Meta-Reflection Final Assignment

I recently heard the term “transformative learning” in another education class. Transformative learning means changing a person’s frame of reference. The journey I have taken to increasing my ecological literacy, has led to some very real, and, I must admit, very disorienting transformative learning for me.

As I reflect on my creative journal entries, I notice a theme in my first two entries – privilege. My privilege is really evident in how I viewed wilderness and it’s also pretty obvious in my whole idea around gift-giving. My struggle here is even though it’s a privileged point of view for me to complain about the unnecessary plastic involved in gift-giving, I still live in a society and within families that value showing love through the giving of gifts. I’m faced with my conscience vs my fear of rejection and causing conflict by talking about these issues with my family.

A moment of realization of my privileged and problematic thinking was when I learned about the principle of terra nullius. This idea of empty land or wilderness and all of the historical significance that it carries with it really affected me on a very deep level. I couldn’t help but feel guilt, and even worse, shame, at my part in perpetuating the racism and the white dominant narrative. In creative journal #1, when describing the connection I have always felt to Waskesiu, I stated “This is also where we take our children every year and where I try to show them all the amazing and beautiful things that nature has to offer us.” Year after year of bringing my kids to this beautiful place and not once, ever, educating myself or them on whose land it really is; who it was stolen from so that privileged white people like me and my family can claim some ownership over its beauty. I think this difficult truth has had the most impact on me, especially as I have always felt such a deep and spiritual connection to Waskesiu. I am reminded of Natalie’s comment on my Creative Journal #3 about my experience in Shekinah when she talked about ignorance being bliss and goes on to say “while I do not wish to live in ignorance because I am so grateful for the knowledge I have received, I can understand how a lack of understanding may bring some peace”. I sometimes wish I could unlearn what I have learned; go back to the ignorance of just enjoying being outside. On more than one occasion when pondering the troublesome idea of wilderness, it has lead me to question “when can we enjoy the natural world or the outdoors, if none of this country is really ours?” I have to tell myself that the enjoyment and moments of discovery and wonder in places like Waskesiu are always, always at the expense of the Indigenous people who this land was stolen from. I can’t change that fact. But I have had the realization that what I can do is educate – educate myself, educate my children, and of course educate my future students.    

I have felt so many contradictions in my life since learning about terra nullius and doing the blanket exercise. I’m really struggling reconciling what I’ve learned with the people I associate with. I know that these are productive contradictions – that the very fact I’m experiencing them are signs of growth. I can really connect with Robin Wall Kimmerer’s idea that “a certain amount of tension is needed” as I’m finding myself experiencing it on a regular basis –  tension between my conscience and education vs a counter-pull from my work, social life, family, in-laws, and religion. I’m trying to keep all of this in perspective and realize this transformation has taken place in a very short period of time and that I need to give myself and others time to catch up.

I think my fourth creative journal entry really represents the state I currently am in regarding decolonization. As I say in my blog entry, “I’m still digesting what decolonization means to me” and that “I am not ready to say I have figured out exactly how to decolonize”. I realized that this is not something that has a cut and dry answer when I read Mack’s comment on my journal entry and blog post saying that “I ended up asking myself if a person actually realizes when they have come to understand something as big as decolonization or if it is a learning process that will never truly end.” I take comfort knowing I’m not the only one that wonders these sort of monumental things.

After all that I have learned in this class, I have to ask myself what I think about my future as an environmental educator. I have to admit, I’m nervous about teaching now that I’ve gained some perspective and am aware of so many injustices. I don’t want to teach incorrect information or accidentally say something insensitive. I think bringing an elder into the classroom would be really beneficial. I was very moved by Newbery’s suggestions to “be more mindful of the places where we paddle and hike, to acknowledge with students that we are in traditional Aboriginal territories and on land with long and sometimes difficult histories.” I also am enamored with the idea of place-based learning. Ho describes place-based education as something that “seeks to enhance human connection with others and with the natural world”. These are two ideologies that I believe will inevitably one day save our world, a connection with each other and a connection with the environment. I also really value vulnerability and think it’s an important trait to have when teaching especially about the environment and colonization. As Orr says, “the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”

