Monday, March 10, 2008

Words of Wisdom

I work with a local non-profit organization as a volunteer mentor on trips where high school kids are taken to local sites where they actively participate in restoration efforts. Last week was my last field trip with a group of local high school students. I, and other mentors, work with kids from one class on several field trips during the school year where we all head out to the site and plant native grasses and acorns, build bird boxes, learn about watersheds, native plants, and bird identification. That's the serious part of the day. Most of the time the kids are waddling around in rain boots and rain gear, slinging mud at one another, rolling down hills, chucking rocks, eating lunch, playing educational games or singing at the top of their lungs. Inevitably all of the above are all happening at the same time.

Different high schools from around the area are free to participate, but I worked with a group of students from the local city. The majority of the students were African American, Latino or Asian. Not many of them have an opportunity to be out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. On our very first day the kids struggled with the prospects of having to use a port-o-potty, and the choice of muddy clothes but cool, or dorky boots but clean. But once we started our trek I heared exclamations like this, "Oh my gosh! I saw a turkey! Did you know turkey's can fly?! The one I saw flew away!" There were also some shouts of glee and wonder when they saw a heard of large animals up on the hill, "What are those?" They asked. They were local cows, which meant that those dry cow-patties were perfect for slinging at school mates. They were disappointed, however, to learn that they couldn't pet the cows.

On our last day, after planting native grasses, sedges and rushes to stabilize a stream bank, we gathered to share our hopes and words of wisdom. One girl asked us to continue the program even if her group had been too rambunctious. Others wanted to return to the site to see how the plants had grown. I asked them to be mentors themselves, some day, but I wish I had added more:

"Remember that actions speak more than our words, but in combination you have a primal shout! Take with you the feeling of mud, sun, fresh air, flowers, birds and share them. What you've done today is yours, and you can do whatever you want with it: plant your own garden, identify the birds you see, share your sense of delight with others, be mindful of where your water comes from and where it goes. Today you were a scientist -- you asked questions about your environment, you tested the best ways to plant seedlings, you made observations. Be a scientist every day. Ask questions, look for answers. Never sit still."