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

I’ve been looking forward to this event all term. Finally, just like the sunshine, it arrived.

I woke up Friday morning bright and early to prepare my things for an overnight trip to the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. There was something unique about this trip, unlike most of my experiences in nature and research settings. It was a time to reflect on my experience in one of my many identities, being a Latina.

I arrived at Ana’s house at 9 am, and we were soon joined by several families who would also be coming along for our adventure in the forest. After a 45-minute choreography of rearranging our bags, coolers, and children, all the while gracefully dancing to the duet of Spanish and English, it was time to go.

We arrived at the forest close to noon and unpacked the cars into the cabin. You wouldn’t believe that we were only staying for one night by the number of things we managed to pack into the cars including, but not limited to, rain gear, food, and musical instruments. After sharing some laughs and sandwiches, it was time for the first activity of the afternoon: the story circle.

There is something about sitting in a circle that reminds me of the power of this sacred geometry. Many life lessons come to mind, including childhood memories of my favorite film, The Lion King. The circle of life, unity, the cycles that guide natural laws, all becomes clearer when we watch, listen, and participate. What a special moment for us all, students, professors, and professionals coming together to share what Latinx identity means to each of us. The circle began with Ruth and continued as we organically decided the order. Each person shared their experiences as Latinos. There were distinct differences and similarities within these short testimonies. Our prompt was as follows: What does it mean to be Latino? And what aspect of being Latino, your race, ethnicity, or nationality would you like to elaborate on? The responses were heartfelt and included diverse identifiers such as, passion, food, emotions, language, family, music, education, and being proud of our experiences and of those before us. Latino experiences with roots from Mexico, United States, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Chile were represented, and the stories shared were full of emotion, felt by both the speaker and listener. The conversation was extended to include the spouses of Latinos and discuss the experience raising a multicultural and bilingual family. The young children, all proud Latinas, were also included in the conversation.Their energy made us laugh and smile throughout this experience.

After our sincere conversation, there was some time to enjoy the beautiful weekend with which we had been blessed. Walking along Discovery Trail allowed us to reflect on our connection to nature. There is something about being in the presence of green giants that humbles the spirit. The group was amazed by the canopy structure and the strength of the river. After capturing a few beautiful nature photos, we began to discuss lessons that can be learned from nature.  Winter, one of the most difficult times for all life, is the most important season for renewal. It is the time where the rivers cleanse and prepare for the spring. It also a time to condition and test the resilience of creatures, humans and others.  Winter can be a time to test our persistence, molding us into all that we are.

Ivan reminded us that, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” As we headed back toward the cabin we reflected on our place in nature, the spiral of life and the universe, and about how we can start to bring other students with different experiences and backgrounds into the conversation.  We crossed over a small stream, and our memories from this visit to the HJ Andrews trickled into the water, down to the river, flowing outward. It was a time for cleansing, but we knew our stories would be preserved from that moment in time and continue cycling.

The rest of the evening we gathered around a large table with bowls full hot sancocho Colombiano. As the food simmered we shared some time together with a music session and dance party. I appreciated that we weren’t expected to leave the creative aspects of ourselves out of the conversation, it was encouraged. Conducting ecological research is often associated with being the quiet observer, allowing the environment to reveal secrets through careful measurement. Our interaction with the forest was different, it was a time for the celebration of who we are, our experiences, and an opportunity to create a living memory with nature.

We wrapped up the long day gathered around the campfire. We made smores and continued to sing into the night, our songs and carried by the green giants and the night breeze. We had our fair share of laughs, as the children shared their spooky/comical stories with us. Wise words that resonated with all of us came in the form of song by Facundo Cabral, Argentinian poet and composer- also recognized by UNESCO in 1996 as the Messenger of Peace and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, shared a moment with the group as we chorused to the following lyrics (rough English translation included):

No soy de aquí ni soy de allá

I am not from here nor from there

“No tengo edad, ni porvenir “

I have no age, nor future

“Y ser feliz es mi color de identidad”

And to be happy is my color of identity.

As I reflect on the discussion of identity in the forest, I realize it was really a discussion about humanity and our connection to the world around us. A time to honor the winter, and a time to celebrate the sunshine of spring.

Juntos began back in 2007 as an OSU Open Campus initiative to increase Latino representation in Higher Education.  This program prepares students through a college readiness program that includes helping students navigate the steps toward entering and succeeding in college. Please visit the webpage to learn more and consider supporting if you feel inclined:

https://create.osufoundation.org/project/5826

Photo credits to our wonderful film crew: Rick Henry and Drew Olson

Participants: Ana Gomez-Diazgranados, Paul Navarra, Ruth Jones, Brooke Penaluna, Ivan Arismendi, Megan Patton-Lopez, Daniel Fernando Lopez-Cevallos-Ana Lu Fonseca, Carlos Fajardo, Natalia Maria Fernandez, and four beautiful and entertaining little girls (Hazel, Amaia, Chloe, Eva Lu)

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading by Kristin Berger and Scot Siegel from their new books How Light Reaches Us and Constellation of Extinct Stars.

Photo by Samm Newton
Photo by Samm Newton

During this intimate event at Grass Roots Books & Music bookstore,  the poets took the audience on a journey through time and place.  Each poem was carefully crafted and read with striking emotion. This collaboration shared a special theme, OR-7, or as we have come to affectionately know him, Journey. Journey is the first wolf seen in Western Oregon since the 40’s and Northern California since the 20’s.  During this adventure, Journey shares his perspective on things such as snow, humans, and love, which was spiritedly read by Scot. Kirsten complimented this poem through the eyes of Journey’s mother. The opportunity to animate this realm provided the perspective not only of a wolf but a mother.

The poets also provided the opportunity to explore landscapes,seasons, nature and the elements. I connected with references to the desert South West and a description of how drought begins. The audience also confirmed their interest with subtle expressions throughout the reading and a warm applause at the end. The audience was attentive and engaged during the Q & A session.

This unique collaboration reminded me of the strength found while working with others. They shared some of the benefits of their partnership, such as offering edits and approval. Kristen and Scot provided a great example of collaboration and offered a creative space to tune into the senses during their poetry reading.  Now as we move into the rainy season here in Corvallis I will remember that poetry has the power to transcend time and seasons, perspective and place. A tool that will help this desert gal see the rainbows at the end of countless rain showers.