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‘OUT OF DOORS … PARKS AND TREES’
5.- READINGS

FINALLY … LET’S SHARE REFLECTIONS

The final moments of an outing, just before returning to the familiarity of school or home, provide an invaluable opportunity for a group to share reflections on the day’s experiences. Intense enjoyment means that many people are psychologically open, receptive to new ideas and ready to tie threads together. At such times a short personal evaluation, possible written alone in a final few minutes can be valuable. The whole group needs a concluding statement to give the day a feeling of completeness. A short, well-chosen reading is an effective way of concentrating attention as well as adding inspiration.

Invite the children to get comfortable for these final moments – even to go to sleep if there’s still excess of energy from the restless ones. Soon nature will take over and they’ll be receiving its many messages as well as the words of the chosen story. It’s very likely that a long, calm silence may descend, that no/one feels like breaking into with more words. This is a clear example of the ‘contact with the earth’ we have identified as our principal objective.

EXAMPLE READINGS

Here we include some readings chosen as examples of the vast array of literature available. Every teacher will have ideas of favourite texts to add. Those of local writers are preferable because of their greater connection with the children’s culture and experience. Use them for creative writing projects too.

THE MESSAGE OF CHIEF SEALTH
North America, 1855

This first piece is probably the best-known example of all environmental writing. It originated in 1855 as a somber address given in native dialect by northamerican Suquamish chief Sealth. Sadly aware that the invading material ‘progress’ of the new U.S.A. would eliminate his people’s culture of closeness to the land, Sealth was replying to the offer made by President Franklin Pierce to buy Suquamish tribal lands. A government official understood the language and transcribed it. This version was changed substantially in 1972 by a television script writer. It therefore now contains historical inaccuracies and romanticism, but is still both prophetic and inspiring …

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? This idea seems strange to us. We are not owners of the air, or the sparkle of the waters. How could you possibly buy them from us? Every particle of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining leaf, every sandy shore, every misty corner of the shady forest, every clearing and buzzing insect is sacred in the memory and the experience of my people. The sap which circulates through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

The white man’s dead forget the land of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth because she is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and she is part of us. The fragrant flowers are our sisters. The deer, the horse, the majestic eagle are all our brothers. The rocky mountain crests, the grasses growing on the prairies, the warm body heat of the young horse, and of the man, all belong to the same family.

The sparkling water flowing in the creeks and rivers is not merely water, but it is the blood of our forefathers. If we sell you our lands, you must remember that they are sacred, and you must teach your children that they are sacred, and that each ghostly reflection in the lakes’ clear waters speaks of the events and memories in the life of my people. The murmuring of the waters is the voice of the father of my father.

The rivers are our brothers. They satisfy our thirst. They carry our canoes, they feed our children. You should from now on give the rivers the same kind treatment that you would give to any brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One piece of land is the same to him as any other, because he is a mere stranger who comes in the night to take from the earth whatever he wants.

The earth is not his brother, it is his enemy. When he has conquered it he abandons it, and carries on his way. He leaves behind the burial places of his fathers, without caring. He deprives his children of their birthright, without caring. He treats his mother the earth, and his brother the sky, as things that can be bought, looted and sold. His insatiable appetite will devour the earth, and leave behind him only a desert.

Our way of being is different from yours. The sight of your cities hurts the eyes of the red man. There are no quiet places in the cities of the white man, nowhere to listen to the unfolding of the leaves in springtime, or the rubbing together of an insect’s wings. But that may be because I am a savage and I cannot understand things.

The noise of the city seems to insult the ears. What kind of life is left when a man can no longer hear the solitary egret’s cry, or the evening arguments of frogs around a lake? We Indians prefer the soft sounds of the breeze caressing the lake, and the perfume of that same wind purified by the midday rain or perfumed with the fragrance of the pine trees. The air is precious to the red man, because everything shares the same breath – the animal, the tree and the human being. The white man seems not to notice the air he breathes. Just like a person who has been dying for many days, he has become insensitive to his own stench.

If we sell you our lands, you must remember that that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it sustains. The same wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. And if we sell you our lands, you must leave them apart and keep them sacred as a place where even the white man can go, to enjoy the winds sweetened by he prairie’s flowers.

We shall consider your offer to but our lands. If we decide to accept, I shall place one condition – that the white man should treat the animals of these lands as his brothers. I am a savage and I do not understand how the steaming iron horse can be more important than the buffalo, which we only kill to keep ourselves alive. What is man without the animals? If all the animals should disappear, humans would die of a great sense of spiritual solitude. Everything that befalls the animals, soon will befall man also.

