Meta-reflection: what I learned

I came to Canada for a four month exchange. I saw the snowy city of Regina from my hotel window and then was amazed by the rabbits and squirrels in Victoria Park. In Environmental Education class, I was asked to remember a time I enjoyed being outside, and then the mountains I used for picnics with friends as a child became a modest piece of art. It was easy to me to have fun outside, and to feel connected to nature around me. That’s how I feel one with the cosmos. Now I understand why it is important for a kid to feel that way, how this pedagogy of hope works, because developing this ecophilia is essential to value nature and to have citizens who will work towards disrupting climate change.

The sense of wonder we have outside is important and has to be developed. Children need their time outside to fall in love with the Earth, to get dirty, to explore, take risks and learn from them. The EcoMuseum in White City is a place for such opportunities, and we, as future teachers, need to engage in outdoor activities so that we can repeat them with our students. We also need to practice our respect towards the Earth, even when it means leaving behind a cool antler you found lying around.

Once we understand that we’re one, we can work together. We can rethink our habits and stop hurting Mother Earth. Inspired by the class discussion and the second creative journal, I reduced my consumption of industrialized potato chips, instead cooking real potatoes. The less wrappers, the less trash filling up landfills. Instead of throwing away plastic, I used the potato peels to make my Abaporu. Then, it all became worm food in our class vermicomposting project, following the circle of life. We need our feet down on Earth to think about what’s happening around us and how we can impact it. This is one small way we can give back to the Earth and develop a relationship of reciprocity.

But one single person buying less wrappers, less straws and plastic bags is not enough. Individually, our impact on the environment is small. That’s why it is important to try and work together to make a difference. Team work allows for bigger changes to be made. We tried making our small impact on life in the residence of the University of Regina, to make it easier for everyone to recycle more. It’s still a small step, but way bigger than what one person alone can do.

Different people working together, uniting forces, but still being separate individual beings. Each one with their special strengths, together to make a group even stronger. Team work is something that I consciously value, but that is hard for me to practice. Maybe we can weave our strengths, the same way we can weave our knowledges. This course really helped me remake my own views on science and other forms of knowledge and how they can relate.

It is easier for me now to understand what braiding means. It’s not assimilation, and it’s not about finding a superior view. It’s coexistence, it’s multiculturalism. It comes with its tensions and might be hard to understand and absorb. But the tensions are not meant to be undone. Different ways of knowing means knowing more, if done how it should. I have always valued science: both my poem and a blog post have scientific names. But I also live with people who value traditional and popular knowledge. It has always been difficult for me to understand how to combine such different ways of knowing. Kimmerer helped me understand this and how to deal with this. “you have to pull a bit” when you’re braiding ecoliteracies. “A certain amount of tension is needed”. And it’s better when it’s done together.

Analyzing what I wrote throughout the course, I noticed that I talk a lot about time. The time I spent outside as a child, the time I spent walking around the University or enjoying nature here in Regina, and what will happen over time with the antler, left to decompose in the EcoMuseum. I also talked about indigenous people, not a lot, but I did, because I don’t really know their current situation in Brazil, and it makes more sense to me [to talk about Brazilian indigenous peoples]. But now I am more open to their understanding, to their point of view and maybe I can better weave that with my understandings and my knowledges. I don’t talk a lot about guilt or despair, or the bad things that are happening. I try to focus on the right things and which path to follow. And I talked a lot about art. I’m not a person that is very artistic, [aside from my photography], but I mentioned poems, paintings and performances.  And I think that art speaks to our senses and is an important tool that we have to weave in our understandings if we want to actually understand how to live in this Earth, how to do right, how to protect and live in reciprocity with this land.

PS: My anthropocentrism is showing when I talk about “protecting the Earth”, my lack of indigenous knowledge is showing when I speak of the indigenous peoples of Brazil as one uniform mass. Learning is a continuous process.

