contributed by Sara Callaway
Two months ago, I moved. High school teenagers have accomplished this with more grace. I didn’t even change towns. Just houses. But man, did I go kicking and screaming. Ok, moping and weeping was more like it in reality. Either way, it wasn’t pretty. I moved because I had to, and let me tell you, the house I moved to is less than exciting in my opinion. For one thing, the yard is tiny and boxed in on all sides by neighbors. For a wide-open-spaces country girl like me, the contrast has been appalling. And it’s taking me months to begin to get over it. But one thing that’s helping is the weeds. Seriously.
A couple of weeks ago, I looked out the kitchen window into the back yard and though, “Gosh, those violets sure look good!” The back yard is a thick shag carpet of violets, all lush and gorgeous now. I just couldn’t help myself. I opened the back door and wandered out. “Who’s back here?” I thought. Other than violets, who are my neighbors in this new place? I found several old friends – violets, chickweed, pokeweed, woolly elephant’s foot. Their presence here comforts me. Yes, these are plants I know, and who know me as well.
I slowly meandered, teacup in hand, ankle deep in violets. “Yes, yes, hello friends. Glad you’re here!” But wait! What’s this? Now here’s a plant I don’t know. And I thought to myself, “Well, with a yard this small, it would be a shame not to know all these plants. There’re probably not more than a dozen different ones here, most of which I already know. Maybe I can make it my goal to learn them all. Just a handful of mysteries to solve. That should be quite do-able.”
Thankfully, I work with plant geeks. And we’ve been identifying weeds at work. So Monday morning, one of my fellow botany friends brings in a new weed to identify and wouldn’t you know it? It’s the same mystery weed I just found in my yard! What are the odds?! Either way, it was awesome because now I had both incentive and help. Yet try as we might, we couldn’t figure it out. We consulted Weeds of the South, Peterson’s Wildflowers Guide, Lone Pine Guide to Wildflowers, Google, online sources – no luck. After three days of searching, the mystery was remaining a mystery. So I posted a picture of it on Facebook. I have several botany friends, and I hoped for a bit of luck from one of them. Sure enough, one guy knew it! But how? I asked him, and you know what he said? “When I was learning plants, I decided I would start by learning all the plants in the yard. This is one of them.”
Who is this mystery plant? 3-Seeded Mercury. The tiny seedpods are distinctly 3-lobed and the name “Mercury” comes from the bracts – frilly things that surround the seed pods all up and down the stem of this plant. Someone thought they looked like the wings on the feet of the messenger god Mercury (Roman mythology). Thus, 3-Seeded Mercury. It likes moisture, a bit of shade, disturbed areas, and somewhat fertile ground. I’ve never had a yard in part shade before – maybe that’s why I’ve never seen this native until now. I’m glad it remained a mystery for a while – that made discovering it so much more exciting! Hello, Acalypha rhomboidea, it’s nice to get to meet you! Now we get to be a bit more familiar. Now I have a new plant friend.
So. What’s in your back yard?
Contributed by Sarah Hubbard
Or a 30 day get outside and breathe for a moment challenge?
It will change your life and bring you closer to Earth and to yourself. Ask anyone who does it regularly. Ask me about it anytime. I love to tell stories about my sit spot and I love hearing other people’s stories and questions even more!
The first time I did it I almost didn’t make it all the way through. I started making excuses why I couldn’t and then around day 20 or so I saw my first coyote up close – really close – it also saw me. It was thrilling, unbelievable, scary, and glorious all at the same time. That was all it took. I was hooked to this sit spot thing. It has become so much more than seeing all the cool animals I see on a regular basis or the stories I can tell. What I’ve learned is that I want to be friends with nature and learn from it so I could see more and understand more about it and more about myself.
5 years later I still have the practice – Lately though I’ve been a little slack.
I re-challenge myself yearly because that first 30 days showed me a way to slow down, unplug, and become one with something beyond myself. And because I get slack about it like everyone else and I need something to kick myself back into gear.
I do it over and over again because it changed my life and continues to.
Since my first challenge, whenever I go which is still almost daily even as I enter the 5th year of it – my mind becomes clearer, I can think better and I am way more productive. The desire to live in a good way is stronger in me, I take better care of myself, and I try to take better care of the planet we call home. Not to mention there is so much happening out there I miss when I’m not there that I almost can’t even stand to be away.
