OPINION: Resources for connecting with nature
Updated: Jan 15
The following is an opinion piece by Jennifer Cubitt-Smith. Please note that the views expressed in this piece are those of the author's and not of OxCAN.
Jennifer Cubitt-Smith studied Jurisprudence in her first year at St Hilda’s before switching to PPE. She subsequently became a litigation solicitor in London and then Deputy Registrar of the London Court of International Arbitration until 1996. Her piece is about wilderness survival skills and how experiences in nature can lead to a different perspective on different value systems, which she believes are crucial for framing the climate change issue.
After attending a course during which it was said that young boys needed to be around the camp fire with the men or on a hunting party with the men, I wondered how to achieve that for my son, then 14, who spent a lot of time on the computer with Sonic the Hedgehog. A participant on the course handed out a magazine containing an article on wilderness survival by someone offering courses and a family camp. I obtained their brochure and showed it to my 3 children, (14, 12 and 9) who were all keen to go to the family camp in Sussex. So, in 2000 we attended our first family camp, building a shelter, lighting fire by friction, foraging edible plants, flint knapping, making string from nettles and brambles, a night-time blindfold drum stalk, bird language and stories about the Native American lineage of the teachings (Stalking Wolf and Tom Brown Jr.). I was impressed by the way in which skills were taught, which felt to me at the time like teaching without preaching.
When you learn survival skills, you appreciate a lot of things that are otherwise taken for granted and you clearly see the need for trees to make shelters and provide fuel for fire, clean water to drink, fire for warmth, cooking, hot water.
We returned year after year, the children being happy to spend 5 days or so without electronic devices, learning to tread lightly on the land. We also attended some of the weekend courses throughout the year. It was a wonderful contrast to their academic schooling and provided them with adventures to describe in their English essays. It particularly appealed to my elder daughter, who had dyslexia, whose gifts were appreciated, in particular her ability to motivate others e.g. to set to work cutting the long grass to put on the roof of the lean-to group shelter at the first camp.
“No-one will protect what they don’t care about and no-one will care about what they have never experienced.” - David Attenborough
We as a society have become cut off from nature, so we don’t notice the disappearance of butterflies, birds, plants and trees, the loss of biodiversity.
At the family camp we were introduced to what was then a tape series by Jon Young ‘Seeing through Native Eyes’, now available as CD’s or downloadable. Because they lived close to the land, native cultures the world over spoke the language of their place. They had an intimate understanding of plant and animal lifestyles. They knew how to move with grace and ease through the wilderness.
Seeing through native eyes means immersing the senses in nature. This series lays the foundations for learning about and connecting with the natural world.
Several of the people who attended that first family camp back in 2000 later went on to run their own courses and write their own books. My elder daughter was one of three authors of ‘Learning with Nature – a How-to Guide to Inspiring Children Through Outdoor Games and Activities’. Her most recent offering is Red Squirrel Resources, an online resource for forest school leaders, parents, teachers and outdoor educators.
Whereas we teach our children pattern recognition in the form of the alphabet and numbers from an early age, people like the San Bushmen will teach their infants how to read the tracks in the sand and what sounds mean there is a snake in the bushes.
In the unlikely area of New Jersey, USA, Jon Young was mentored to learn about nature in a traditional native way. He was totally unaware that he was being mentored and when he grew up, he could not understand how it was that he knew so much more than other naturalists he met. He went on to study anthropology to discover more. Later he founded the Wilderness Awareness School in Seattle, (later still, the 8 Shields Institute) and created a course called the Art of Mentoring. In order to make the knowledge more widely available, he and others wrote ‘Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature’ and he wrote ‘What the Robin Knows: how birds reveal the secrets of the natural world’.
How does this relate to climate change? Wilderness survival skills can lead to a different perspective on what are necessities, a different value system. As David Attenborough says, people need to experience nature in order to care about it and protect it.