Experiential learning with EEI weaves together encounters with people, other-than-human beings, and ecosystems. We have longstanding relationships with the people and places in which we travel – meeting with politicians, authors, naturalists, environmental and social activists, government agencies, industry representatives, as well as local native peoples; we backpack and day hike in wilderness areas, stay in state and federal parks, plus live outdoors every day, wherever we are. Here are just a few examples of this powerful aspect of EEI programming gleaned from past experiences in different regions.
Executive Director Heather Johnson of the Whidbey Institute welcomed the bus to their 100 acre forest campus where they manifest their vision of “collaborating with nature and one another to learn better how to relate to our planet, our built environment, and our human and other-than-human communities.”
Backpacking the Hoh River Trail in the Olympic National Forest takes us through primeval temperate rainforest with massive red cedars, Sitka spruce, and big-leaf maples, testing our mettle in an area that has over 140 inches of rain every year!
EEI’s relationship with the Makah people of Neah Bay has spanned generations – both of our faculty and their residents. An old friend of the bus, Wes Lyons, prepared an incredible traditional fish feast for us at Hobart Beach campground, sharing his stories, humor, and generosity. We later met with mask carver Greg Colfax in his wife’s pizza restaurant and talked about everything from cultural history to art to politics and beyond.
Wes Gillingham, former founder and Program Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, lives with his wife Amy and their two children on land that has been in Wes’s family for 55 years. He and his family are inspirational with their hand built log home and extensive off-grid and homesteading systems. Together the couple grew vegetables for ten years for 150 families through a CSA. They teach students much about building a reciprocal relationship with the land as well as the social and environmental challenges currently facing the Catskill region where they live, including the local impact of fracking.
We joined together with 400,000 others in NYC (50,000 of which were college students!) for the People’s Climate March in NYC. EEI bus students were proud to be among other leaders in this “amazing display of the size and beauty of our movement. We showcased our strength, our resiliency, and our capacity to come together when needed. We are moving towards a brighter and more just future — and we couldn’t have said that louder than we just did.” (http://2014.peoplesclimate.org/wrap-up/)
Our visit to the Maitreya Mountain Village, an intentional community east of Crescent City, focussed on permaculture and community for sustainable living. They offered insight into how their community seeks to “bridge the gap between the old systems and the sustainable new ones”. We continued to explore permaculture at the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol CA where we toured the grounds with AEI alumnus and operations manager, Damian McAnany, and program director, Ryan Johnston, learning about permaculture’s core principles
We are fortunate to count the creative, politically active, and nationally recognized interdisciplinary artist, Ariel Luckey, amongst EEI alums willing to share their current work with us. Ariel’s social justice perspectives about race and immigration speak even more loudly to us in today’s political climate. Students can deepen their learning about the many sad ironies of our culture, readily illustrated by the fact that Ohlone California Indian burial grounds and shell mounds exist under the Bay Street shopping mall, at the cross streets of Ohlone Way and Shellmound Street, where we stood.
Backpacking California’s Lost Coast, in the King Range National Conservation Area, is a serious and sublime adventure along one of the country’s most pristine and isolated beaches – the longest stretch of US Pacific undeveloped coastline outside of Alaska. The wildness allows us to explore some of the more remote aspects of ourselves, as we keep pace with the tides, the turnstones, ravens, turkey vultures, Western fence lizards, and the occasional sea lion or surfer bobbing in the waves.
Justus Kitchen and People’s Kitchen Collective founder (and EEI alum), Jocelyn Jackson, shared her work and passion for social justice, delicious seasonal food, and community with us, setting up a small, beautiful feast that included shared song and stories.
The group was guided through the ruins at Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, AZ and spent five days on the Hopi Reservation camping at the Cultural Center at Second Mesa. Local people stopped by to visit the bus, sharing stories about Hopi culture and spiritual beliefs and practices. In addition to these unplanned learning opportunities, the EEI learning community was invited to an informal meeting with a man who lived off the reservation and spoke about how he returned to his culture to find meaning in his own life. Students also spent a full day with a family who shared their artwork, showing Kachina and other painting projects.
In depth explorations in and around Page, AZ precipitated a student seminar delivered on the rocks overlooking Lake Powell, formed by the Glen Canyon Dam. To further understand the dam’s impact the group went on a raft trip from the dam to Lee’s Ferry with a local outfitter. The Executive Director of the Glen Canyon Institute came along to discuss implications of de-commissioning the dam.
Author and activist Terry Tempest Williams often meets with bus communities, providing insight into the politics of public lands, grounded in her deep bond with the West. She reveals her understanding of the profound connectivity between humans and nature, acknowledging an awareness of both the darkness and light that characterize the human experience. Her strength, gentleness, respect, and enthusiasm for young people translates into a powerful learning exchange.
Nine days backpacking in the canyons and red rock of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument feature wading in the warm, shallow waters of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River, working our way up a steep sandy pass, and navigating over undulating unmarked slick rock giving students another view of the diversity of southwestern ecosystems, the people who have inhabited them over thousands of years, and continuing to reveal the power and necessity of community over many eons.
A day experiencing Nogales, Arizona and crossing the border into Nogales, Sonora, Mexico culminated with a service project in which we repainted and re-hung crosses on the border wall honoring immigrants who had died trying to cross the border into the United States. Border issues form a significant part of our study in southwest. Read more about the impact of an EEI border experience here.