I know 30 days seems like a long time to commit to doing something that takes you away from your ‘regular’ life. Who has time – even 5 minutes in our busy lives to do something like just go watch nature? Certainly not me – which is why I make myself take this challenge every year. And it isn’t any easier for me than it is anyone else.
The reason the challenge is for 30 days rather than other lengths of time is that it’s a month. It takes about a month to fully settle into the
practice. You start reaping the benefits almost immediately, but it takes time to build up to it being something you just have to do for yourself every day – and who doesn’t need to do a little more for themselves a little more often?
If 30 days is too long or too much commitment jump in anyhow and figure out what you want to do.
There are really no rules to this thing.
I just want you to go outside, sit down and breathe.
AND I want you to do it with me.
Go once a week for 10 minutes. Go 5 minutes in the parking lot of Target – there is a sparrow family that lives in the letters on the sign. Publix has sparrows also. Take your whole family and lay down on a blanket in the grass and watch the clouds. Check fa-tweet-agram. Just do it outside. If it’s raining and you’re not into getting wet open a window and look out it. That counts.
We’ve got a facebook page that is already 70 members strong called Rooted: A Sit Spot Community. There we share our stories, observations, questions, photos, poetry – whatever as long as it pertains to our relationship with our sit spot. Please join us there if you want – I will be posting regularly during my challenge (it helps me stay focused). You can also use Instagram and #sitspot and #wildintelligence. We can look for one another’s posts.
And… if you are not into the social media thing and want to jump in with us anyhow please do! If posting photos or feeling like you have to report in makes it more of a challenge for you then do what works for you!.
Go for 5 minutes a day or go for 40. Go 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there. Go twice a week if that’s all you can do – go
when you can. Have a phone conversation outside rather than inside if you need to. Ideally, you just go with nothing and take a break. If you can’t do that then do what you can.
Just go outside and sit down.
It’s really that simple.
And… it really will change your life.
The spot doesn’t have to be pristine and beautiful like some perfect photo in a National Geographic magazine of Yosemite National Park. Your front porch is fine. A parking lot is fine.
If you have trouble figuring out what you need or what you can do – ask for help. If you need encouragement – get it. And don’t feel like you’re letting anyone down if you can only manage 5 minutes here and there. We ALL know what a busy world we live in.
Most of us agree that getting outside is something we all need to do a little more often. Most of us also agree that we are way too busy and need to slow down. This is an invitation to do that to the best of your ability with other people who are also doing this to the best of their ability.
The official kick off is Oct 1, 2015 (makes keeping the count a little easier to start on the 1st rather than the 17th), but if that date doesn’t work for you join us when you are ready and able.
So… will you join me?
Are you in?
When: Sunday, October 4, 2015 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Where: State Botanical Garden of Georgia
Who: This Ramble is open to 12 intrepid and curious explorers aged 16 and up
Cost: $35 (register here)
Ramble: A walk taken for pleasure, especially in the countryside, typically without definite route or goal.
This Ramble is open to serendipity. We might find feathers, tracks and hairs. We might learn about trees or plant medicines. Or how to move in the woods. We might eat something wild or discover who lives in that weird little hole in the bank. Or learn more about how Things Are Working Together.
And there could be: Dunh – Dunh – Dunh, Games!
The terrain is rolling, wooded hills. It is not particularly rugged, but we will not limit our wander to the trails. There may be fallen trees to cross and gullies to jump, Hot Diggity! The pace will be slow with lots of stops to examine what we find.
This Ramble is Rain-or-Shine! Wheeeeeeee!
October weather can vary from quite warm to cool and wet. Bring rain gear if rain is in the forecast. If the weather is at all cool, we recommend that you dress in several thin layers of wool or fleece (not cotton), and wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes with thick wool or synthetic socks.
Please bring a full liter of water! A notebook and pencil will also be super handy. Optional items could include a camera, binoculars, snack and field guides for things that you are curious about. Bring what you need to feel comfy for a few hours in the woods, but don’t weigh yourself down.
And don’t forget to pack your curiosity. A willingness to get on your knees and LOOK is invaluable! Luckily that weighs nothing.
Please leave your animal companions at home.