Images:
Pictures from 2012, 2018 and 2019; videos from 2019 – Mateus Figueiredo
Vermicomposting video: Mackenzie Mullie

Beyond Ecophobia, by David Sobel, published by Yes, available at https://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/education-for-life/803

Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Kimmerer. Quotes from page ix.

CJ 5: time

My fifth and last creative journal for Environmental Education class now exists only in the past, in memories and in consequences.

I walked outside. I went for a walk and appreciated Earth as it is. With all its flaws and its beautiful things. I saw one rabbit alive and one that was dead. I saw gulls walking and flying. I saw the wind making the grass, newly green after the thaw of snow, shaking from here to there. I left the Wakpa Tower and went around all the buildings in the University of Regina, stopping at the First Nations University. I took off my jacket and felt the cold wind while I watched the crows cawing at something I didn’t know what it was. I saw ladybugs not moving under a thorny plant and hurt my finger lightly trying to get them. I saw trees with and without leaves, feathers with and without birds.

My performance was fleeting and fitting. The best thing I have to offer the Earth is my time, my senses, my curiosity and sense of wonder. Time flies and lost possible experiences can never be relived, much like the real outdoor experiences that can’t really be explained, only felt. I took pictures during the walk, recorded videos, gazed and listened and felt. I affected everything around me, leaving only footsteps, and everything affected me. My offering to the Earth is the time that I have. This creative journal is the time that I had. That is both my thanks and my gift. To all that made this possible, to all that lived here before, to all that helped preserve so much green around where for four months I called home. For all the living beings that survived the winter and now come say hello in their own specific ways.

No visuals go along with this entry because nothing could represent the real feelings of being outside. The good thing is anyone can recreate this performance, as long as they keep their eyes open, their ears attentive, and their skin and whole selves connected to what’s around, beyond the walls of our artificial homes.

My performance is in the past, but I am here.

CJ4: Nature in the centre

I had planned and was almost finished with another creation for my Creative Journal #4, but after the visit to the EcoMuseum in White City I created something that made a lot more sense and that had a lot more meaning to me.

The colonial mindset allows people to see nature and wilderness as empty land that belongs to no one, and that anything can be taken for themselves. This is what settlers thought, this is what mining companies think. “If it’s there, it can be mine.” However, this is a selfish disrespectful way of thinking. Everything that exists naturally in a landscape was created or can be used by some living being. Rocks are home to lichens and shelter for invertebrates, the water fills every living being’s cells, and the carbon and calcium in a deer’s antlers will be decomposed and re-enter the cycle of nutrients and the cycle of life.

When asked to think of my connection to the Earth, and humanity’s connection to the Earth, I (with Ben’s help) made a mandala. The outermost circle, far away from the center, represents how distant we are from nature, as a general rule. Cities and jobs and daily lives inside vehicles and buildings make it possible to forget what should be unforgettable, which is the environment around us. Yet we can get carried away by technology and modernity and don’t think of mother Earth who has always taken care of us. The snowballs in the center are (some) humans, self-centered and far, disconnected from the Earth.

Nature might seem far. However, there are connections between nature and humans, even if we don’t want to think of it, even if we try to forget. Nature’s never too far away.

During the field trip, we found many signs of animals, like feces and bones. We found a deer antler. I wanted to keep it for myself. But for me they would be just souvenirs. “Take nothing but pictures” I’ve been taught since little, and yet I wanted to take this with me. But this would have been a reproduction of the colonial mindset of empty land. That’s not what I wanted this field trip to be in the end. So I took the pictures in the space, I took pictures with the antler, and chose to leave it there, in the middle of the mandala. Before, there was nothing in the centre, just emptiness, symbolizing the distance between humans and nature. Now, nature’s always in the centre.

The snowballs will melt, the sticks will be moved by the wind, and the antler will become leaves and porcupine bones and feces and will live on. I will print the picture I took. This way I have my souvenir and the land keeps what is rightfully hers.

