Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Show Me Oz Link

Read a compilation of my recent blog posts over at Jill Henderson's blog Show Me Oz: The Very Best of the Ozarks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aiming to Transform

"People say that what we‟re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don‟t think that‟s what we‟re really seeking. I think that what we‟re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."  ~Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth)

Many times prior to and during the writing of Gold in the Glades, the word transformation has been used to describe the experiences of the youth. It is not a word to be taken lightly nor is it to describe a normal enjoyable outdoor experience. Rather, it is reserved to express the idea that something very significant has occurred in the lives of the participants. To dispel notions of hyperbolae, it is necessary to explain why the word is appropriate to describe the effects of the GLADE experience on its participants.

Throughout human history, cultures have used rites of passage to signify the importance of life transitions. Our own society still recognizes and celebrates transitions with weddings, baby showers, anniversaries, and funerals, but little is communicated about the role of these events in the human maturation process.

Transformation used in the positive sense implies that the perceptions of an individual have been altered to give him/her more clarity and purpose in life. As a result of the GLADE experience, the participant's world is perceived differently, with greater appreciation and gratitude for nature and everything else that is good. This nature-impacted perception of reality is incorporated into the very fabric of the youth, and all is renewed. If credibility can be assigned to student reflections long after the academy week has passed, the term transformation can be applied to the GLADE experience without hesitation.

Analysis of life experiences can help us to define the human experience and to appreciate the profundity of our existence. Unfortunately for teens,there are few effective educational models that address life phases and smooth out the tranisition from dependent adolescence and responsible adulthood.  Effectively meeting the challenge of  this oversight in education can serve to expedite the process of finding direction and meaning in one's life.

Graduation exercises have become extremely frivolous, and participants rarely use this transitional period to reflect upon their existence or life purpose. The result is that the time between the adolescent condition and the adult condition has been extended in modern American society, with remnants of adolescence being expressed in individuals well into their thirties and beyond.

GLADE incorporates activities that can serve as a catalyst to promote a type of reflective reasoning that facilitates personal growth and development. These activities recognize that three conditions are necessary for personal transformation. These three conditions can be briefly described as the departure, the experience, and the reentry.

The first condition of departure indicates that elements of everyday life, formerly perceived as essential to the adolescents, are left behind. Many of our students leave their parents, homes, siblings, friends, and other valuable elements of their identity for the very first time in their lives in order to participate in the week-long, residential project. There is a going away, that elicits a sense of loneliness, soon to be replaced by a sense of independence in the second phase of transformation.

The second phase of the GLADE experience is full of new and exciting adventures that fill the mind and touch the heart. New friendships are established with kindred spirits that share a love for the outdoors and fill the void created upon their departure from family and friends earlier in the week. The tools of personal change are the tools of the research scientist and the conservationist: mist nets, dip nets, testing kits, shovels, handsaws, pencils, clipboards, writing and sketch pads, and much more. The doors to this natural realm are many. The keys to entry are the sciences, the arts, the humanities, the engaged mind, and the open heart. The immersive experience provides the youth with a new way of perceiving. Nature is a life instructor to those who enter its domain and experience its treasures.

The third and most difficult condition of the transformation is reentry. Again, the overwhelming feelings of loss and departure loom on the horizon as the week draws to a close. How can one adequately explain with words what has happened upon his/her return to everyday life in his/her home community?

“I wish I had a camera as good as my eyes,” Jessica B., GLADE 2011, reflected. If only there was a snapshot that could express the passion of these young leaders as they experience together the sun setting over the lake.

Then perhaps their loved ones at home could understand their transformation and share their newfound passion.

Post-GLADE reunions, community grant projects, and public presentations provide an opportunity for the newly emerged green team to reignite the flame experienced during the week of the academy. If the staff and community have done their job well, GLADE graduates have been welcomed into a growing network of people and organizations who share a love for nature and a desire to positively impact the natural world through conservation action. The GLADE network has provided them with immediate access to the expertise and resources necessary to translate their inner desires to change the world into local action to shape their home communities in remarkable ways. They reenter with knowledge, wisdom, and human connections that not only ease their transition, but catapult them into a bright future with a metaphorical green tool kit designed to give wings to their greatest visions for a dynamic, living planet.

The universal human conditions of departure, experience, and reentry provide the backdrop for the GLADE project. Our goals within that context are to increase the young leaders‟ knowledge and awareness of biological systems, to provide experiences that facilitate personal growth and development, and to connect each individual to a growing network of people who recognize that our own fate is directly related to the fate of the other species that share the Earth with us. With nature as our common passion, we aim to revitalize and to transform young peoples‟ lives so that our precious natural resources are passed on to their children‟s children.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Be Here Now

     Yesterday, I took my book, Gold in the Glades: The GLADE Guide to Outdoor Leadership Development, to the printer. It is a milepost for me, the culminating event in a year long journey to document everything that I could about the GLADE project and experience. It was a soul searching process. Some days the words just wouldn't come, clogged in some muddy ooze, unable to free themselves. On other days I couldn't stop them from flowing, like a effervescent spring in the heart of the Current River watershed.

“A man who has a vision is not able to use the power of it until after he has performed
 the vision on earth for the people to see." Black Elk.

     My personal vision of conservation has been with me for a long time. Its expressions took the form of experiential courses and projects for secondary students. Environmental Awareness and Group Leadership Explorations (EAGLE) 1986-2000, explored the role of nature in risk taking and personal growth in a natural setting. Analysis of Environmental Relationships in Individual Expression (AERIE), 1994-1998, explored the role of nature in inspiring creativity, and Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE), 2009-present, explores nature through ecological relationships, critical habitat restoration, community service, collective vision, and the nature of leadership. They are all courses that I developed alone or helped to develop. I have been a lead teacher in all of them. And, they all express my personal vision of conservation. Way too simple, it boils down to 10 words: "Be passionate. Be grateful. Be hopeful. Give back to nature."

It has worked for me. I share my  thoughts from the book below.

     It is easy to view the world as it is, and hide behind a cloak of cynicism. There is always the quick wit of a sarcastic barb to ease the pain that inconveniently surfaces from within. It is not so easy to acknowledge that beneath one’s cynicism lays an idealist who sees the world not as it is, but as it should be.

     We who strive for ecological balance and social justice experience and occasionally mourn the losses in our efforts to ease the pain present in our world. Nevertheless, we passionately work to restore, heal, and create a new world where justice prevails, green space flourishes, and sustainability reigns for all of posterity. It does not help to tell us that the way is impossible, for we have gazed into the heart of the Earth, and have heard its ancient cry. It defines who we are, and it imparts meaning to our existence.

      I come to the end of this TogetherGreen Fellows adventure with an unwavering sense of gratitude and a renewed commitment to doing whatever I can in the time that I am given to ride a wave of passionate energy to reverse the destructive path that our species has chosen. I join with many other kindred spirits to explore beyond the horizons, to open reluctant minds, to empower the curious, to enliven the senses, and to instill an understanding that the answers to our quest lie in the heart of nature, where they have been nurtured, preserved, adapted, and refined through the spacious eons of time. May we all recognize these natural rhythms and allow them to resonate within our own hearts. Perhaps then, our species can rejoin a multitude of other precious species that have not forgotten how to dance to the beat of life.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength
that will endure as long as life lasts. ~Rachel Carson