Last Saturday, I spent the day  out at the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest with members of the Environmental Arts and Humanities cohort and other enthusiastic volunteers for the fifth annual Get Outdoors Day. This event is hosted by the Oregon State University College of Forestry and Benton County extension and is a collective effort to connect families with the forest. It is also part of a larger initiative to create community and bring people to the forest who may not visit as often or it is their first time.

Our group was responsible for the community art booth. We concentrated on the central topic of the mycorrhizal network in the soil. We invited the community engage with us in a discussion and creative representation of this network and how it relates to ourselves in the community.

Some key messages we focused on throughout the day:

–          There is a connected world beneath our feet that facilitates the exchange of nutrients, water and information.

–          The network is connected via mycorrhizae, which facilitate symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi.

–          We want to consider how our community can be more connected like the mycorrhizae.

– How can we create communities that encourage compassion and supportive environments?

Photo credit: Samm Newton

The EAH group is always looking for creative outlets, thus it is natural that we would be attracted to the artistic side of a day in the forest. Sarah Kelly, a fellow EAH member set up the ground work and was the driving force behind organizing our booth.

Photo credit: Samm Newton

When I asked her what inspired her choice of topic, Sarah said “I spend a lot of time in my research and personal life thinking about interconnections. I love learning about how systems and individuals within systems are intertwined. When I heard about the mycorrhizal network a few months ago, I knew it was the perfect topic to inspire the community art project.”

“What better idea to embody, than a naturally occurring supportive community that humans don’t readily perceive? I thought it was an inspiring phenomenon to bring the community together, learn about ecology, and consider how they can help each other and our environment.”

What a creative process indeed. I was able to join Sarah and some other volunteers the first time we went out into the forest to collect materials for constructing the soon to be community sculpture. The entire process was engaging especially with Sarah encouraging us to share our ideas and creativity to shape the process. We did a test run of the branch sculpture prior to the event with a good-size group trouble shooting, learning about physics, balance, and communication during the process.

Photo credit: Samm Newton

On the day of the event several children and their families helped with the construction of the sculpture (pictured below) and adorned the community network with lovely notes.  Families were asked to reflect and respond to the following prompt: What kind of community do you want to live in? The rest was up to the families to decide how and what to express. Sweet messages related to nature and fun responses related to food, games, and other types of activities that make life enjoyable decorated the sculpture. Many families stopped to listen and learn about the network beneath our feet, but the magic occurred when we were all able to reflect and realize we can take a lesson from nature, and in fact already do at times when we interact with our families and community.

Check out the following links for more information on the incredible mycorrhizal network.

Maybe nature isn't so cutthroat and austere as "survival of the fittest" makes it out to be…

Posted by Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network – ASAN on Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here are some photos from the day:

Photo credits: Samm Newton

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