We will meet at the first main parking lot right next to the Orange Trail. Please be prompt.
contributed by Tommy Tye
Years ago, I helped out at a “nature-oriented” summer camp. I have a strong memory of a flawless day in early summer. The lazy buzz of cicadas filtered through the shady forest. Waves whispered their secrets along the shore of the pond. And delightful laughter warbled spontaneously from running children playing a hide-and-seek game.
Practically Norman Rockwell, isn’t it?
Until “Don’t go in the GREENERY!” admonished the naturalist. Zzzrrrrrppp (record scratch)!
Why in the world would we not let kids go in the forest at a nature camp? Well, the plain fact was that the naturalists weren’t comfortable in nature and they sure didn’t know how to help others be comfortable and safe there. So much for connection and learning.
At Wild Intelligence, we live in the greenery.
We eat from the wild, catch things, climb, crawl, swing swords, hide, seek, shout, sneak, dance, practice archery, run through the woods, tell stories, build forts, carve with knives, imagine we are animals, play in the creek, and make fires.
Along the way, we become vigorous and agile and alert. We become comfortable in nature, and in our own skins. We also learn from our own direct personal experience, which may be the best teacher we ever have. If we are not careful, we will fall in love with nature. And ourselves.
So we play. A lot.
What looks like meaningless play, isn’t meaningless or play. It’s what healthy children do for a living.
Of course, we share a great deal of skills and information about our world, like how to play in the “greenery” safely. Or how to make medicine, and what the birds are saying, and how to get along with your neighbor. But we place more emphasis on relationship. Our work is less about learning objectives, and more about connection.
Judging by this article by David Sobel (1), we’ve got all our grits in one bowl. He implores environmental educators to provide plenty of down-and-dirty rollin’ around in nature and to emphasize hands-on experience over systemic knowledge.
Awwww Yeeaaahhhh! That’s us!
Mr. Sobel not only suggests that these embodied experiences in the wild make kids healthy and happy, but that they will become more environmentally caring adults. And he cites several studies to back it up. In short, Dirty Kids Now = Fierce Lovers of Nature Later.
That’s what I’m talking about! I think me and David would get along just fine.
Pro Tip #1 – Direct, personal experience in nature benefits everyone, not just kids. Get Out There!
How? Well, I’m glad you asked! We’ll share a lot more on this soon (so subscribe!), but until then you can:
If you want to know more about us or would like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you.
1 Sobel, D. (2012, July/August). Look, Don’t Touch. Orion Magazine. Retrieved from https://orionmagazine.org/article/look-dont-touch1
contributed by Sarah Hubbard
The thunder booms and the rain pours as the sun sets on this day. The wren sings her song as heavy drops of water fall on her.
In my body I practice being like the wren.
I learn from the wren how to be in the rain.
How to let the cold drops fall on me – soak me to the bone. How to know when it is safe to be in the rain to eat and when it isn’t.
Like the wren, I wait for the thunder and lightning to get heavier knowing it won’t be long before I will have to seek shelter.
In watching the wren as she makes her way in the pouring rain I wonder if she is as uncomfortable as me. But, I can’t help myself I’ve got to just be here. It’s all I can do tonight it seems.
I consider the little wren. She is probably still raising young. Wren can raise up to three broods in one season. Those poor poor mama birds – they sure have to work hard. A lot harder than I do with only the one brood. Thankfully, I get a full 18 years or so to get it done. They get about 30 days to get their babies hatched, fed, skilled enough to somewhat survive, and free. IF their young paid attention they might survive the Coopers Hawk. I don’t envy birds and the job of raising their young at all…
As the story unfolds in mind I figure she has to be out getting food for her babies – there’s a lot of rain coming down tonight.
And there it is… the gripe of a young and hungry juvenile wren confirming my theory. (Last year, I thought that on going begging call was an alarm call – “ALARM! ALARM! COOPERS HAWK ON THE HUNT!” This year, I know what it is because I got lucky enough to see a juvenile wren making it while flitting its wings and following its mama around. Nice reminder that as soon as I think I know something I really don’t.)
The thunder booms.
The wren gets what she’s after, disappears, and the baby gets quiet. It must still be in the nest…
For me, it is back to the sound of the rain and the thunder.
Because I have not yet learned how to truly ‘quiet my mind’ it wanders into where is the nest? Is it the same wren I see in the back yard almost every day? Will her hard work pay off and her young make it to adulthood? Will they stay here or will they move on? How will I ever know?
