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.


Are you getting your Vitamin N?

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Vitamin N you say? Yes,  that’s N as in Nature. As mentioned in my last post, one of my comforts is being in nature.  I’ve done a little research on this subject and according to Richard Louev, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle ( is such a thing as nature deficit disorder.  His research suggests that many children and adults are suffering from depression, attention deficit disorder and obesity because of so much time spent connected to technology as opposed to nature.

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Louev is convinced that taking time out to connect with nature, (which can be in cities and parks as well as forests or more remote locations) is the antidote to many of the ailments plagueing the population today.

This leads me to myself and the reasons I might find getting outside everyday so comforting.  Perhaps  it is  because everything slows down for me when I enter a natural environment?  Maybe it is how nature causes me to notice that it never hurries..

For example I notice that  blackberries ripen when there has been just the right conditions for the right amount of time.  This means I can’t say I will always pick blackberriees on August 31st.  Some years I may be picking blackberries as early as July 31st and others it might be almost into October.  Nature takes exactly the amount of time it needs to cycle through the seasons.  One year is never exactly as another but there is a pattern within its gentle cycle that makes me feel safe and secure as I observe it from year to year.

Richard Louev believes and has seen that children can gain a sense of calm and security from spending time in connection  with the natural world and that a if we want to have any hope for this planet it is going to involve having near equal amounts of time spent in nature as opposed to connected to technology.

Another benefit that a nature break gives me is a sense of connection.  We live in a world that in one way is so connected through technology and yet in real time is very disconnected.  How many of us  communicate with our colleagues through email everyday but never actually see them face to face?  How many of our conversations and communications in a day are ‘remote’ or digital?  We lose something when we have no physical connection to each other and experiencing nature is a way to counteract this disconnection.

imageIn nature I begin to feel a connection to the earth that is easy to lose in our technically advanced world.  This can happen during a quick walk around the school yard  at lunch as I notice a leaf or an acorn or when I am out combing the forest for mushrooms or scaling a steep mountain.  The point is these doses of connection with nature do not have to be difficult to get.  They can be had in cities as easily as in forests or farms. I believe that chronic disconnection  is a prominent factor that contributes to  the widespread suffering from conditions such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit and obesity.

I know that we can find biological evidence in the bodies of those who suffer from depression and the like but isn’t it possible that like Gabor Mate likes to say, ” our biology becomes our biography. What do you think the biography of a person who grows up in front of a variety of screens, mostly indoors, playing games with ‘friends’ across town or across the globe and eats alone while engaged in screen time will translate into in their biology?  Isn’t it plausible to think that an existence such as this would be damaging to such a social creature as a human being.?

Think about some of the circumstances and conditions that have been crucial to human civilization and you won’t have to think long to know that one of the keys to our ability to thrive is our natural tendency to form groups and work together toward our common good.  Surely, time spent in a virtual world disconnected from anything natural or ‘real’ is not going to form neural pathways in the brain that prepare us for collaborating and thinking about how the systems of nature model how to protect and honor diveristy in order for species to thrive.

If we don’t teach our children about Vitamin N just as if it were as necessary as sleep or food then what will our world look like in a few generations?  Just as many of our First Nations lost their languages and traditions because they were not able to teach them to their young so too will the ways and means of thriving as a spoecies be lost?

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Don’t get me wrong.  I am not subscribing to some apocolyptic doom and despair  future with no hope.  In fact it is just the opposite.  I feel the work of those such as Richard Loev, Fritjog Cappra, Michael Ableman and Zenobia Barlow and organizations like The Center For Ecoliteracy, the Slow Food Movement and the Children and Nature Network are doing great work to reconnect us with our true source of energy and inspiration.

So I close by asking you again.  Are you getting your Vitamin N?  Have you noticed what kind of sky you are living under today?  Were there stars out last night?  Make a point of getting outside today if only for a few minutes and really notice what you are experiencing.  Even if you are in a city see if you can find one thing that connects you to the natural world.

Notice a leaf on the sidewalk and try to take in something about it that you could share with someone when you get back to the office.  If you have the priviledge of being in a more natural environment notice what the birds or squirrels are doing today.  Simply observe and connect with what nature is today and observe anything different in yourself because of it. Perhaps a clearer, mind, an unfamiliar state of calm or a new found sense of wonder.

Make an effort to think about where you fit in this scheme and remember that we are nature ourselves; part of a grand scheme that requires diversity and connection among each tree, stream. lake, forest, ocean and being. Vitamin N.  No doctor referal or prescription required.