Therefore you must teach your children what we have taught our children – that the earth is our mother. Everything that affects the earth also affects the children of the earth. This we know for sure. The earth does not belong to human beings, but human beings belong to the earth. They have not woven the web of life, they are only one single thread of it.

Everything they are doing to that web, they are doing to themselves. Whatever happens to the earth will also happen to the children of the earth. We know this. Everything is connected with everything else, as is the blood that unites one family. White men also shall pass away, perhaps before other tribes. If you contaminate your bed, one night you will die suffocated by your own waste.

That destiny is a mystery for us, because we do not understand what will happen when the buffalo have been exterminated, when the wild horses have all been tamed, when the deepest recesses of the forest exhale the smells of many human beings, and when the view towards the green hills is closed off by a maze of talking wires … Where will the dense forests be? Gone. Where will the eagles be? Gone. That is the end of living, and the beginning of surviving.

THE AGE OF THE EARTH
Adapted from Greenpeace, 1984

Planet Earth is 4,600 million years old. To convert this inconceivable length of time into a concept easier for our minds to handle, let’s imagine the earth to be a person 46 years of age. (Each year of this person’s life would represent 100 million years.)

We know nothing at all of the first 7 years of this lifetime, and have only very scanty information until the age of 42, when green plants began to spread across the earth. Dinosaurs and the great reptiles appeared only two years ago, when earth was 44.

We mammals arrived in the scene only eight months ago. It was middle of last week when simians resembling humans evolved into humans resembling simians. The last ‘Ice Age’ to envelop the earth took place – last weekend!

We, so.called ‘modern’ human beings, have been around a mere four hours. During the last hour of those four hours, we discovered agriculture. Our famous Industrial Revolution began just one minute ago!

In these last 60 seconds of biological time, we have converted paradise into a garbage dump. We have caused the extinction of hundreds of species of animals and plants, pillaging the planet in our search for fuels, and now stand proudly admiring our rapid and spectacular ascent into ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’ ... when in reality we are teetering on the brink of the last great mass extinction, and the destruction of this oasis of life in the solar system.

LEGEND OF THE HUMMING-BIRD
From ‘Genesis’, Eduardo Galeano, Uruguay

Her body is the size of an almond’s fruit. She is born of an egg no larger than a bean, laid in a nest that fits inside a walnut. She has a bedspread of the tiniest leaf. At dawn she is already up to greet the morning sun, and dusk still finds her working hard.

She flies whirring from branch to branch, from flower to flower, as rapidly and necessary as light itself. Sometimes she hesitates, stopping in mid-flight. Sometimes she flies backwards, as no other bird is able. Sometimes she flies around uncertainly, slightly tipsy from all the nectar she has harvested. As she flies, she sends out flashes of multi-coloured light.

She bears messages from the gods, and whispers prophesies in the sorcerer’s ear. When a child of the Guarani leaves its body, she rescues its soul, lying in the centre of a flower, and bears it to the Land of Light. She has known the way there since time itself began. Before the world was born, Colibri, the humming bird, existed. She would take drops of dew to refresh the first father’s tongue, and satisfied his hunger with nectar from the flowers.

THE AROMO
(Mountain acacia tree)
Poem sung by Atahualpa Yupanqui, Argentina

There’s an aromo born in a crack of mountain rocks,
Seems she broke out of them trying to escape
And grow on a bare ridge, with not a blade of grass around.
The whole mountain envies her, flowering in such solitude …
Trees and creepers, all admiring, murmur from a distance,
For one lonely tree, see what expanse is hers!
She offers her sunlight borrowed back in golden flowers,
With so many to spare, strewing handfuls on the earth.
Health, riches, happiness … the aromo seems to lack for nothing,
As all can see from wherever they may gaze,
And also see a rocky embrace is squeezing her.
There's suffering inside the beauty all envy so.
The ill-starred aromo, fated to live imprisoned by a stone,
Instead of dying of sadness,
Transforms her tribulations into golden flowers …

She has no shelter, every wind beats down on her,
Every frost grips her, every rainstorm drenches and flows on.
That's how she lives her life, far from prying eyes,
With her touch of pride, so well deserved,
And a soul so beautiful that never a lament is heard.
Instead, all heedless of unhappiness
She transforms suffering into golden flowers …
That’s worth envying, by any that can understand.

THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES
Story written by Jean Giono, France

Around forty years ago, I went walking through some dry and arid mountans in the South of France. The only vegetation was wild lavender. After the third day of walking I made camp near an abandoned village, but was unable to find any water. The next day, I spies the far-off figure of a man, and I approached him hopefully.

He was a shepherd, and he invited me to his house, where he had an abundant supply of water coming from a good natural well. His house was welcoming and solid, well-maintained and had a good roof. It was clear that he lived alone, and also that he lived well.

After dinner, he emptied a small sack of acorns (seeds from the European oak tree) on the dining table. After examining them all with great care, he selected one hundred of them which were flawless. It brought a sensation of peace to be near this man, who it seemed was incapable of being surprised by anything.

The next morning, when he let loose his sheep, he placed the hundred acorns briefly in a pail of water. As he walked, he made holes in the earth with an iron bar he was carrying, and carefully placed an acorn into each one of the holes. He was planting oak trees. I asked him if the land was his. No, he replied. Did he know whose it was? No, he did not. Wasn’t he interested to find out? No. He simply planted his hundred acorns, with great care.

He had been planting trees for three years now in these dry hills. He had planted a hundred thousand. Of those, twenty thousand had sprouted and begun to grow. In his opinion, this area was dying because of lack of trees. He had come to live here after the death of his wife and daughter. His name was Elzeard Bouffier and he was 55 years old. In addition to the oaks, he was interested in planting birch trees. We said goodbye, and the following year, 1914, I went off to the Great War, which lasted 5 years.

When it was over, tired of noise and cruelty and violence, I felt a need for solitude, and went again to walk across those arid lands. The landscape hadn’t changed, but now there was a light green haze across the distant hills. My friend Bouffier had continued to plant his trees without paying any attention to the war, as if it hadn’t happened. Some of the trees were now producing seeds, and these were germinating.

A gentle breeze sounded gently in the leaves, and in places rivulets of water had begun to flow. Beside them, willow trees had started to appear, and with them flowers and other forms of life. No-one attributed these changes to the labours of Bouffier, since he lived his solitary life in anonymity and silence – to the point that after time he practically lost the habit of speaking at all. The last time that I saw Bouffier was thirty years later, in 1945, when he was 87 years old.

It was a strange journey. This time I arrived by bus, but everything had changed so much I was unsure where to get off the bus. It was only when I saw a signpost with a familiar name beside a village, that I realized I was really in the same area that once had been so dry and desert-like. The place was unrecognizable. Instead of cruel dry winds, the breezes now were gentle and full of sweet aromas.

From the higher hills you could hear a murmuring like waves of the sea – it was the wind blowing through the forests. The greatest surprise of all was that now there was a fountain tinkling into a lovely pool, where before there had been nothing but a ruined, dry well. Beside it grew a beautiful acacia tree. Water had begun to flow again, thanks to the trees Bouffier had been planting over all those years. With the water, small plants returned and flowered.

With those plants came insects, and with the insects came frogs and birds and many other animals. In the end, all this new life attracted people and their families, who came to live amid all this newfound beauty. They had children and restored the ruined houses, so that the streets now resounded once again with the games and laughter of children playing with the odogs that accompanied them.

I estimated that more than ten thousand people owed their happiness and well-being to this humble old man who had dedicated a large part of his life to converting an abandoned area of mountain desert into a paradise. Elzeard Bouffier died in peace in the Hospice of Banon in 1957.

HOW FLOWERS TRANSFORMED THE EARTH
Summary adapted from Loren Eiseley

Imagine … there was a time when flowers did not exist, not even any plants or animals. At that time, from space the earth looked all reddish brown, and bare. It took hundreds, no, more like thousands, of millions of years for the colour green to start appearing. Little by little it began to spread from the sea to the banks of rivers, pods and lakes. It was too early yet for grass – only primitive small plants like mosses and the odd fern. But not a single flower.

Suddenly, just before the end of the age of the dinosaurs, everything changed. It was a silent but dramatic explosion, that lasted for millions of years. Planet Earth was invaded by plants that produced flowers. They changed everything - not only its appearance and its colour. Without these flowers we human beings would never have existed either.

Up until that time, every animal had cold blood, and in the cold of night or winter they couldn’t move. In order to be able to function better they needed to use warm blood and more oxygen. These are two secrets or characteristics shared by the birds and mammals of today. These two animal groups came into being thanks to flowers. It really is that simple.

