Musings by Jacob Haag, 2016 Ice Age Trail Alliance Intern
It all started with a hike in the woods. First as a mentor to fourth graders as part of the Summer Saunters program through Lodi’s school district; now, years later, in my 20’s, as an Intern with the Ice Age Trail Alliance. It’s the dawning realization of how crucial it was for me, personally, to get outside in nature as a kid, and how important I think it is for others to have a similar experience. Now, as a group leader, I get to lead bus-loads of kids through a series of stretches and jumping jacks and encourage them to scream at the top of their lungs, “I am a star!” Why? Because it’s a fun way to energize bodies and minds after a long bus ride and readying them for their immersion into nature.
For me as a kid, summer was the best time of the year, when I was able to cut loose from the bounds of traditional school. A time where I built forts in the woods, chased fire flies, and ran wild in the outdoors, exploring and testing my surrounding environment. What I see as a hike leader is the paradox of Summer School where kids return to the classrooms they so eagerly left, perhaps classroom environments which fail to inspire them, without the freedom to explore the lush green world of summer.
I’m honored to be part of the effective treatment for this paradox, which is quite simply, getting the little rascals outdoors. The Ice Age Trail Alliance’s Saunters program provides an effective medium for interaction and exploration in nature. A week of hiking allows children to disconnect from the conventional walls of the classroom and the technology filled world that surrounds them. Reflecting back on my own childhood, and the ever advancing technology since then, our society continues to progress through the evolution of technology, and we as a populous, are losing our connection to nature. Today’s youth are not spared this evolution.
Climbing, touching, seeing, smelling; being invited to participate with all of their sensory systems gives kids the opportunity to touch base with their ancestral rhythms and reconnect with the 3-D, real-time aspect of nature. As hike leader I witnessed this vivid immersion igniting kids’ eagerness to explore these new surroundings as they clambered into Interstate State Park’s famous pothole formations, as they eagerly collected plants and seeds for investigation under a microscope.
It was great fun to see the astonishment as students realized the fragile Monarch they saw feeding on Milkweed was going to make the great journey to Mexico. It amazed the kids that so much is still unknown about nature in spite of the fact that we are surrounded by an abundance of knowledge.
My hope is that the children’s realization of the complexity of nature serves to transform their perspective of the vast environment that surrounds them. We all fall prey to the personal perspectives that fog the lens through which we experience the world. I know from my own experience, being immersed in the grandness and complexity of nature helps me realize how minuscule my own problems are in the broad scheme of things. It all started with a hike in the woods – who knew it would lead to a sense of wholeness and connection to life?