In Honor of Our Earth Mother

Posted on April 22, 2020


I was in kindergarten for the first Earth Day ever, and it had a huge impact on my consciousness.  It was the moment when formal education started giving me ways to think about the land I loved as my source of beauty, my source of freedom, and my most intimate friend.

I am the last of my parents’ five children, but the youngest of the other four was seven years old when I was born, so in many ways, I grew up alone. The others were teens by the time I wanted to go places and do things with them, and they were NOT interested.

Our parents were NOT interested in me–or kids, in general; looking back, I see that almost all conversation with my parents was them giving orders, making deadlines, issuing threats of punishment, and scolding. I have zero memories of either of my parents spending time with me in any of the ways I spent enjoying life with my own children: taking walks, bicycling, hiking, cooking, learning things, having “adventures.”  My role as a child, as best as I could make out, was to GO OUTSIDE and STAY OUTSIDE, unless I was called inside to do chores.

I loved OUTSIDE. The yard at 149 East Avenue had two large Maple trees out front that shaded the living room window from the western sun, a huge Willow tree out back, Lilacs, Lily of the Valley, Day Lilies, Honeysuckle, Peony, and Creeping Myrtle. The back yard transitioned into a large open field of several lots in size, where I played Kickball, Tag, and other games with neighbor kids. From there, I could walk to the cemetery and railroad tracks in one direction, or to the high school in the other direction. I didn’t have a body of water within view of home, but Grass Lake was just two miles away, and I spent as much time as possible there, playing on the playground, meeting friends, and earning the nickname, “Fish.”

I am a Morning Person, 100%. To this day, I often wake up by five a.m., feeling restless and ready to get to outside. As a child, I was allowed to go out as soon as I woke up, and I was expected to safely entertain myself outdoors, unsupervised, all day, until the street lights came on–unless there was work to be done.

To this day, I LOVE to go outside as soon as I wake up; I love to have meals on the patio; and, as I did in childhood, I LOVE to sleep outside, and I do it as often as I like, whether I’m traveling and camping, or simply tenting in the back yard.

As a parent, I could not provide my children with the amount of space, freedom, or wealth that I had as a child, but I certainly could share my love of the natural world with them. I might have had only enough money to take them to a state park, where we’d tent camp and eat Tin Foil dinners, but I spent as much time as I could with them outdoors.

When I was an undergrad in education at EMU, my child wanted to join Cub Scouts, and soon I was serving as a Den Leader and Cub Master. Our involvement with Scouting opened the door for me to volunteer as a Lifeguard at a summer camp, where we were able to live in a cabin all summer. With the exception of a couple of weeks of overnight camps, the campers were usually gone by 4 p.m. each day, and we had the place to ourselves. We rode bikes, played in the lake, watched wildlife, cooked on fires, and generally flourished. It was a great summer. The kids loved CAMP. Both of them would work at summer camps as young adults, and one even briefly pursued a college degree in outdoor recreation. To this day, they are both avid outdoor enthusiasts: hiking, camping, canoeing, cycling, and other outdoor activities are their preferred leisure activities. I think we’d all prefer to live at camp forever, if we could afford it.

As a high school English teacher, I always wanted school to feel a lot less like prison and a lot more like summer camp. I incorporated outdoor experiences, field research, and conservation education into my courses. I found a professional home in the Leopold Education Project, where I met other people from a wide variety of fields whose work and leisure were nature-focused, some of whom would become professional mentors and cherished friends. No photo description available.

On the 50th Earth Day ever, in 2020, I think about the role that school can play in the lives of children who are suffering from trauma at the highest levels in history, because of the devastation wrought by the Corona virus pandemic. I hope that when schools re-open, the focus will be on the health and well-being of the children, teachers, and other members of the school community. One excellent way to promote health is to literally GROUND school in the land–to connect students to the land so that they can heal–and so that they can learn to see the connections between human health and land health.

Getting students outdoors helps improve their creative and critical thinking, their connection to the world around them, and their sense of well-being–by incorporating outdoor experiences and/or by revising curriculum to be more land-based.  We have decades of research that shows the benefits to children and communities of learning in and about nature.

In a time of environmental crisis such as the one we live in, turning the focus of education to land health is of utmost importance, but perhaps now, as we see how closely human health is connected to the health of our Earth Mother, education can, once again, put its feet on the ground, its hands in the soil, and reap a harvest of healing for the land and her people.

Related Links

Project WILD

Project WET

Green Teacher

Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents Note: while this book has a lot of great content, I do have to add a cautionary note. Focusing on environmental devastation can emotionally overwhelm students and cause them to shut down. While I admire the work of the educators compiled in this volume, I encourage teachers to focus on helping students to establish a relationship with the natural world that is pleasurable, above all, for best results. I contributed a tiny bit to this book, but I presented on Land Ethic in High School ELA at NCTE with the authors of this book and my EMWP colleague, David Kangas.

Good Grief Network is a network of folks who “build personal resilience while strengthening community ties to help combat despair, inaction, eco-anxiety, and other heavy emotions in the face of daunting systemic predicaments.” I am proud to say that this organization is co-founded by my former student, Aimee Lewis-Reau, and her co-founder, Laura Schmidt.

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Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor and closeuplisa eddy is a writer, researcher, educator, advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

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