October 23, 2007

Unstructured time in nature, baby


Above the wooden "No Swimming" sign, a bright red sign warns: "Violators subject to $100 fine. And/Or 15 days in Jail." That sign has been there, at the side of Pretty Colour Lake for as long as I can remember. We've always treated it as a joke.

Imagine three criminals exchanging stories in the prison dining hall.
"Whadda you in for?"
"Assault and robbery."
"Me? I went swimming in Pretty Colour Lake."

I'd told my students about the sign, but I think most of them thought I was teasing. When we arrived at the lakes, they kept saying, "The sign! It's really there!"

We'd come, simply, to leave the city behind to spend "unstructured time in nature." After reading Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, a book which talks about how children nowadays suffer from what he calls "nature-deficit disorder," my students kept saying, "We need some unstructured time in nature! The book says so." So I signed up for one of our buses and brought my students on a fall day to one of my favourite places.

We hiked back to the second lake, Round Lake, a small glacial lake with incredible green-blue water. Some of the students wandered off to explore the trails, climb trees, or sit quietly with their journals. Another group sat near the edge of the water, chatting lazily and looking out over the lake. Formed by a glacier, this small deep lake is surrounded by hills that rise sharply from the trails. We were the only humans in this little valley of hardwoods and cedar trees.

Of course, my students found the clear water of the lake, on this unseasonably warm fall day, impossible to resist. The threat of a prison sentence did not deter them. They stripped off what clothes they could, the guys getting down to boxer shorts and the women to t-shirts or sports bras. The water gets deep immediately, so they had only to step off the shore to plunge in over their heads. Other students climbed the cedar trees that hang over the edge to leap more dramatically into the cold water.

Not everyone went swimming. RedCurlyHair and LovelyVoice sat on a rock in the sun, sketching. One student had brought her camera to snap photos of the illegal activities. TallGuy demonstrated his prowess at skipping stones. CameraGirl set down her camera to fashion a boat out of twigs and leaves, a sailboat that actually did float across the water. FromElsewhere, who was playing in the water at the edge, picked up a hunk of smooth clay, and the students began rubbing the clay on their faces, their hands, their arms. We were talking quietly, in hushed voices as if we were in church, and rubbing the clay onto skin was a strange ritual somehow in keeping with the changing leaves, the sound of geese overhead, and the soft autumn air.

Eventually, it was time to walk back to the buses. Storm clouds had rolled in, and rain came crashing down. Half of my students were already wet, and no one seemed to mind. By the time we got to the parking lot, big puddles had formed, and we splashed through them gleefully. Everyone was laughing and talking as we piled onto the bus, some clutching handfuls of wild grapes. SparklyEyes said to me, as she walked soggily past, "This was so wonderful. It's like all the stress of the semester just melted away."

Into the water

One of my students climbing out to leap into the lake.


Linda said...

Sounds like a wonderful day. Oddly, it was too cold here today for such things.

Ianqui said...

Wow, I'm insanely jealous of this outing. Even if we could get out of the city, there's no way I could justify it in my field. You'd think--Mathematical Forestry...but if only that's really what it was!

Liz Miller said...

I am SO jealous of your students. Why don't I have any teachers that do this kind of stuff?

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

There's a 3-acre park at the end of my street which some people are talking about improving. Right now it's just trees, rocks, grasses and chipmunks; some people would like to put in slides, things like that.

It's assumed that I would like slides, too, since I have small children, and yesterday evening at a neighborhood meeting I tried to explain that I don't. I like trees. My explanation didn't go off very well -- and now I know I just should have shouted:

I want unstructured time in nature, baby!

Every single one of my neighbors would have related to that.

zombieswan said...

WOnderful day. I totally love it that you find ways to fit this work into your classes. I always feel a bit like a rebel when I drag them out onto the lawn to sit and talk about poetry or whatnot. (whatnot.) Let alone taking them to a lake. But, of course, most of the lakes around HERE have alligators. And that is totally not hyperbole. Just true. So I'd probably not get a pass to go. :)

Yankee T said...

Sounds so wonderful. If I had had ONE instructor like you, I probably wouldn't have dropped out of college way back when.

Anonymous said...

Just an appreciation: I think that photo may be the best illustration of a title I've ever seen.

Rana said...

I love the little tree boat!

I keep racking my brains for a way to incorporate some outdoor time into my EH class next semester, but the schedules here are so tight it's nearly impossible to get students off campus. *pout*

Maybe a weekend hiking trip?

Unknown said...

I want to be in your class. :)

With homeschooling, we've made it a priority to get out into nature, to nature journal, to experience hiking and breathing real air and to watch birds.

It's so great that you would provide that to your college kids!

Terrific photos.

BeachMama said...

Your students are so fortunate to have you as their teacher. You give them so much more than a lesson in a classroom. This is the stuff that will stay with them forever.

Kudos jo(e)

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I love that photo of the little stick sail boat.

Sarah Sometimes said...

In my mind I am still the same age as your student climbing out on the tree branch. I can see myself in college, doing things like that, and it doesn't seem possible that that was, oh, quite a number of years ago, decades, in fact.