Sustainable education (What is your green path?)

I attended a meeting of SOSTANE (Sisters of Sustainability) today. This great group, started by Kathy Sanders, offers a forum for women interested in issues of sustainability and green living to gather and exchange ideas.

At this afternoon’s meeting in Portland, Kathy took us through an exercise that had us mapping out our individual paths to sustainability — how we got to where we are now, and where we want to go next. We went around the table sharing childhood stories about climbing trees, camping with Girl Scouts and organic gardening with grandparents.

The first thing that leapt to my mind was coming out of the grocery store with my mother when I was about five or six years old, and seeing a pretty rainbow floating in a puddle in the parking lot. I reached toward it, but my mother immediately pulled me back, telling me that it was pollution and was bad.

I’ll admit I even broke into song when remembering the consciousness-raising television commercials that were on the air when I was a kid — “Give a hoot, don’t pollute! Never be a dirty bird…” (thanks to Woodsy Owl). I also remember the commercial with the Native American man surveying the damage done to the American landscape, and the single tear running down his cheek.

But until this conversation this afternoon, I’d forgotten about “recess in the woods” when I was a student at Richmond Montessori School. We had undeveloped land surrounding the school, so when it was time for recess, the kids took off to all corners. Some remained on the playground, but more of us headed for the woods where we built forts and watched caterpillars transform into butterflies. We played in the creek and even planted gardens.

It was actually pretty amazing. I told the other ladies at the table that what I was describing probably sounded very “Little House on the Prairie,” but this was happening in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1970s.

Today, lucky kids get to participate in outdoor educational programs, but I worry about the children living in big cities whose only access to nature may be a park squeezed into a city block or a tree surrounded by concrete. My sister tells the story of her New York City friends putting their toddler down onto green grass the first time. The child immediately jumped back into his father’s arms with the complaint, “Wet!”

A couple of years ago, an environmental educator at the NW Earth Institute recommended I read, “The Last Child in the Woods” about the dangers of “nature-deficit disorder” in our kids. I’m thinking I should carve out some time for that one.

In the meantime, I’m taking a closer look at how I got to be where I am on this path of green living. I feel incredibly grateful to have fallen — seemingly by chance — into being a sustainability writer, and to be living in such a progressively green city. But the real question is, where do I want to go from here?

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