I ask myself frequently with my busy schedule and full life how I have time to have a sit spot practice. The only answer I can come up with is that I just can’t help it. Somehow, all these questions I have need answers.
For me, the best way to get it – at least for now – is to go to the woods and sit…
contributed by Sarah Hubbard
People often ask me what it is that we ‘DO’ at Wild Intelligence. What can you expect in one of your programs?
I usually laugh when I get this question because it is a very difficult answer to give in the time most people want to allow me to explain.
My answer is usually, ‘It depends on who I am talking to’.
You see, every program we offer is specifically catered to the people we are working with by the people who are mentoring in it. We design everything we do based on what we call ‘Meeting them where they are at.” This means we strive to do what it takes to show our participants how awesome Earth is while also helping them see how awesome they are.
Sounds kind of cheesy right?
But, it is the truth and it is what we ‘Do‘.
We believe Earth is pretty dang amazing.
We believe the better we get to know her the more awesome she becomes.
We also believe that every person we work with comes to us with their own life story, experiences, talents, and needs – no matter the age.
The more attention we pay to our participants needs the quicker we close the gap of disconnection.
Some adults need to sit around a fire with good friends while sharing stories, singing songs, and looking to slow down. Some adults need to connect through hard skills like fire making, hearth cooking, building timber framed homes, or hunting skills. Some adults want to wander the woods in search of beautiful plants, mushrooms, and birds. Every adult is different and what they need is different.
Then, there are the kids.
Their needs vary like the weather. They have typical patterns for different seasons of life AND they are all different like the days throughout a year. They are somewhat predictable, but you never know what each will be like.
At Wild Intelligence we accept the challenge of getting to know our participants through the scope of a program. We talk to them, provide opportunities for opening up. We watch closely paying attention to fears and passions. We take into consideration the dynamic of the group we have and what its needs are. Our goal is to carry our programs in a way where our participants not only become connected to Nature, but to each other as well AND to their mentors.
Our programs are ever changing because the needs of every group is different.
We put a lot of time and energy into creating great experiences. Our goal is to make it easy for our participants to see just how incredibly cool Earth/ Nature really is.
We play with friction fire a lot. We build and tend a lot of fires – except in the summer when we spend our time exploring the creek. We make salves, ropes. We make a lot of bows out of privet and race bamboo boats down the ‘river’. We carve things and build forts out of debris. We do a lot of wandering in the woods. We follow the tracks of animals, looking at plants and trees, bugs, birds, and mushrooms. We play games. We tell stories. Some days all we do is pick up sticks. We build fairy houses, make tea over the fire, dance in the rain, and make funny faces. Sometimes we just lie down on a hillside to watch the sun set through the beech trees on a fall day.
We seldom promise we will cover everything we could potentially do because every mentor is different – just like our participants – and we all have different ways we go about being outside and connecting to Earth.
What we do promise is an experience that will make your desire to have a great relationship with nature stronger – because it’s just so awesome we don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want it. Our passion for it is contagious.
Our mission is to connect people to Nature, Community and Self.
Which is really all wrapped up into the great wander we like to call ‘Life’.
We believe that when we connect with Nature the rest comes along for the ride. We’re here to help you or your children figure out what works best for you to get there. Then, we support you in that journey.
If you want the short answer… well… I will do my best to explain it by saying “We provide Environmental Education Experiences. Remember when you were a kid and played outside. When the world was your oyster and anything was possible. We give that to our participants’.
Honestly, I don’t really like that answer…
contributed by Sara Callaway
Elaeagnus (ill-ee-ag-nus) is what Carl called it when he showed me the plant in his back yard. “Makes good berries,” he said, picking one off and eating it. This was way before I could tell a dandelion from a daisy, back when the word “permaculture” was something chemical you did to your hair, back before I had grey hairs. I think it was the year 2004. That’s only relevant because now it’s 2015 – which means it has taken 11 years for that seed of a name and a berry that Carl planted in me to finally sprout and leaf into the light of day. 11 YEARS. Talk about slow education!
