The hardest part about really learning, not the rote memorization of lifeless fact found in our public schools, is that it gets inside of you and changes you. Real learning involves every aspect of our being. Nothing could be more perfect an illustration of this than Tracking. Tracking involves memory, measurement, knowledge of physics, behavioral sciences, meteorology, ecology, geology, and fluid dynamics. As we track, the trail rarely remains constant. Strides shorten and elongate as elevation and speed changes. The "formula" does not remain static. We do not have an eraser to fix mistakes on a paper that does not move or reflect our own shortcomings as we accidentally erase the trail with our own in our eagerness to solve the mystery. I would put a tracker against a mathematician any day for problem solving ability, and I teach math and science for a living. When I bring the technologies of hunter-gatherer cultures in to our seventh grade culture, I know of only one certainty....hold on to your hats. I say this because really learning and having adolescents as students in combination is a whirlwind of emotion fraught with angst, uncertainty, and explosive events. In short, it is everything it is supposed to be, but not allowed to fully become. It is the invisible school, and a sort of rehab for injured and atrophied minds. Let me explain.
The western mind of today, that's yours and your children's way of looking at and interpreting the universe, has patterned on very short pieces of information and images given at a sixth grade reading level and spoken with loudness and repetition. These "sound and image bites" come at us in two to four second bursts. Time a cartoon or television program to see how long it takes a scene to change if you need verification on this. In our cities it tends to be even more compressed, as we expect our food, comfort, information, and transportation to occur almost instantaneously. As a result, we have developed a brain that expects a "reality" of instant gratification. With quick and darting eyes we scan the landscape for that which can serve us and discount the rest. As a result the gifts of our ancestors lie dormant. Our innate yearnings are stifled, ridiculed and soon forgotten under the pressure of quizzes, tests, exams, and deadlines. The time piece becomes our master, delegating how much time we spend at each event as our mind races from the last appointment toward the next. We talk in our cars as we speed across invisible landscapes, building a mythical future at the expense of the moment. All the while, that yearning small voice knows there is more, that something isn't being satisfied, that a very important piece of the personal landscape is being neglected.
We wake up one morning as adults. Moments before the alarm goes of your mind, trained as smartly as a soldier, commands you to turn it off and begin your routine. You can no longer sit comfortably alone and without distraction. Your logical mind has been so conditioned that it automatically craves the distraction of the cell phone, the blackberry, the laptop, the news program, or the text. Welcome to the Matrix.
For hundreds of years we have intuitively known that nature has "therapeutic" benefits. Now we can prove it. Everything from the shades of greens and browns, to the sounds and smells of the natural landscape effect our entire being. We know that children who are allowed to climb trees and play in the mud are better adjusted than their near sterile counterparts. Creativity increases and stress levels decrease as we head to the wild places to "get away from it all". Every major belief system hails the importance of "the temples of creation". In modern brain research we know that the natural landscape induces the "alpha" state. In other words, we find our selves relaxed, yet aware. Our creative juices begin to flow. Our physical resistance to disease and self healing mechanisms are optimized. We can learn faster and easier as well as remember things with greater ease and accuracy. We now have the technology to see how the Reticular Activating System (RAS) no longer filters out the "crush" of sounds that is our modern society once we are removed from it. Suddenly we are moving with more efficiency, talking less and hearing more. Our whole body begins to awaken. Our senses tingle and our stress melts away. Three days in to a wilderness experience a hermit thrush singing sounds almost deafening, yet we don't cringe. Instead we are surprised to have never heard such a beautiful song. The RAS in our minds filtered all that wasn't necessary while we ran, like hamsters on a wheel, the never ending cycle of from home to work, work to lunch, lunch to work, and work to home. When we leave our quest for "manifest destiny" we begin to see what we already have. This is the magic of learning anything that gets you deeper in to the out of doors. Many folks I know are old and broken. They have become bitter at the realization they worked hard for a living, sacrificing health and happiness for forty plus years, and they have never truly lived. Now, at the end of their trail, they look back at the wasted and meaningless efforts of thankless toil, all at the expense of the youthful joy they yearned for all of that time. If only someone could have shown them that the clock could be forgotten and that the backyard had all that they needed. Life would have been the joyful dance I experience every day, along with the many others who track and play in this wild landscape.