CJ#5: My Offering

**Full disclosure – the following post is told in a very Euro-western context as I refer to the place that I live in as “my yard” or “my garden”. I fully recognize that there is a total lack of acknowledgement of those that unwillingly gave up this space so I could enjoy it as described below. As this post is about my specific offering and giving back to the earth, and for the sake of brevity, I have not woven into the post how utterly ignorant it is for me to allude to any sort of ownership over the land.**   

In the spirit of “reciprocity”, I show my respect and thanks to the earth through the flowers that I choose to plant in my humble little flower garden. I plant flowers that are attractive to butterflies and bees as not only do I love having them flitting around the yard, but, more importantly, I want to provide them with the food that they need to survive, especially the bees. I am an ambassador of the bees and try to educate my family and friends on their importance. I remind them to be careful where they purchase their flowers to avoid harmful pesticides and I don’t know how many times my kids have heard me say “you never kill a bee!” I also take a lot of pride in providing what I call a “bird nursery” in my backyard. We have had the same pair of robins nest in our backyard for the past eight years. In one of those years, in addition to the robins, we had a hungarian partridge nest under one of our dogwoods and a cedar waxwing nest right above it in one of our ash trees. To show my respect for these creatures, when they are nesting we limit how much activity there is in our backyard. We won’t allow our dog in the backyard and if any kids go back there they are made aware of the nests and that they aren’t allowed to touch them – instead just to look at them from a distance. In the true spirit of reciprocity, by providing a safe place for these birds to have their babies, these little glimpses into the sweetness of nature are really wonderful learning opportunities for my kids.

It has become a joke between my husband and I as I’ve always said, much to his scepticism, that the birds can feel how welcome they are in our yard and that is why we attract so many. It is very much how Wall Kimmerer (2013) says “…and I imagined that the land heard us – murmured to itself, ‘Ohh, here are the ones who know how to say thank you.’” (pg. 34). I swear the rabbits and birds and insects know that they are welcome near us and that we will never not want them here. Even when the rabbits are chewing my shrubs down, I tell my husband to just leave them as we have invaded on their space and they are welcome to the food I have inadvertently provided.

To represent this tradition of providing a safe and welcoming place for birds and insects, for my creative journal entry, I have created my favourite flower, and also a bee-favorite, a gaillardia flower. I haven’t had very much success in establishing gaillardia in my garden as the soil, or perhaps the location, must not be ideal for them to grow, but regardless, I keep trying. Almost every year I buy a couple of new gaillardia plants and try a new location in the hopes that they will come back the following year. “[F]ed from the [ ] bond with the land, founded on respect and gratitude” (Wall Kimmerer, 2013, pg. 36), I offer my intentional plantings to all of the insects and animals who can use them for food or shelter, as well as any space in our yard where they feel safe to bring their babies into the world.

Ecoliteracy Braiding

Natalie, Mack, and I all tied our poems into Robin Wall Kimmerer’s idea that, in regards to ecoliteracy, “a certain amount of tension is needed” and that “you have to pull a bit”. All three works are mirroring Wall Kimmerer’s idea that ecoliteracy is often about striking a nerve and causing a stir. Natalie describes “one that disrupts only for benefit”. This idea of being disruptful as a part of ecoliteracy compliments my poem and the concept of “challenging the challengers and providing tension where it’s needed.” Instead of using an abstraction to imply tension, Mack creates tension by confronting the University’s mission statement and calling them out on their environmental hypocrisy – he literally tells them they are “failing demonstrably”.

Natalie also mirrored Wall Kimmerer’s concept of reciprocity that I described as “pay[ing] back your eco-debts”  and “giving when you receive, of restoring balance” when she says “it is time we start giving back”. In contrast to my poem, Natalie takes this one step further by challenging the idea that it is right for us to take anything else from the earth when she states that we must “ask[ ] for nothing in return”. This implication that we have taken enough really resonated with me and gave me pause as I had not considered that we have lost our right to ask for anything else. This is a very powerful concept and if I could rewrite my poem, I’d likely alter my idea of reciprocity slightly. Instead of just implying reciprocity, Mack describes how he is putting reciprocity in action by “knocking on doors.” He is literally giving of himself for the earth and knowing his poem is based on true events puts that much more significance behind it.  