The next time this plant nosed its way into my awareness was 2011 – 7 years after that first incident. It was graduation day for Wild Intelligence, and I was walking my dad through the woods to the pavilion at Orange Twin. As we walked, this heavenly fragrance kept filling m y nose. Gosh, something sweet, luscious, intoxicating. What was it? What was it? What was blooming? I had to know, so I followed my nose. And it led me to this plant – a shrub of a thing, really, that had these miniscule little white trumpet-shaped flowers. How could such a big fragrance come from such a small flower?!? And yet, it did and it does.
In March this year, 4 years after the heavenly aroma caught my attention, I led an Intro to Coyote class, and gave nature names to each of my students. All the nature names were notable plants that we would encounter on our journey that day. Elaeagnus was one of them. When I stopped to show the plant to her namesake for the day, I waxed poetic about her blossoms, and my student asked me, “So when does it flower?” And you know, I didn’t know. “Um, sometime in the spring?” I said. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember when it had flowered that first time. But it didn’t matter, because now I had a NEED to know. Now I had a reason to pay attention. “Let’s keep an eye on it this year and find out!” I said. So I did. Everywhere I went this spring, I looked for Elaeagnus, and I looked to see if she was in bloom. The first flowers appeared in early April. More and more followed until she was in full bloom in early May. But that wasn’t all.
Now I had the answer to the flower question a new question opened up for me. When does she fruit? Another name for Elaeagnus is “autumn-olive.” Does that mean she fruits in autumn? Like, in September? Again, I needed to know. So I watched her. She lives along the side of my old driveway, so every time I took the trash and recycling to the curb (it’s romantic, I know), I would check in – are there fruits yet? Eventually, tiny green fruits appeared. And grew. And grew. And one day in July, as I stopped in to check, Eureka! Red fruits! I ate one. Tasted like a tiny tangy wild plum. As the weeks passed, the flavor grew sweeter and more berry-like with a little bit of grit like a pear has. Definitely worth eating. So I reckon that the name “autumn-olive” hails from further north of the equator than we are in Athens, Georgia. Here, Elaeagnus fruits in July. Look for her next year – shrubby like privet, silver bottoms of her leaves, heavenly flowers in May, tasty red fruits in July. Maybe your journey won’t take 11 years. But it will be worth it if it does.
contributed by Tommy Tye
The September morning made grand promises, teasing me with hints of the coming fall. I drifted down in the darkness to the the edge of the woods behind my home. It’s my special place to sit and watch the sunrise and get the news from the woodland telegraph.
Rich experiences abound, even near a suburban home. And bathing in Nature feels far more rewarding than drowning in misinformation and depressing reports from the Daily Disaster or the Thoughtless Tribune. The forest is so alive, and I can’t help but feel more alive when I am there. And it never tries to sell me things I don’t need or tell me what to think.
Or who to be.
I wasn’t in stealth mode though, and my ambling sent three deer porpoising through the tall, dew-wet grass. My senses blossomed even as my thoughts fled to the Nothing where they belong. Oh, that soundless bounding! Our nostrils flared and our lungs filled and my heart ran wide-eyed with the deer.
I am in love with that moment, a puppy licking gravy off a plate.
I snuggled up to my water oak and watched the Sun kiss his way lovingly over the face of the Earth. I’d been sitting quietly for 20 minutes or so and really don’t know what made me turn my head. There was no sound of footfalls, no flash of movement in my peripheral vision, but something told me, “Look there, NOW!”
I had begun listening more closely to what the birds say and maybe my subconscious heard an alarm call. But, I suspect it was more of a feeling, a sense of change in energy.
As I turned my head to the right, I saw a splash of burnished red moving behind the high grass. With fey grace, this long, slender creature trotted by, bold as brass, not more than 20 yards away. I can still see the long, thick, white-tipped tail streaming out behind and the way it held it’s head down as if it were trying to get by without being noticed.
It seems unlikely to me that this wary little Red Fox didn’t notice the big monkey sitting in it’s living room. I bet many’s the time that it waited me out or sneaked around me in the bush. But that day, it’s as if it trusted me just enough to go about it’s business discreetly but directly. I felt as though I’d been through some kind of rite of passage or admitted to a secret society.
Or received a blessing.
I don’t need anyone to tell me what to think about that.
Everyone at Wild Intelligence will remember you always for all the joy, the passion, the wisdom, and life you brought to us all. Thank you for the time you gave to us, to mentoring, and to the friendships we forged. We will see you in the light of the sun and hear your song in that of the birds. Rest in peace our Coyote Brother.