In the past week, I’ve had two extraordinary opportunities that showed me the healing and rejuvenating power of being in nature.
Last week, my 12th graders went on their senior trip to the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch. They had begged me for an overnight trip, and now in our school’s 8th year, I felt comfortable saying “yes.” I didn’t accompany the students on the trip, but I drove up on their first afternoon to visit for a couple of hours and see how it was going.
When the students ran up to me, I saw different human beings: rosy-cheeked, light, child-like. Five hours in nature had done wonders. Some were running up from a paintball game, others were splashing in a pool, while still others were practicing archery. A few kids stood by a fence enclosing goats, petting them. But it wasn’t so much what they were doing, it was more how they were being: there was a freedom in their movements, an ease in their faces. Even the teachers looked relaxed.
I gained an appreciation of my students: they were active and truly enjoying every activity the ranch had to offer. They weren’t sitting in the lounge on their phones, complaining or sulking or SnapChatting their way through the trip. The students had their phones, but they were taking pictures and videos of actual activities, of jumping into the pool, of ping pong, tractor rides, paintball, horseback riding. The swimming pool was never empty, nor was the archery hut. The lounge was empty– everyone was outside or in the indoor pool.
This week, I am having a similar experience for myself: through the generosity of grants and the support of my superintendent, I am with several principal-colleagues at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts doing the RISE program, a three-day workshop on stress management for educators. The workshop is great– but what’s also great is the amount of time we have to hike, take yoga classes, relax.
Yesterday, I went on a short hike with three of my colleagues. It was funny for us to be in sneakers and sweatshirts– we usually see each other in meetings dressed professionally.
As we walked, I noticed the Berkshire mountains looming navy-gray over a lake. It was cold and the ground was wet from a recent rainfall. I looked at the dark, winter, web-like branches in the sky, wild stalks of wheat, pale green lichen covering the trunks of trees.
Even now looking out my window, I hear the chirping of birds, see the mountains and the nearby lake.
There is a natural rejuvenation in being in nature, and taking breaks. I had originally seen the senior trip dates on Thursday and Friday as a “mistake”: in our first time booking a trip, we had waited too long (so we thought) and so weekends weren’t available. I lamented that students would be “missing” two days of school.
However, being at the ranch, I saw that this was a form of school that was simply outside of my imagination. The students were learning about things they had never experienced, and about themselves. And I saw that perhaps, if we integrated more experiences with nature into school every day, it would clear the mind for learning faster than anything else.