Yesterday's hike was the second women's hike that Sonja and I led this year. The first was titled "Women in the Wild," and yesterday's was titled "Wild Women in Winter." It definitely didn't feel like winter yesterday, though!
We didn't realize when choosing the date that yesterday was International Women's Day, but it worked out perfectly! Five female-identifying students in addition to Sonja and me, and Collette, our nature mentor and guide for the hike, met in Stevenson and then hiked into Pogonip, an open space right next to campus with tons of hiking trails and one new, legal bike trail (Emma McCrary Trail). We gathered in a meadow after a 15 minute hike to learn from Collette what deep nature connection means, why it is so vital to our lives, and how we can incorporate it into our day-to-day routine.
Deep nature connection, as I understand it, is about being attuned to the environment and world around you and feeling kinship with and awareness of the plants and animals we share our ecological community with. It's about hearing and seeing and smelling more deeply than we are accustomed to in our modern lifestyles. It's about using the skills and abilities our ancient ancestors relied on for survival, and instead of using these skills for survival, we can use them to feel more connected to the world around us and feel more whole.
Collette shared the story of her journey to becoming a nature mentor, which helped to honor the lineage of the teachings she shared--reminders of abilities that our ancestors all knew--and ground it in something that all of us can connect with. Her nature mentor is Jon Young, an incredible storyteller and bird & animal tracker who I heard speak in fall 2012 at UCSC. He is the reason I became part of the Common Ground Center in Kresge College, the organization that had brought him to campus to speak. To learn more about how Jon learned what he teaches, please read his biography here.
After sharing her story, Collette asked how we thought we could increase our awareness of the world around us and simultaneously shrink our own impact and loudness. She reminded us how often we are in our heads, in our own feelings and thoughts. We speak to each other through silent text messages, connecting our thoughts but none of our senses. Nature connection is about shrinking the amount of time we spent inside our own thoughts, turning down the volume of these thoughts, and allowing the world around us to come in and capture our curiosity.
We discussed how we can use our senses more, really smell and hear and see what's going on around us. To reduce our loudness and impact, we can walk slowly and softly, being aware that every non-human being in the forest around us is living to survive and will be suspicious that we might be coming to eat their babies. Slow and quiet and soft steps can allow us to move through nature without disturbing it. That's when we can really access nature in a profound way.
Then we practiced this by doing a silent hike through Pogonip. I noticed trees and bushes farther into the forest than I normally look; I touched moss and manzanita bark and smelled the air more; I sensed when we approached water because I could feel the change in the air; I was more aware and present than if I had been talking noisily and walking loudly through the forest.
The hike was really fun, but it was also an incredible reminder for me that I can do this daily at UC Santa Cruz simply on my walk to class or if I take a quick walk to the garden or nearby forest. I spent the past summer working at a nature camp where we practiced these same skills, and it was wonderful to be reminded of how powerful and fulfilling it can be to access our senses more deeply and feel connected to the place around us.
Another way to feel connected to place is through bicycling. As I mentioned, I went on a bike ride today, and on the way back to campus, moving slowly up the hill, it very much reaffirmed for me the truth to Ernest Hemingway's quote: "It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them." I know UC Santa Cruz really well because I bike it every day, and I know where the hills and little valleys are. I have been getting to know Santa Cruz better, too, and today I discovered new places and retraced roads that I know and love.
For the sake of not having a super long blog post, I'm going to break this up into two parts. Part two about the bike ride to a local farm can be found here.
To learn more about Collette's work, please visit her website here. She also has a blog here!