I was very moved by Natalie’s love letter. The underlying theme of her work was similar to mine in that they both incite feelings of loveliness and hope. Mack’s poem moved me as well but in a different way. Where Natalie’s letter left me feeling wistful, Mack’s poem left me with feelings of frustration but also inspiration. He challenges the reader to take action and to listen to how we can do better by the earth. You can hear the conviction in his voice when he asks “When will you listen? Maybe if I shout?” When I spoke earlier of tension, Mack’s entire poem provides tension. David Orr states “Capitalism has failed because it destroys morality”. Natalie and Mack align with this thinking by clearly pointing out the problems people have created for the earth. Mack says “we’ve polluted the water, land, and air; plastic coats the shore” and Natalie talks about “the synthetics, the man-made.” True change has to happen at the policy level, and even higher at the ideological level, in order for people to become truly ecoliterate. Mack aligns with Orr’s theory about capitalism when he stresses the importance of society realizing the impact their current values have and that “until the policies change, values rewritten, minds rearrange[ ]” meaningful change will not occur. I approached ecoliteracy from a different perspective and focused on the positive aspects of it. By taking this approach, my poem does not inspire change the way that Natalie and Mack’s works do. Instead, I lean into Wall Kimmerer’s methods of using poetic imagery to encourage appreciation for the environment. While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it may not stir the same emotions that may inspire the reader to explore and expand on their own ecoliteracy. Mack’s poem uses this idea of change but in a more concrete way as he describes the specific action he is taking to elicit change in others. By literally “walk[ing] these steps, a dozen floors” he is demonstrating exactly how others can increase their ecoliteracy.

Ecoliteracy Poem

I love you
Not only for what you are
But for who you are trying to be

I love you
For how much you are trying to change
And for how you are inspiring those around you to change with you

I love you for figuring out how to solve
The simple math equation
Of giving when you receive, of restoring balance when balance has been lost

Even when it takes time or money or convenience away
I love you for understanding which currency should and does matter
And for not hesitating to pay back your eco-debts

You ignore the optics and the critics
And you just breathe and live and be
In the calmness, in the green-ness, in the stillness

I love you for looking around
And not seeing just this or that
But for truly seeing this that lives in that

I love you for feeling the rhythm of nature
And for being open to learning from the true teacher
Not a parent, or grandparent, or school teacher, but the earth teacher

And for challenging the challengers
And providing tension where it’s needed
And weaving together all that we can prove, and not prove, and feel, and love

I love you for that too…

And when all is said and done
And we are dying
And we are done

I will love you for following your original instructions
And for trying to return this home
To those from whom we borrowed it

CJ#1: My Past To My Children’s Present

When I first started thinking about what the environment means to me, I couldn’t help but think of it in the context of my own children. Wall Kimmerer asked her students “Have you ever wondered how the world got to be put together so beautifully?” (Wall Kimmerer, 213, p. 216). When I read this I was brought back to all the times I’ve pointed out to my kids the different birds in the trees in our backyard, or the hoar frost that has settled on every surface on certain winter mornings, or the Hungarian partridge tracks that are scattered all over the yard. I was inspired to make a visual representation of my desire to pass my connection with the environment onto my children. I chose to use the theme of youth in my visual representation and used the shape of a mobile. I wanted to connect  my children’s relationship and my connection with the environment and used the theme of Waskesiu Lake because this is such an important location from my childhood and is where I have always felt the most connected to the natural world. This is also where we take our children every year and where I try to show them all the amazing and beautiful things that nature has to offer us.

“I so wanted them to see the world beyond the boundaries of their own skins” (Wall Kimmerer, 213, p. 219) sums up perfectly why I try so hard to pass my love of nature onto my children. With the slow intrusion of technology during our time at the lake, it can be challenging making sure they are taking the time to really appreciate how beautiful Waskesiu is. I was inspired to use photos of each of my children, from their first summer in Waskesiu when they were just babies, to our most recent summer there. On the back of each wood slice, I printed a quote from our readings of Wall Kimmerer and Orr that really spoke to me and reminded me of why I try to teach my children to pay attention to their surroundings and the wonder of the natural world.