CJ3: this full and loaded land

In the Serra dos Órgãos National Park I took part of one of my teacher training courses. Future Biology teachers had to give a mini-class on Environmental Education, a class impossible to replicate inside a common classroom, dependent and taking advantage of our surroundings.

As students in the Park, we had our traditional “romantic” environmental education, in a “space of rejuvenation, of peace, of wild danger, of inspiration, and of adventure”, as Newbery puts it, appreciating the living beings, gazing at the sunrise, hiking and general being in nature, between the citizens of the Atlantic Forest. As future teachers, we had the mission of looking at the big picture of where the Park was located, how and when it was established, and what were the impacts of its creation, both positive and negative.

Kimmerer says that she lives “in the nation of maples”, because one species of tree stands out. If Canada is the multicultural nation of people, then Brazil is the multibiological nation of trees. The Atlantic Forest is only one of the biological nations inside of it, and the Tupi people some of the former residents of this land.

We are Biology students, me and my colleagues that took that trip. So it was easy for us to get over the anthropocentrism of thinking that the Park was empty land. The trees were companions living complex relationships between themselves and with the animals, fungi and other plants, and providing us with many ecosystem services, “running air and water purification service 24-7” (Kimmerer).

And we did also consider the people that lived there in the 1930’s, when the Park was created, and the people that still live around it. But we did not have our senses and minds set to the indigenous issue. We could see epiphytism – when one plant grows over branches of another – but we didn’t see the colonialism of Western Third World culture growing where indigenous culture once flourished. Our focus was another.

Newbery points out that incursions into nature often have maps, and as everything produced by human beings, “maps are always partial, and what they leave out and what they emphasize tell us a lot about the investments and assumptions of the societies that produce them. ” The same can be said about our classes as future teachers. Being mindful of what is present in the curriculum, what is mentioned, what is shown, what is questioned on a test help shape what kids believe is of importance. Education is never neutral, Paulo Freire would say. Neither are maps, outdoor education classes, not even nature itself.

Ecoliterate braid

When asked what it means to be an ecoliterate person, many people described what an ecoliterate person does or is expected to do. Jaimie wrote about admiring “the animals, plants, and trees, / From squirrels to flowers to evergreens” and Jade wrote about “taking your time to stop and smell the flowers; / Just being there in the moment; right here on planet earth”. Enjoying outdoor activities and appreciating the environment is a strong component of ecoliteracy, as Louv discussed in his text Leave No Child Inside. Kids need to do and enjoy outdoor activities, for their own well-being and so they can develop a positive connection with nature. This appreciation of the natural world also appears in my poem, where I mentioned “The air we breathe” and “Plants and trees and the quatis”.

I also think that learning and knowing is very important in being ecoliterate. My poem also mentions “Phylogeny”, “atoms and particles and energy” and a bird’s scientific name. Scientific knowledge allows us to understand in a large scale the changes happening to the world, to know about “the issue of climate change or global warming,” and that’s how we can “notice that these changes are very alarming” as Jaimie writes. But that can’t be enough, either. Science has one specific focused objective way of knowing, but it is not the only way of knowing. Lauren invites us to weave together “all that we can prove, and not prove, and feel, and love”. Not everything is black on white data, and there are many ways to live and understand what the Earth is.

And then another important aspect of being an ecoliterate person is acting like one. Many poems mentioned riding bikes, recycling, and all sorts of individual actions to diminish our negative impact. Mack wrote about his effort with the recycling in the residence, and how “We all must do our part. / Recycling isn’t everything. / But it is a start.” The individual must lead to the collective, and the collective must lead to policy changes and governmental action. “We are running out of time. We are in a crisis”, Tahreem says, and I agree. “We need [grownups, politicians and leaders] to panic and then we need them need to act.” Chico Mendes, a Brazilian activist, tried to change policies, had many accomplishments, and was killed because of it. So it will not be easy, but we have to take a leap, and it has to be done, “Like bees defending their colony from machines cutting down trees”.

