-white Warbler.

Bryanna studies the Brown Thrasher in depth.
Tim enjoys the beauty of the Summer Tanager.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Passion: The Sublime Elixir

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

~Henry David Thoreau

When Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE) graduates express their experience in one final word, or when they write their comments on post academy surveys, the word “passion” never fails to make the collective list. It is noted that GLADE staff and presenters often are animated and extremely enthusiastic about what they are doing. It is true that our staff clearly has an affinity for nature, and that it has impacted their individual lives in profound ways. Actually, we naturally select for passion traits in staff, in presenters, and even in our GLADE participants.

Passion sublimes in far more than a smile and accompanying gestures of excitement. When released in the proper, timely manner in nature, it lingers in the air like a splendid perfume, luring those even at the very outskirts of its aesthetic range. It leaves an indelible mark on the lives of those who risk breathing it in deeply and incorporating its essence into their own being. Passion connects those experiencing it with all things living and growing, communicating meaning and purpose to everyday experiences.

As committed agents of positive change, we long to reproduce the elixir. But what is it, and once found, how do we cultivate it? From where does it arise within the group setting, and how can conservation educators assure that it can be replicated in all outdoor learning experiences?

The conditions which precede knowledge of self are intellectual curiosity and emotional uncertainty. As youth search for direction they often head down paths that tragically result in dead ends due to our society’s emphasis on temporary and material gain, and its wanton disregard for virtue. Families, schools, and faith communities strive to provide youth with effective examples of proper living, but rarely do they espouse proper stewardship for nature or take action to care for biotic communities. The lure of a material world permeates society to the point that well-meaning adults working with young people too often advise them to take a path that will result in a lucrative material career, ignoring the leanings of the heart, which nearly always navigate in a truer direction.

Our guidance systems are flawed partially because they do not acknowledge the role of nature in our wellbeing, and they do not consider the negative impact of today’s squandering habits on future generations. When all is said and done, our grandchildren’s quality of life is directly proportional to the quality of our care for the Earth today. If for no other reason, we owe it to them to passionately act in every way we possibly can to conserve what is left of our natural world.

At the convergence of intellectual stimulation and emotion gratitude lies passion. It does not make itself known until the intellect has been challenged at the limits of its capacity, and the emotions have responded to the power of the mind to discover new and different ways of perceiving. Often, prior to the passion experience, true awareness of entities like nature and life have been obscured by a cloudy vision and/or self-imposed limitations. Passion demands that we find the sweet spot in the ocean of life, where our intellect is fully engaged and our emotional gratitude intersects with it. The outcome is a tremendous wave of positive energy. We must rise to the crest of that wave, be swept away by it, sense its power, balance upon its lip, and ride it with all the energy we can muster. For when the wave breaks upon the shoreline, all is changed. Hope is renewed, new possibilities surface, and a desire to catch the next wave rises up from within to become an overwhelming goal for our lives.

As demonstrated in the above paragraph, natural metaphors can play a very important role in the transfer of information, as well as in the youth transformation aspect at GLADE. It is always the aim of the staff to sense the building momentum spontaneously and use metaphor to transport creative and critical thinking to a higher level. Seizing that moment and riding the wave that underlies it is often the key to a truly exceptional environmental experience.

Metaphorical quotes and comments incorporating ecology and philosophy serve to facilitate personal growth and development within the participants at a moment’s notice. Native American teachings, Taoist passages, the writings of the Transcendentalists, and other nature-inspired writings are excellent sources from which to draw. Quotes and readings memorized and used by staffers at appropriate moments provide fertile soil for the stirring of the passion waters within the young naturalists, and they contribute significantly to the synergy desired.

Even with the use of simple natural metaphors such as “sink your roots deeply” or “soar”, a life tool is introduced to the young people that can assist them in fully comprehending many of the complexities inherent both in natural biological systems and in their own personal lives. The insights gained from natural metaphor then can be fused into their developing value systems, giving them strength, insight, character, courage, and an incredibly respectful view of nature as teacher. Metaphor serves to forever link the individual to the natural world and opens a new world of possibilities within the engaged mind. To connect the natural sciences to the arts or the humanities - to the stillness of sunsets or the sparkling of fireflies-- or to the inner soul or spirit of the individual, brings wellness to the explorer. At the end of the GLADE adventure, passion is waiting to wash gently over the receptive youth.

Passion does not seek to change the individual, but to complete the individual. In lives once dominated by the trappings of a shallow world, the passion that arises from complete immersion in nature mirrors the first blossoms of spring poking through a blanket of snow. As a result, the joy, the hope, and the unbridled sense of empowerment that emanates from within effortlessly unearths the individual’s missing piece….releasing their unique, hidden song from within…..., bringing clarity of vision and purpose to life.