I just mailed a contribution to an organization which immerses their community’s children in learning about river basins and watersheds. I endorsed the check “in memory of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary.”
As countless naturalists and writers, from Richard Louv, to Rachel Carson, to John Burroughs and many Adirondack teachers have shown us, children who are led and encouraged to be themselves and to explore in the outdoors, with adults who participate in that exploration without dominating it, gain significantly in awareness, confidence and self-worth. We are born to love the world, including the more than human world, and our ready inclination to explore that world, and to find answers to our place within that world is intrinsically human.
Adults are needed to encourage and support that exploration. Parents, friends, relatives, scouts, schools, all manner of organizations, including hunters and fishers, and other mentors can help. The blessing of personal exploration of streams, rivers, beaches, estuaries, patches of woods or greater forests, however sustained into youth and adulthood, can interrupt the loneliness, alienation, inward loathing and hate – of the kind turned so violently upon the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary, and our collective consciousness.
I happened to give to the organization which first sustained my biological interests and love of nature following college, which also provided some monetary compensation to help pay the rent – the Mill River Wetland Committee of Fairfield, Connecticut – not too far from Newtown. Joy Shaw, its founder and president, was an inspirational mentor to me and countless others. To quote from the MRWC website “The Mill River Wetland Committee, Inc. is an award winning nonprofit organization founded in 1967 to strengthen environmental education through the study of river basin systems.”
“In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Joy Shaw and the MRWC promoted purchase of open space along the Mill River in Fairfield, Connecticut, and took a leading role in the defense of endangered wetlands. Concern for our environmental future prompted Joy’s launching of River-Lab, a unique hands-on program of environmental study for grades 3-6 in all public schools in Fairfield. All elements of the program have been adopted as part of the science curriculum. In consultation with educators and environmental experts, River-Lab provides classroom materials and activities for students, extensive training for study-trip guides, and professional development for teachers. At each grade level, classroom training is enhanced by study-trips to the Mill River and town estuaries. Each year, more than 160 volunteers guide over 3,500 children through more than 650 study-trips.”
Forty- five years from its founding, MRWC and River Lab are still teaching the children, teachers and parents of Fairfield County. From that teaching is found great internal strength and confidence in abilities to care for and defend the natural world and our life support systems. In designing her organization’s logo in 1967, Joy Shaw purposefully added these words below the Kingfisher symbol: In flumen defendet, terram defendet, or “in defending the river, we defend the land.”
I will never forget my time with River Lab and MRWC. You name your own. In this season of giving, give to your own organization or cause which helps introduce lasting impressions of nature, imparts training in all nature’s complexity and wonder, and which fosters immeasurable feelings of confidence and self-worth.
But most importantly, steer your young person out into nature any time that you can. By so doing, you can help to heal yourself and others, and leave the greatest legacy you can leave.
Photo: NYS DEC Forest Ranger teaches students how to plant trees along the Upper Hudson River in the Adirondack Park at Luzerne, Warren County. Courtesy Dave Gibson / Adirondack Wild.