There we were: three people of color trekking through what looked to be an enchanted forest, welcoming us with assortment of tree branches covered in moss and carved paths. To get here, we had traveled our own long paths both literally and figuratively. My daughter and I are from Chicago and Tiffany from New York City. Yet, through our love of nature and educating others about the environment, Tiffany and I found ourselves gleefully charging through IslandWood’s beautiful campus, having just begun our journey in the Urban Environmental Education Masters program.
Our first walk through the trails brought with it a curious excitement, much like the excitement about our voyage to fulfill our dreams of teaching about environmental stewardship and environmental justice, begging us miles away from our homes. The natural paths greeted us, providing a backdrop to our experience. We were on a journey that at times in our lives seemed so far away—a road seemingly less traveled by those in our home communities.
But while we were far from our familiar landscapes, the love for our home environments was nestled within our steps. The shining sun seemed to have traveled with us and sent down familiar rays. I am from a place filled with deciduous forests, and while the conifers were new aesthetically to me, their interaction with the various birds and critters on their branches rang familiar.
Tiffany, an avid birder, recounted stories to me of photographing birds in her New York City neighborhood and how she admired their interaction, even within the city where nature could be sometimes overlooked. I watched as she transferred this knowledge to my daughter and I. She showed us true flies, identified bird songs, ferns, and called out to hiding birds we were hoping to glimpse. We walked through Douglas Fir, Western hemlock, alder, and Western red cedar, mimicking our favorite nature narrators we grew up watching, my daughter giggling and adding to the natural sounds floating through the air with the circulating wind. Tiffany identified various flora and fauna in a British accent—a moment my daughter captured on her tablet and watches to this day.
This type of transferability is a concept we continue to explore in our Urban Environmental Education classes—the ability to help students with diverse life experiences connect knowledge of the natural world to familiar places at home, no matter the landscape. In classes and in our practicums, we have searched for ways to explore the interconnectedness of nature everywhere. It is a concept that has opened my eyes to differing ways of teaching students about nature.
That day on IslandWood trails, Tiffany, my daughter and I were bridging connections with nature in an unfamiliar setting, showing the power of nature to embrace everyone and welcome personal discoveries of all kinds.
Rasheena Fountain and Tiffany Adams are graduate students in the 2016-2017 class of Urban Environmental Education, offered in partnership with Antioch University Seattle. Learn more or apply.
The topics Rasheena explores here will also be part of the 4th annual Multicultural Environmental Education Conference, held Saturday June 3rd in Seattle. This is an opportunity for educators of all backgrounds to come together and explore theories, practices and support systems in their field. Learn more and register here.
Donations are graciously welcomed to help this student-run conference remain free for all attendees. If you would like to donate, please click here.
Photos by Tiffany Adams