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Archive for September, 2010

Students in Vermont

There are times when i forget that the way i grew up was different. There are times when i forget that time changes things and that the next generation has its own peculiarities, beliefs, and strengths. There are also times when i forget that the voices of those i now take for granted–Abbey, Lopez, Bass, Oliver, Berry, to name a few are, truly “Voices Crying Out in the Wilderness” (see Abbey) and voices that, unless we do something about it, are lost on the next generation of Americans.

I am teaching at a private school in Vermont. And, to relate you to place, and my place in the world, it is the same school, where , more than thirty years ago, I began a lifelong fascination with the outdoors. These woods are familiar to me in the strange way of a place that I knew as a kid and am now just returning to as an adult. And this is true of the school as well. It has been 20 years since I walked this campus as a student. For the last 15 or so I have been living outdoors and working seasonal jobs as a wildlife biologist. And what I see now, as I return to this place and this school, worries me a bit.

A fellow teacher passes me in the hall and mentions that his students were complaining that “Mr. Harrington made us sit in the woods for an hour…” And i did. And what i saw was disturbing–high school aged kids who are afraid to sit in the grass, afraid to step more than two feet off of a mowed trail, afraid to touch things, afraid of a caterpillar. Is this the next generation? One student followed me six feet through some saplings and ferns to the spot where i left him for 35 minutes. At the end of that time, i told him to come on out. He hesitated at the knee-deep ferns, looked at me, and said “what do i do, just barge through these?” Ferns! Soft, pliable ferns.

I have no doubt that these children will mature into strengths that are beyond me. And i have no doubt that the world they will encounter is not the same one that i encountered so many years ago. But i do worry about what grounds them. I worry about them not having a sense of how they fit into the natural world. I worry about store-bought and disguised foods that separate them from the soil and the sun.

And now, more than ever, I see the importance of the quiet, gentle adults–their humility honed by a lifelong relationship with the landscape–who beckon to these kids, make them barge through the ferns to see a caterpillar, a beetle, a cougar scat, and say “here, check this out…”

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