Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Finding Community

Water is a strong unifying force in a woodland, something that ties the community of life together. Everything that resides in this wild space needs water to survive. The animals that make their homes there, the towering trees, or the herbaceous plants which will soon spring from the ground. This ribbon of life then creates the fabric for which all in the forest partake.

In much the same way water weaves a life sustaining fabric in a woodlot, we humans, through our relationships with one another, weave a cloth that sustains and nourishes us and makes us feel not only part of the system, but also loved. This woven sense of belonging in our communities becomes essentially the common thread we all need to survive and thrive.

Just as animals in the forest search out water for which to drink, we humans search out communities in order to nourish our souls. Church groups, clubs formed around common interests, support groups, internet social media- they all play a part in helping to connect us to one another. Some of these groups provide all of the sustenance we need, others less so.

Over the years I have participated in many communities, yet have only found a few that really make me feel that all important sense of belonging. A connectedness that almost makes one feel they want to cry when surrounded by it. To see the beauty of many people coming together, caring for one another, drawing close, tightening the weave.

Having recently found a community that brings me great joy, I have wondered what sets this community apart? What ingredients does it have that others have not had? In my search for an answer, I stumbled across this quote by Wendell Berry which I think answers my question quite well:

"A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves."

~Wendell Berry

As I sat in the barn last Saturday night at the educational center where my son spends his week, I felt a deep sense of community and belonging. Though just a newcomer there myself, most in the room had been together since their children were born. With the music playing and many dancing, others gathered at tables playing games or talking, shared food from the potluck filling us, I felt I had found home. Both lucky and grateful to have found this special place. Bounded by a desire to educate young people in freedom and a desire to trust and care for one another along the way, I saw this place for what it was- a deeply committed community. A place where the fabric of the community would be best described as loosely woven. Strong and supportive as needed, yet flexible enough to allow for each to be their own individual.

This fabric, cast from many threads, creates one beautiful garment which sustains all in much the same way a forest is sustained by the water that runs through it. We as a community through this coming together, find ourselves drinking from the same stream so to speak, day after day as well.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Look to Collaboration

All of nature is a giant integrated community that is based on a cooperation between species, an interdependent web of existence that allows for the natural world as a whole to march forward into the future. Just as a group of trees provide support to the community of which they are a part- by providing air to breathe, homes for animals, or sustenance to the soil from the leaves it sheds- we humans could use the example nature sets forth through the use of collaboration to solve many of the problems that plague us.

Under our current model of relating to one another, which is based on competition, we end up with a fractured network- rich and poor, well-fed and hungry, healthy and diseased - a community out of sync with the ways of nature and essentially doomed to continue on in the natural world. I will admit, there is competition in nature, but the broad based way nature operates is for the good of the whole system through collaboration. We humans on the other hand, are currently operating in a way that provides well for a few and neglects the rest, not giving much thought to how we are plundering the earth.

One way out of this mess is to start young and change our ways by switching to a new way of educating our children by using a collaborative method of teaching rather than a competitive one. To operate this way, education would get rid of the grading system and allow young people to explore learning based on their interests not those deemed important by the school system. Young people pursuing what truly interests them would make for more passionate and creative learners, paving the way for new ways of solving the world's problems. Young people would in turn learn how to support one another and each other's ideas, coming together to determine solutions for the problems they encounter, finding the power in using many minds over just one.

Already, this collaborative method of teaching our children has started in a few alternative educational settings, slowly beginning to turn the tide. It can be found mainly in educational centers with a strong sense of support toward the goals of collaboration, both in how they teach their young people and how they relate to one another in the community as a whole.

Another likely place to look for the seeds of collaboration would be in the homeschooling arena but they too find themselves plagued with many competitive factors as they fight with one another over methodology and who participates in the best form of homeschooling. There are the Christian vs. non-Christian camps and the "school-at-home" vs. unschooling camps, all acting much like their traditional school counterparts, steeped in fierce competition between one another. There is potential in individual homeschooling support groups to move toward collaboration if a group were to commit to it and formed a mission statement to that effect.

Unfortunately, starting young and changing the way we teach our young people will be hard. So many buy into our current way of education because they themselves have sat in a school desk and been taught to listen to authority and not question how we currently do things. But there are cracks in the veneer as our children slowly rebel and require a different way of learning. Listen to your children. Hear them say they hate school and don't want to go. They are saying that for a reason. It is miserable to be forced to learn things which you have no interest in and be taught things you won't remember. Set them free and you will be rewarded with a completely different child. One who smiles and loves life and laughs. One who may change the world for the better.

This natural form of learning, based in freedom and collaboration, is the answer I feel to moving away from what keeps us humans stymied in the current mire of world destruction we find ourselves in. We are no longer of nature, having stepped out of that giant integrated community long ago. We need to find our way back to the web of existence of which we are all a part and find our rightful place in the natural order of things.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rainy Day Ramble

With my older son Jimmy home from Indianapolis for a visit, we didn't let today's rain force us to squander an opportunity to get outside and hike, as we donned our rain gear and set out. Due to the weather, the trails at our local arboretum were empty, giving us an opportunity to enjoy the quiet of the woods alone.
For a good part of our journey, the trail followed a creek which soon became more rocky as the topography changed and the creek found itself tumbling over rocks and boulders, forming small waterfalls as it cascaded downward.
Coaxed onto the rocks, my sons slowly made their way along the creek bed, hopping from one rock to another until they found themselves downstream and atop a log which crossed over the creek.
Rocks along creek beds have always been an attraction for my boys from the time they were little. The challenge to hop from one rock to another without getting wet called them into waterways when they were 3 and still now at 23, in the case of my older son. Some things never change.I myself, moved onto the rocks and loved the feeling of having the water rush around me as I stood safely atop a large rock. I was awed at the beauty of the water, the woods. The time spent with my two boys in such a magical place.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nature's Plan

The woodland path beckons to me,
calling me forward
to partake in the yet unexplored.
There will be rocks to scale
and deep ravines to traverse.
Hilltops with beautiful views,
and muck filled bogs to slow me.
Sun in my eyes, rain upon my feet.

As I travel along,
I want to rearrange the wilds.
Make the trees stand straighter,
and not have my way cluttered
with last years fallen leaves.
Don't bite me bugs,
or make me itch poison ivy.
Hawk, serve as my compass.

After awhile I develop a truce with the woods,
and find my place in its midst.
I hear the chickadee's calls.
See the red fox walk quietly by.
Feel the wind rustle the leaves of the beech,
taste the rain as it falls.
Slowly, I learn to bend to where the path is taking me,
embracing the journey and its gifts.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's almost Spring and the Trash is Blooming...

The last of the snowbanks have melted alongside the road in front of my house, paving the way for yellow daffodils to push their way upward and bloom. Unfortunately, the melting snow has also revealed all of the unsightly trash that has been tossed out car windows along the rural road I live on all winter long.

This morning I picked up two full black trash bags of trash on both sides of the road in front of my house and extending down the hill to my neighbor's. What I found didn't surprise me...pop cans and bottles, take out food containers, beer cans and empty jugs of whiskey and gin. The cardboard that at one time housed various products, cigarette cartoons, and plastic cups.

I did find one surprise- a pair of underwear and down the road a bit, a torn open prophylactic package- more than likely tossed from the same car. I figured the car was probably traveling south, given the location of the underwear, which would have come off before the prophylactic went on.

After I weeded the roadsides of man's contribution, I could once again enjoy the beauty of the drive through the woodlands near my home. No longer distracted by the refuse of those who think nature is something to be trashed.