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home : education : schools June 20, 2018

6/5/2018 12:42:00 PM
D.I.Y. nature expedition-in your own backyard
Nature awareness teacher Susan Prince and her canine companion enjoy the sun in Sisters Country.  photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Nature awareness teacher Susan Prince and her canine companion enjoy the sun in Sisters Country. photo provided

By T. Lee Brown

A lucky group of juniors will make it into the high school's lauded IEE (Interdisciplinary Environmental Expedition) program. The rest of us can create our own small expeditions close to home.

"As human beings, we are all hardwired to connect with nature," says nature awareness teacher Susan Prince. "It's not complicated." You don't need fancy recreation equipment or special clothes. Start with your five senses and a small chunk of time.

1. Start right now, or plan ahead.

Begin in your own garden, backyard, or a nearby park. Or drive up a Forest Service road a couple miles from Sisters and see what you find. (Bring snacks and a water bottle.) Really busy today? Take five minutes. Plan on a longer expedition for next week.

2. Step outside-without devices.

Prince recommends that you leave your cell phone behind, step outside, and take a few deep breaths to begin. This sounds simple, but in everyday life we often forget to consciously experience our environment. If you need a phone for emergency use, turn it all the way off and bury it in your backpack.

Avoid taking photos. "I don't usually take a camera," says IEE student Cole Blakelock of his outdoor adventures. "If I really want to see that place again, I just go back to it."

3. Observe

"As you relax your mind, notice what you feel, see, and hear," Prince recommends. "What is the air temperature like on your skin? Is there a particular birdcall that you have been hearing? What direction is it coming from? Sitting quietly allows the animals that live alongside us to start showing themselves, and if we do this often enough we can begin to observe their patterns."

Your mind may wander or fill up with unwelcome thoughts: worrying about work, recalling random images from an intense movie. Maybe you're annoyed by airplane noises overhead. Some find it helpful to acknowledge the intrusive thought or feeling, then picture it floating away.

Return your attention to the natural world around you. Focus on what is real and immediate: the animals, plants, water, leaves, and soil you can smell, hear, see, and touch. "Taking a journal along is a good way to record these events," notes Prince.

4. Tell your story.

Just being outside in nature improves health and lowers stress. More benefits arise afterward, when we integrate that nature time into our lives. "It's hardwired into humans to tell our stories," says Prince. "This is how the Kalahari bushmen of Africa teach their children to be seamlessly integrated into their environment. It's helpful to share our time outside with others."

IEE students make beautiful maps and accordion-fold books based on their experiences. "It reminded me of how important it is to get away from everything," wrote Tate Ricker in a rafting trip journal. "No phones for almost three days was amazing. I was surprised how easy it was to go without a phone. I didn't even miss it."

Leah Chapman wrote, "Being away from all the daily stress was really nice and I was able to focus on being present in the moment. Really living and connecting to the outdoors was very beneficial for me." Your journal reflections can be poetic, silly, brief, or in-depth: they're just for you. Play with pens, paper, paints, or clay for more exploration and expression. Don't take it too seriously and have some fun! Find out what happens if your family and friends share nature moments with each other, instead of just chatting about politics or TV


5. Repeat.

The positive effects of all this may not be obvious right away. Stick with it. "Becoming nature connected is like flexing a muscle," Prince explains. "The more we do it the better we become, and it's an exciting world out there!"

"A fun exercise is to go farther out into nature, a more remote setting than our backyard, with a small group," says Prince. "Find individual spots where you can be undisturbed and sit for 15 minutes or more. Afterwards your group can reconvene and collectively create a 'story map' of the area they were in. Each person will have a different perspective of what they experienced and there may some some very interesting continuities, too."

In many nature immersion schools and classes, kids come back to their special "sit spot" over and over, for months. This inspires learning and curiosity about the weather, passing seasons, and other ways that the natural world is always


Susan Prince will lead Nature Connection workshops for families and adult individuals June 21-23. Participants may join a single session or attend several days in a row. Free. Pre-registration is required, email

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