Monday, January 26, 2009

CAMN at Wild Basin

I forgot my camera Saturday morning, and it's just as well. The gauge outside the visitors center didn't quite reach 45 degrees when we headed out for our guided hike and meditation.
The wind was gusting and our assignment was to try and find a spot to sit and work through a simple 3 part exercise aimed at fostering focus and helping us to melt into the scene. It was too late in the day to see much activity and my focus ended up being: trying NOT to jitter my teeth so loud as to scare away wildlife! Needless to say, I didn't see a thing (wildlife that is) but was able to take in the beautiful scenery and wonder what it must have been like hundreds of years ago when fire was allowed to wipe the earth clean of scrub, and the beautiful prairie free to flourish. I've lived in Austin now for 12 years and had never made it out there, though had read about the star parties and somehow had managed to miss them month in and out. Well, I'll be at the next new moon party when they start up because now I can imagine the magic.
I popped onto the WildBasin website to read about the history and, based on the desire to preserve more green space by 7 wild women in tennis shoes (I love that part of the story) I've decided that this is the place for me to do my volunteer work. CAMN, Capital Area Master Naturalist is an organization that is highly involved in ecological preservation and education. I'm currently working my way through their certification program and loving every minute. So far, we've just had our orientation, and Saturday was our first class. Being a kinetic learning junkie, meaning...I've had my share of formal education: butt to chair, and I prefer hands on, well designed learning situations...I'm impressed with the conscious layout of this program. In fact, I'm going to go as far as to say that every program I've ever taken could learn a thing or two from the objective of class #1.
This is why:
The speaker was a reluctant artist, a true wildlife lover and nature observer with a soft voice and concentrated desire. I didn't ask to use his name so we'll just call him Mr. Green Heron Enthusiast. He joined the second class of CAMN back in '98 because he was a fly fisherman who wanted to learn more about Insects...but was open to wonder and ended up being an award wining nature journalist, with no formal training. Well, this tickled me pink because I left teaching in the public schools (art) because of philosophical differences, especially that I believe that all children and adults can learn to draw and should! I know some of you out there are shaking your heads saying something as silly as "I can't even draw a straight line" which is bogus because whoever actually needs to draw a straight line can just use a ruler! This was the premise of Mr. Green Heron Enthusiast, and he was a success story to prove it! My point about this man, the program and the placement of his lecture/lesson is that shouldn't every program...start with an art lesson and thorough example of how to keep a meaningful journal? I can only imagine how much more information I'd have embodied if every class I took allowed time to thoughtfully draw/write about my experience of the subject matter...heavens the Master Gardener Class would put out a far superior master if we had drawn the plants we were learning about, made illustrations of the soil properties and graphed changes.
After his introduction and show and tell he lead us through a few practice drawing exercises and kept encouraging everyone to "just do it" and enforced that daily practice would lead to mastery. It can't be spelled out any clearer than that. Keeping a journal is not about creating fine art, it's about developing a personal relationship with the subject matter, in this case, you and the natural world. He has been journaling for over ten years and has organically discovered his innate talent and desire. Not everyone will turn out an award winning artist, but who cares?
The beauty of his experience is that he takes an hour lunch daily, from his not so glamorous engineering job...walks down to a tributary of LadyBird Lake and sits with his journal and few drawing supplies and documents his experience noting the date, weather conditions and whatever sights, sounds and smells that present themselves to him. Through this patient meditation he has discovered patterns and cycles and he seemed just as enthusiastic about the discovery of questions as his ability to wrap his mind around discovered answers.
Then, we practiced what he'd learned from his life.
After our frozen experiment he encouraged us to begin now and to be open to wonder.
The afternoon speaker was just as engaging, a past forestry major and current Ranger and Guide at another State Park, he introduced the philosophy of nature interpretation as adopted by the NWF and National/State Parks...which is:
through understanding comes appreciation and through appreciation, preservation. This process should lead to stewardship! So, the job of the guide is to interpret the natural situation aiming to reveal the meanings of the relationships through the use of...original objects, firsthand experience and illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information...this is a paraphrase of Freeman Tildens definition. It's hard in this day and age of extreme politics to steer clear of "Interpreganda" especially when it comes to working with children/young adults who are clearly addicted to modern technology/media...a lot of presentation also boarders on "Interpretainment"...using the soul of the message merely as a punch line.
His presentation was nothing short of delightful and we had lots of activities illustrating the importance of interpretation as a means of engaging the innocent visitor with purposeful information and creating portals for learning , exploring, understanding and caring.
In line with my experience I'll stop there hoping that I've given you just enough information to wet your appetite and stir the imagination. I encourage you all to take your kids out to Wild Basin for an morning or afternoon of fun! The park is open from sunup to sundown, but the education building is only open Tu-Sun. Check the website for upcoming events! Those of you tickled by nature enough to want to stand up and protect her, check out the CAMN website!

Happy Gardening, and hiking, and birding, and drawing...


6 comments:

Annie in Austin said...

We've been to Wild Basin quite a few times but one visit didn't go very well. We took out-of-town guests hiking in 100+°F temperatures and somehow managed to get lost on one of the trails. Too cool might be better than too hot, Conscious Gardener!

Still chuckling about "Interpretainment"...

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

ConsciousGardener said...

Oh my! I'm sure that taught them a thing or two about visiting Texas in the summer! Have a good one Annie!

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

I love you comments on drawing and learning! I've dabbled at being a teacher and the system I thought most valuable was at the Waldorf School where students created their own textbooks. That's pretty much what I do anyway because, as an editor, I get annoyed with instruction unless I can rewrite and reorganize it. It's the best way for me to synthesize an experience.

I read a long article some years ago (and I wish I could find it) about how 100 years ago people drew or made their own music--not worrying about whether they were of professional quality but just for the enjoyment of doing it. In contrast, (the article explained) we live in a culture of "stars"--if one isn't brilliant from the beginning, with no effort, most people figure there is no point in trying. Doing "the arts" (whether music, drawing, dance) just for personal enjoyment is less prevalent than it once was.

Jim Janknegt said...

Thanks for this post. I have been thinking of sketching during my lunch hour and the experience of this gentlemen has encouraged me to follow through with my idea. My wife gave me a sketchbook quite a while back that has been quietly sitting on my desk at work. So I already have the equipment and just needed the motivation. Thanks!

ConsciousGardener said...

Thank you for your comments! I had no idea this would encourage anyone to draw! I've been sketching more lately anyway and it was a nice affirmation and reminder that...you are what you do, not what you eat. Happy Drawing!

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Good [Being of Choice], for it to be as WARM as 45! ;-) Ann Arbor is just starting its master naturalist program... I'm already a master gardener and master composter, and the class sounds fun, but I don't have time for additional volunteer activities!