Until 200 million years ago, plants reproduced by means of pollen, as the pine trees do. So far there was no grass, or any other colour besides green. When the last dinosaurs were on the verge of extinction, the first flower appeared. It also reproduced by means of pollen, but its seeds were encased in a protective covering, and full of food inside.

This was a spectacular innovation … a seed that feeds itself while being spread across new ground, carried by the wind, an animal or perhaps by water. Now plants could wander across the face of all the earth, and from their diversity would arise the possibility of new forms of animal life as well. Now there was food to spare for all of them, and colours and fruits to suit all tastes.

Many different kinds of flowers were came into being, each bringing rich, concentrated food for the new kinds of animals to enjoy. First, enormous numbers of insects appeared, and then birds and mammals. It was around then that the great herbivores came on the scene – herds of mammoth, horse and bison. They all converted the foodstuffs enclosed in the fruits and leaves of flowers into energy to feed themselves and their carnivorous predators.

One animal among them all was special. It wasn’t just a herbivore. It lingered round the forests’ edge, looking out at the prairies and the great variety of other animals on them. With its hands, it tried balancing sticks and stones. This would be the beginning of the assault that human beings would make on animals. The stone, with time, would be converted into a projectile, then an axe, then arrowhead ad spear. Much later on this animal would discover fire, and so make more use of the meat of animals.

As the millennia continued passing by with increasing changes, the day would come when these same human beings would drop a handful of seeds upon the earth … and then, amazed, see the beginnings of agriculture. In truth, one single flower changed the face of the earth for ever …

CONSIDER THE PROCESS OF WALKING
U.S. Conservation Foundation, 1983

In order to move from one place to another we must first, intentionally, throw ourselves off balance by falling forward – and then with one extended foot we catch ourselves in time. Thus, every journey begins…….

Consider, how long it must have been before that first step was taken – how slowly developed that fine sense of balance that enables the human to walk on two feet. And over and over again the practice of rising upright – alone, slowly, carefully – clutching for support a nearby branch or tree trunk. That strange, unstable feeling of a new height – a different perspective on the world from a superior view.

And what of the weapons and tools for the hands now free? Or was it that the hands so long had curled on stone and stick that they no longer could be used for locomotion? No-one really knows whether it was the standing upright that led to grasping branch or stone, or whether it was grasping first that led to standing up.

As with so many things, most likely it was not the one or the other by itself, but some immeasurable interweaving of the two – some motion between desire and ability, between the skill and the wish – not in itself unlike the next step to standing up - that unconscious knowledge of the need to throw oneself off balance, that willingness to upset the hard-earned equilibrium, to risk a fall and then to escape by simply pushing Earth away, or so it seems ...

Fall and step – move and stop – the ebb and flow of yin and yang, of predator and prey…….everything in balance but nothing at rest……. The rise and fall of night and day, the wax and wane of winter and spring, and the reap and sow. The life and death, of a balance that is always in motion, always on its way to becoming something else – not a thing, but a process – itself in procession – moving as the threads of warp and woof move in the patterns of the cloth – moving as the dead leaves move through their own decay to become again the life of Earth – moving as the energy of sun moves in the green and silent flames of the grass through the bodies of the sleek-skinned cattle that graze its growth…….

And of those ancient textures, and of those repeated patterns, and of those threads of fabric, is man…….neither separate nor above, but intricately and permanently interwoven. Enmeshed inextricably is he…….within the fabric of Earth’s thin cloak of air, within the mantle of its fragile soils, within the veil of mists and flowing water, always in motion, always on the way to becoming something else……not a thing, but a process, itself in procession…….out of the sun, around the sun, under the sun, without whose terrible radiance there is no alternative.

And man the walker falls forward again, and by pushing earth away once more becomes the space walker – the upright creature with the superior view, looking down on Earth. And from that height he forgets that his breathing is older than his science, and is part of the process – forgets that the ripened fruits of Earth do not intend their shape and flavour for his benefit alone, but are part of the process – forgets that his flesh and blood and bone can never be free from soil and sun and rain, but are part of the process…….

And still there persists the illusion of dominance, forgetting that humility means a closeness to Earth, a kinship with soil – and that this is a reality from which there is no escape.Perhaps it must come to this…….

After the forests are destroyed, after the soil is washed away or blown to dust, after the air and water are thick with the poisons of man’s growth……. after this and so much more, will he one day plant his plastic flowers in some unknown desert, to celebrate his reverence for life…….? Perhaps it is only through creating the flowers that cannot die that he will remember his own mortality, and Earth’s own limits.

