A Beautiful Immersion

Jun 23 2013

Wonderful guest post by Maegan Puzas, Our Place teaching assistant!

A Beautiful Immersion

If you take a moment to look around at your surroundings, what do you see? You may be sitting inside, staring at an electronic screen for hours or even sitting inside listening to your family argue over what they will cook for dinner tonight. If you pass through the door to outside, head swimming with oncoming frustrations and uncertainties of what tomorrow will bring, you mind may even become more confused hearing the cars zooming by or hearing the commotion going with the neighborhood kids down the street. If you close your eyes and wish for a split second to get a break from it all, where does your mind take you? Do you dream of a quiet, peaceful surrounding where you can rest your turbulent mind? Maybe you should look toward the woodlot on the outskirts of your property, the one you have always been curious about but never thought to enter? Just maybe a stroll through the woods may give you some peace. Now what do you see?

Henry David Thoreau, a classic American naturalist and poet, once said “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Thoreau was a great philosopher and naturalistic writer who took the extra step to discover the mystery of what our wooded lands had to offer. Not only did he explore the woods, but he learned another side to life from immersing himself in forests. I believe we should all dedicate a moment of our lives to learn from the woodland mystery because, even if we learn more about our physical landscape, we may even learn more about ourselves in the process.

When I started at the beginning of this week as an Assistant Teacher at the Biocitizen School of Field Environmental Philosophy, my mind was full of this mystery of what kinds of experiences I would learn with the kids and what kinds of experiences I would learn about myself immersed in the woods. As a recent Biology graduate of UMASS Amherst, my mind has always been rooted in the deep, biotic nature of our surroundings. I love to learn about the benefits of all the organisms that comprise our world and how they interact with one another and the Earth in a cyclical fashion. I guess you could call this Ecology or, in a sense, could call me an Ecological Biologist. I’m also an active poet and like to detail my experiences in verse, especially when it comes to being in the naturalistic world. Regardless, I’ve always loved nature and being outdoors, dating back to early childhood.

The first day of summer camp season (as well as my first day), we decided to explore the wilderness of Mt. Tom. As a mountain that I had never hiked before, I was intrigued as to what the day would bring. Focusing less on the apparent physical challenges we would face, I decided to rather focus my energy on the kinds of things I could help teach from the natural and scenic landscape of this mountain on the Metacomet Ridge in the Easthampton/Holyoke area. When we arrived, I took note of the trees and shale, dated from past volcanic activity. Packs on our backs and eagerness of exploration on our faces, our small group of adventurers took off, up the almost vertical side of the mountain! Though we took frequent rests and realized we were all more tired going up than we thought we would be, our positivity that we would eventually reach the top kept us trekking on. At one point, we even had to rely on each other and use our team building skills (with the help of Kurt) to traverse some difficult patches. At about midday, we eventually reached the top!

At this point, scanning the beauty of the landscape below, my heart was full of contentment at our location and gladness for our safety. However, my body was in a physically rough state. It had been awhile since I’d gone on a hike that challenged my physical strength, endurance, and mental ability. I’ve usually been the “leisurely” hiker, who more so has taken in the landscape piece by piece at a slower rate, so this Mt. Tom hike was a big step for me. Climbing up, my mental clarity was blurring and my doubts began to set in. What would happen if we couldn’t make it to the top? Where were we exactly?  Where could we even turn back or even get back to “The Beast” (the Biocitizen van) if we needed to? Would we even be safe? It was at the top of this mountain when my mind stopped racing and I starting wondering how this company of exploratory kids was able to keep their endurance roaring, even when I was having troubles of my own. They were real troopers on this expedition, who clearly had mountain climbing super powers of their own!

I was very impressed with myself to make it up this mountain and even more impressed with the strength of these kids. I learned that we are all able to face our fears and weed through the mental confusion if we keep trekking on in the face of uncertainty. What is life without a bit of risk and exploration in the woods? We have so much power of body and mind as human beings and I feel as though we fail to realize this most times. Thoreau realized he could finally “live” by being immersed in nature. Could we all eventually take a moment to come to this realization in our own ways? Could we all find a means to “live” like these extraordinary campers did on Mt. Tom and learn in the process? Biotic immersion is a form of “living” in itself and our capabilities to thrive as members of Mother Earth will carry us through to realizing the beauty and sacredness of being immersed in nature.

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