The Earth

The Earth

The air we breathe

The sun, the flowers, the latex

Plants and trees and the quatis

Nitrogen in roots and acids in the seeds

I see parrots, I see maritacas

I see Psittacara leucophtalma

Human words need translation

Their call, appreciation

We are part of nature

And so are the Bacteria and Archaea

22 years of life

519 years of life

12 thousand, 19 years of life

100 thousand years of life

3.8 billion years of life

13.8 billion years of life

as Me, as a Brazilian, as a civilization, as modern humans, as living beings,

as atoms and particles and energy and vibrations

sharing what we, the universe, are

We must learn

(and how much have we already!)

Names and maps and phylogeny

Pardon my French,

my Greek, my Latin,

my Portuguese

Human words need translation

Birds call, they call for protection

Once upon a time he lived

Once upon a time he died

He fought for us

who need red water in our veins

who need green sap running free

I hadn’t been born when he was killed

But I was there as we were alive

He had a nice moustache, I must say

In the Amazon he was born

Fighting for the Amazon he died

Side by side for centuries and decades and years and time

Chico Mendes

The CM in ICMBio

in the Book of National Heroes

in the Earth

in our hearts

in our minds

in our fight

CJ2: from dust to dust

Everything we have, everything we make, everything we eat and everything we are will one be destroyed. The remaining question is what will happen with the remains.

Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral invites us to reflect on what are the things that make us us, culturally speaking. Who produces the art and the ideas we consume? Here, I use her painting The Abaporu to get us thinking who produces the food we consume, and what we’re left with after we’re done with it.

Leo DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood warns us of the destruction of native rainforest for the production of palm oil, used in chips such as Lays and Doritos. Knowingly or not, every consumer of those and other products fuels that destruction of habitat. The carbon emitted due to the arson of those trees and the carbon that is no longer absorbed by them helps make the Earth less habitable.

Using the peels of potatoes, carrots and bananas me and my roommate ate on the last couple of days, I made a reconstruction of the Abaporu, on top of a cutting board which helped me cook food that was less detrimental for the environment than the package of potato chips on top of which the cutting board was placed. The peels and my Abaporu itself will become worm food in the vermicomposting project of the class.

The Abaporu might have a small head up in the clouds, but their big feet are very much down to Earth. If we’re going to save ourselves from the hell we’re making the Earth to be, we have to start now.

CJ1: one with the cosmos

My creative journal is deeply inspired by the poet Manoel de Barros. In his poem, he writes that “The eye sees, the memory re-sees and the imagination trans-sees. It is necessary to trans-see the world.” The conclusion of this poem is the starting point of my creative journal, as a invitation to wonder and reflection.

The first thing that came to mind when presented with the questions “What is the environment? What is environmental education?” were mountains from where I grew up in Minas Gerais, Brazil. They kept me company wherever I went in the city, whenever I took the bus, and were the stage of hikes and picnics. They are the centre of the creative journal, made in magazine paper.

Each mountain has a window, an invitation to look through them. One of them hides words that remind me of the environment, such as flowers, smells, stars, birds and myself. The other one presents a picture of a person gazing at the horizon (much like the painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog) over which I added one my goals in environmental education: to “Be one with the cosmos”.

On top of the reflective art piece, a combination of a few Latin names of living creatures I’ve come across in my life and studies. Although not being meaningful for Robin Wall Kimmerer’s pre-med students, they are meaningful and important to the Biology student and researcher in me. In there are the scientific names for Brazil’s flower, the Ipê Amarelo; Brazil’s tree, the Pau-Brasil; snakes; birds; microorganisms; humans. All together form a sun, their source of energy that fuels up life on Earth.

Having seen what materials I had, re-seen what the environment had meant for me in my life, and trans-seen what my creative journal could be, it came to be.