For this too is part of the process – to discover, to forget, and then to rediscover that what is enough can only be measured against what is too much…….and thus to catch ourselves before we fall, as in walking……. Consider, then, the process of walking ... and the future of life.

AFTERWORD – TWO PERSPECTIVES

1. Ecological Internet (2008)

“The Earth is alive. Anyone with a bit of ecological learning and intuition can see that a few centuries of industrial growth have frayed her ecological systems beyond recognition, and they are failing. Continued growth in human populations, economies and ecosystem loss can only lead to global ecological collapse … Virtually the entire environmental movement has been too willing to compromise, not understanding requirements for an operable biosphere and that these have already been surpassed.”

2. More from Chief Sealth’s Original Discourse, 1855

“We might understand if we knew what the dreams of the white man are, what hopes he describes to his children in the long winter nights, what visions he leaves burned upon their minds so that they will long for tomorrow. But … the white man’s dreams are hidden from us … “

The ‘white man’s dreams’ have become hidden in collective madness, dissociated from the reality and logic of the earth systems supporting life. Ever more humans insist on over-consuming blindly at the expense of ever fewer other species and habitats, and increasing human poverty and environmental stress.

Environmental education fails to change things because of its inherent, built-in double standard. Identifying sustainability with the economy of consumption and seeing technology as a panacea, it stays so rooted in materialism that it misses a crucial point. Material and intellectual training, however useful they may appear to be, cannot change behaviour positively unless balanced by spiritual practice.

In Western schooling this is absent. Education in life-sustaining values, particularly the central value of respect for life in all its forms, is an imperative that has been - tacitly, but still deliberately - forgotten. This point has historic importance, since what is at risk is the survival of a civilization of which modern humans feel justifiably proud. Yet the very nature of that civilization is so toxic in its practices and weak in underpinning values, that the inhibitions it imposes on its own survival are practically insuperable.

Any education worthy of the name can only be delivered effectively by virtue of example. When educators have been conditioned by histories of exploiting earth and fellow human beings as expendable resources, and believe technology and economic gain to be omnipotent, where could they have learned respect? In what schools could their own educators have learned respect? Like addicts, we are continuing to design our own destruction. Collective change can only come with a change of heart - when we learn the humility needed for exploiting and consuming less, instead of more. For this task of learning, the most trustworthy teaching aids are the simple, permanently present and evident principles of nature.

THE FUNCTION OF RITUAL IN EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION

As we see in practice, simple acts like sitting in a circle or walking blindfold or barefoot on the earth are powerful aids to internalizing personal and collective learning of respect for nature. They open up the doors of intuitive, whole body understanding. The main reason for this lies in their ritual nature – such symbolically significant acts, deceptively simple though they are, effectively affirm our connection with the earth that gives us life, and for the human and other living beings with which we share it.

The absence of meaningful ritual has been identified by C. G. Jung as a major cause of the confusion that characterizes our modern culture - a confusion that is so deeply damaging to earth's life-supporting systems, our ecological viability as a species and therefore our survival.

Rituals have such spiritual power that it is important to discriminate carefully between those that are educationally valid and those that are less so. For example, rituals associated with militarism, nationalism, and even excessive competition in sports or the quest for material ‘success’ at the expense of other people and the earth are extremely common at all levels of our schooling systems. Educationally they are counter-productive, insofar as they contribute to strengthening and perpetuating our culture's prevalent illusions of separation from the natural laws that govern life on earth. These laws are universal principals such as consistency, integrity, underpin the real values inherent in what Sealth calls 'the white man's dream'. This is why rituals should be selected and designed with care. Unfortunately, in the confusion of our consumer-oriented schooling, this is very rarely done.

For more on universal natural principles, please refer to the ideas in the Tocatierra Home Page presentation

"Five Essential Values".

One of the simplest, yet universally accepted ritual acts is the equivalent of saying Please and Thank you before and after something is received. Indigenous cultures convert these signs of respect into ceremonies at the beginning and ending of their formal interactions with the earth. We in the urban West are only now beginning to realize there may seriously be significant meaning in such practices. Those educators interested in helping young people to deepen their practices of respect for nature, I recommend the workshops proposed in the book ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ under the name of the Council of All Beings.

For an abbreviated explanation giving further details of the Council process, see:

http://www.tocatierra.cl/Council_of_All_Beings_20.html

(www.tocatierra.cl, English section – ‘Earthtouch’ – Thinking Globally)

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