Nature as Our Guide

Nature Honours its Faded and Old

Nature Honours its Faded and Old

I like to observe and study nature, especially the coastal rainforest where I grew up and lived for 45 years.  I really believe that nature can model how we should live.  The other day I was so surprised by the work of nature right  in our house.  I cleaned up one of the gardens  in the yard about 4 weeks ago and one of the plants in the garden was Autumn Joy Sedum.  I picked a little flower head from the expiring plant to display in a miniature vase that my daughter had made me.  The vase is so tiny it barely holds any water but nonetheless I put a few drops of water in the vase to keep the flower head from fading too quickly.  I left the rest of the plant in the ground with its flowers, because as the name of the plant denotes, it is a joy to look at in the Autumn.  It gets sort of pink through the end of the summer and then in fall, its colour turns anywhere from a pale red to a blazing red depending on the weather, soil conditions and the like. I thought I would allow the plant to fade in the garden and bring as much joy to us while it could.  After that I planned on removing the growth and allowing it to sleep for the winter, readying itself for new spring growth.

So, was I ever shocked when I went to remove the little vase and discard the now very faded flower from the bathroom windowsill.  As I was preparing to throw the flower in the compost my partner said, “hey, did you notice what that flower is doing?”  I looked more closely wondering what he was talking about.  As I looked more closely at the flower, I noticed a tiny little bit of sprig of green along the stem.  The cut stem had used the little bit of water I had placed in the vase and whatever nutrition was stored in its narrow stem to grow a network of new white roots and a minute  burst of new leaves.  Wow. I was so amazed.  This little bit of a plant piece had managed to muster up new life with very little water or light and in conditions very different from where its mother plant was growing.

So, this has got me thinking about how nature will model how to live, solve problems and create unique solutions to problems that seem unsolvable for humans.  If a tiny little piece of a plant can be taken from its parent, given totally different conditions to live and very little nutrition and still throw off new life what can we learn from this?

My big question these days is, how can we honour our elderly, sick and disabled to allow them to contribute, feel inclusion and live with dignity?  Things in the natural world are created less than ‘perfect’ sometimes, they grow old and die eventually, but how does nature model this process?  What I witnessed with this tiny little plant was that nothing is useless.  It may not be as vibrant and colourful as it once was, but its fading beauty can still send out bits of colour and life. This causes me to ask myself, am I looking for the beauty and wisdom in the disabled and elderly?  What can I do, just as nature does, to honour and respect that all forms and stages of life have a purpose and a reason for being?

Big Ideas

The other day I decided to take a walk through the nearby forest and check out where the trails lead to.  As I was walking I got a Big Idea. I have a passion for teaching people to be ecoliterate so why not turn this walk into a lesson in forest ecology. You may be asking yourself what ecoliteracy is. Basically, it is a big word  which means to be literate in the ecologies. Ecoliteracy is a term coined by David Orr, an American educator and physicist, Fritjof Capra in the 1990s. To be ecoliterate means to be literate in how ecological communities work together to sustain themselves and work together with other ecologies to create an integrated, organized, sustainable community.  Ecoliteracy also means to be able to apply tenants of ecological systems to human society in order to minimize the impacts on the earth and to understand the importance of diversity along with empathy among all living things, including human relationships.  The goal is to use nature’s model to find ways to be gentler on the environment and live in unison with nature’s systems and cycles  without causing irreparable damage. It also means to develop empathy and honour diversity as nature models.

Since completing my research in ecoliteracy, mainly food security and sustainability, I have not had a chance to really take time to develop lessons that I and other teachers can use.  I teach students, family and friends all the time, just  little bits and pieces, but this on this particular day I decided to start the creation of a unit on forest ecology.  My idea was to document a variety of flora and then go home and organize the pictures and create an Inquiry question that would enable students to begin to investigate and create understandings of how a forest functions and sustains itself.  What I thought would be a half an hour walk turned into an hour and a half and culminated with me coming out on a beautiful back road in the city that I did not know existed.

What follows are some of  the pictures and my meandering thoughts about how I could use these pictures to teach others who may not be able to get out into a coastal rain forest, about the unique relationships  that allow nature to sustain itself.  I can see this fitting into a variety of grade levels and curriculums.  I’ll see what I come up with.

NOTE: this is just a snippet of a unit.

Big Ideas: How can we understand connections and systems by looking at a forest? What are some of the relationships seen? How can you equate or use the relationships you observe in the forest  to human relationships.  Give examples of human  to human relationships and human to nature relationships that model something you noticed from the forest.

The video link at the bottom of the page could be used to Segway into a class discussion as well as the following activities.      


Choose one of the following:


Look at the pictures below and write one paragraph of what you see in the pictures.  Use language that describes the colors, textures, shapes, depth, layers and anything else you notice.

Try to imagine the sounds you might hear in this forest.  Write a paragraph that describes what this forest might sound like if you were standing very still in it.

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Can you name any of the things you see in the pictures?  List them.

What colour seems to dominate all of the pictures?  Using your knowledge of plants cells, adaptations and relationships in nature to explain why you think the colour you chose tends to be so prominent.

Have you seen any of these plants in nature?  Where were they?

Look at the pictures below.  All of these plants are……?

Is there anything they all have in common?

What differences do you see in them.  Record you observations in a chart with the labels, size, shape, colour, detail.

What do you think the purpose of these plants is in the forest?  Research that question and record what you find.

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This is a nurse log.  What is a nurse log and why is it important in the forest?  Can you think of any ways that humans interfere with the importance of a nurse log? Explain.