"A long, long time ago, maybe two hundred thousand years ago, and in a few places still today, the native people who lived off their land schooled their children – but they did it invisibly. Our ancestors’ children didn’t go to school. School surrounded them. Nature was a living teacher. There were many relatives for every child and every relative was a mentor. Stories filled the air, games and laughter filled the days, and ceremonies of gratitude filled mundane lives."
-- Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature
We sometimes find it difficult to describe exactly what it is that we “do.” A number of years ago, we were turned on to Jon Young and the 8 Shields approach to deep nature connection, which resonated with us as we noticed how closely the work we are doing fits with this philosophy. The model is built around a core concept of mentoring as a relationship of mutual respect and equality, in which the ideas and needs of the person being mentored become the framework from which learning and growth can occur. In conjunction, the approach looks to cyclical patterns in nature as the basis for its methodology. We have embraced this idea because of the power and potential that it holds for personal and societal transformation. Mentoring serves long-range goals of self-development, while occurring in an informal or sometimes invisible fashion. It truly blossoms at the personal level through investment in one-on-one relationships over the long term. This is in direct contrast to the predominant modality of child development in western society, which tends toward quantitative measures of performance, occurs within increasingly formal and structured environments, and is often authoritarian in nature. The dominant structures of our society, and therefore of conventional education, lack freedom and opportunity to connect slowly and meaningfully without the pressure of a standardized agenda to be accomplished at breakneck speed. The pain and disillusion this causes to individuals and society at large is evident. Thus, we believe that mentoring plays an important role in cultural repair and in healing the various social and environmental issues growing in today’s world.
As healthy mentor relationships are imperative to individual and cultural healing, so is each of us reclaiming our connection with the Earth. These go hand in hand. We are all born ancestrally into nature connection — as creatures of the Earth, the blueprint resides in each of us at the most primal level, in our DNA. Terrahana's mission is to facilitate learning in young people by awakening their innate nature connection blueprint, and supporting the journey that arises from that awakening. Our work is centered on the belief that simply holding space for experience in nature brings people into a deeper awareness, sense of belonging and purpose as they move through life.
Each of our programs consists of a small group of about 12-13 participants. It is important to us to keep our group sizes small - this allows for a more individualized learning atmosphere, facilitates the development of close relationships, and makes it possible for kids to safely explore their independence. When we gather, our days have a general rhythm, allowing everyone to settle into the flow of life in the forest. Each morning, we welcome each other, greet our surroundings, and acknowledge our presence on the ancestral lands of the Abenaki people. We build a fire together that we take collective responsibility for tending — here we give thanks, gather to reflect, and sing greetings and farewells. By daily ritual, stories, observation and sharing of ideas, we cultivate reverence for the natural world. Throughout the day, various projects, primitive- and naturalist-focused crafts and skills, sensory awareness activities, imaginative games, music making, storytelling, and solo time all help young people learn to recognize what inspires them. Plans evolve based on children’s passions. Nothing is required. Achievement is never measured. All activities are simply potential entry points into connection — doors that the child can walk through, feel how an experience resonates or does not, and use that new self-knowledge to inform their own unique path. In other words, content is less important than what comes of it: opportunities to explore, create, be wild, be silent, observe, be alone, take risks, do nothing, rest, make mistakes, cooperate, face fear. Given the freedom to listen to their own instincts and engage in ways that move them, young people come into who they truly are, a process supported by a community of others on their own similar journeys.
Opportunity to be immersed in nature, to be largely self-directed and free, and to draw inspiration directly from the natural world supports young people’s full growth. This serves their fulfillment in all areas of life, and is essential to the cultural healing that is so necessary in our society. A culture in which people are connected to themselves, each other, and the living world is imperative for future resilience of human communities and the Earth as a whole, and the way we educate, or mentor, plays a fundamental role in its existence. Centering nature connection feeds the well-being of the child. In turn, the child who develops a true relationship with the land naturally contributes to regenerating a society that honors the fullness of each being in the web of life. Such humans will walk softly on the Earth with a sparkle in their eyes.
Monica holds a B.A. in Psychology and Social Behavior with a concentration in childhood development from UC Irvine. She has a Graduate Certificate in Studio Art from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Monica has a decade of experience teaching karate to children of all ages and spent a few years working as a behavioral therapist. She lived in Nepal for a year, which deeply humbled her and broadened her worldview. She was a resident volunteer at Mount Madonna Center for four years, immersed in the study of Ashtanga yoga and helping to maintain and support the residential community. Monica has a love for the Earth that is rivaled by nothing else in her life. All of her energy, creativity, compassion, optimism, and hope comes from the beauty and power of the living world. Everything she does is inspired by that love. It is one of her deepest desires to see all people find their own love for the Earth and never lose it -- because imagine the world we would create together from that state of being! She is a mentor, an artist, a writer, a practitioner of meditation and yoga, a student of herbalism, an environmental justice activist. She is a basket weaver, spoon carver, and tea lover. She is a gardener, a medicine maker, and a friend to all beings. She is a wanderer, but is deeply rooted to her mountainside in Vermont, where she thrives on the way that the rhythm of the seasons and the cycles of the moon guide her life, day in and day out, year after year. And of course, she loves to play, cook, dance, sing and laugh!
Peter hasn’t moved far since he was born and raised in Ripton, VT. He is a UVM graduate with a B.A. in Environmental Studies, concentration on Environmental Education, Minor in Studio Art. In that previous life he once interned with Common Roots, a farm to school program in South Burlington collaborating with Orchard Elementary in 2010 and 2011. At that time he also worked more than a decade with Middlebury Parks and Recreation Summer Camp Kookamunga and has helped his friends at Retribe in the past. Peter lived for eight years studying yoga, meditation and community living at the Mount Madonna Center in California. He recently acquired a CEU certificate from Naturalist Ventures in Wildlife Track and Sign. While not at Terrahana you might be apt to find this fellow up in a tree or just as likely exploring a hole in the ground. He enjoys barefeet on the earth, spending time in wild places, exploring rivers, being in his garden, planting trees, making music, building things, magical ideas, games and adventures of all kinds and then sitting down for an afternoon tea with his dog and reading stories of the world.
Both of these spry young forest spirits have taken smatterings of classes offered by
8 Shields, Alderleaf, Wild Abundance, Naturalist Ventures and the Roots School of Vermont. They are both trained in wilderness first aid. Their independent learning from the natural world and the people holding onto this traditional knowledge around them is ongoing.