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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

One Square Foot Vacations

This is a technique that can help clarify, in your own mind, the pros and cons of hundreds of thousands of discreet decisions that we make about how to treat Mother Earth. It can begin to develop a relationship between your human incarnation and the living biosphere. When we take vacations, it serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, unless you are trapped aboard a powerless cruise ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, vacations are for relaxing, pampering yourself and recuperating from the daily stresses of the modern world. They also put at arms length, the workaday world to which many of us have succumbed. The second and perhaps more powerful effect of vacationing is that for a relatively brief interlude, we can lose ourselves in a new schedule, a new climate perhaps, a free and easy lifestyle without the specter of returning to work just a few days from now, or perhaps as soon as tomorrow. In essence, vacations can help us to recapture the exuberance, the infectious curiosity, or the lighthearted associations needed for making our minds fresh. This leads to opportunities for learning as we explore a new world of possibility. Often the childlike super-awareness that results from switching gears comes from either looking more closely into novel experiences, or taking the time to look longer into things we would most certainly miss out on while making money for our bosses, or rushing to and fro on our way to secure money or commodities.

The technique we are providing you is a way to inject much needed R&R that can be taken in very brief intervals, almost any time you have available. be prepared to find yourself enjoying longer tours in natural areas and relatively brief ones in more urban settings. 

In our estimation here at ECO-Tours, the vast majority of social, political and economic ills that we are facing could be fixed by simply "keeping our eyes on the prize", taking the time to really investigate the world around us, be in the moment and cultivate flow. Those of us who have poured ourselves body, mind and spirit into nature have found solace there that brings a deep and abiding peace. Getting to the root of where that comes from is not as important to us as recognizing forces of nature for what they are, how they move us and what they reflect. We start from the certain knowledge that life is not as harsh, brutal and "thuggish" as we have been told. Rather, Mother Earth is infinitely abundant, characterized by cycles and a harmony of opposites. For instance, I have heard some people say, and one can feel evidence of it both spring and fall around the 45th parallel, "There is a war between Summer and Winter." Recognizing that each discreet season, whether it be sturgeon spearing season, the deer hunt, spring planting, autumn harvest, the full or new moon or Midsummer Night's Eve, there are activities that is either in harmony or discord with that particular time and place. The prize that we seek is right livelihood, fostering growth, self-realization and the development of fellow beings while not leaving too much mess for others to either clean up or have to deal with after our passing. Recreating Eden might be a bit hyperbolic, but I use this practice to discover, what I believe to be, a logical conclusion.
First the discipline. This is a technique really, but one that can seriously change the way you look at and relate to the planet simply by doing the same drill, the same ritual, over and over. All you need is a one foot (.3m) square frame. This can be cut from pieces of stiff paper, gluing the corners together to make a square. 

       One and 1/2 inch (3.8cm) by fifteen inch (38.2cm) strips will yield a serviceable frame.
 First, glue the entire strip, overlap the corners, then wrap the entire frame in bag-Kraft paper.
Most people find that decorating this frame adds to the experience, but keep any designs relatively simple because we want to keep it from becoming distracting to the actual tour. at most, include an inch or centimeter scale if that will help you to describe items in the field. Making it pretty will help you to keep it close at hand and get more use out of it. A substantial frame can be made of wood, but if all you have is paper, do not despair. If you make your frame of paper or paperboard, adding brown paper bag, torn and glued to the surface will make a relatively pretty finish that can stand up to a bit of rough treatment. This "making the tools" activity can be a really fun family activity as a stand alone creative venture. This frame can also be used as a teaching tool for a variety of purposes... (Get creative!) If you have children who are old enough, let each person design or build their own personal frame, but each will have to have the same dimensions. A functional one foot square frame can be made with sticks and twine if you are out in the field, but measure around on your body for a while to find out how big a foot is, that way you don't have to take a ruler out into the field. The other tools you will need are a pen or pencil and a notebook of some kind. If you really want to get the most out of the activity and keep it for many years, get acid-free archival paper in a bound book for your notes.

Now it may seem odd at first, but I assure you that five to fifteen minutes devoted to this each day for a week will begin to yield great insight into the world around us and ways that we interact with it that we might never realize in other ways. The deeper your investigation, the more rapidly you will learn important lessons about the relationship between ourselves and the land.  Carrying this activity on for a month or three will enhance your understanding of nature in ways that cannot be spoken in words. In some climates and conditions, having a blanket will help as you are about to realize. Take your frame and randomly launch it into different areas. Wherever it lands will become your mini-vacation. The intention, for just as long as it takes, is to pour yourself so fully into the surface of the Earth in that one square foot that no living thing will escape your attention, no bit of detritus will go unseen. We want you to look carefully at every square inch and centimeter, smell it, feel it, experience it as if you were a child. Title your page, "shopping mall", or "schoolyard", "sidewalk", "City Park" or "wildlife conservation area". The more specific you can make your titles, the easier it will be to recall the exact spot. Time of day, weather conditions and date are nice to include, again just to be a little more clear when you review the document later. Sit with this spot, investigating it closely, for a few minutes or a quarter of an hour. In some places it looks like there is nothing, but take into account how that sterility was arrived at. How was that surface arrived at? how much energy and effort is embedded in that spot. Of course, the more you see, the more you will want to look. Document as much as you can about each one foot square "landscape". If it were to rain, would you notice? Where would the water go? Would it even touch the ground? What creatures are passing through this spot? how many organisms? how much water is held there and how much biomass? will it stay or leave this spot? If you feel so moved, document how many types of plants you can many of each? Perhaps include drawings of plants and creatures who show themselves to you in that place. How big? What local conditions affect wind, sun, rain or shadow? How will this change through the seasons?

The best thing about these one square foot ECO-Tours is that they soon begin to teach us things that are hard to put into words. Population dynamics for one...When we see more of certain creatures, do we see more or less of other creatures? Are there any insects or beetles at all? Worms? Evidence of worms, owl pellets? Any scat? Just what is there? I assure you that in some cities, there will be virtually nothing at all, especially if you toss your frame onto a sidewalk or a gym floor. some places trash will outnumber biological activity. Then ask yourself a deeper question...what is going on at a microscopic level? Is there algae? What about bacteria, fungus or other microbiota? How could we know? What would those organisms eat? What would eat those things? And so on...It might take weeks, it might take years, but by only putting a short time into each observation. This activity can be as simple as taking your paper, frame and pen wherever you go and taking a few minutes to record observations whenever you are waiting for some event to occur, a meeting to take place, or just waiting in line. If nothing else, this will inspire conversations with interested strangers, the proverbial teachable moment. There is no specific way to do this, but if your data gets too consistent, try altering your way to work, or the way home...where you go on the weekends or how long you take getting home from work. Perhaps lunch in a park or cemetery, altering your route slightly might make a big difference. Any and all of these changes will spice up your routine and offer the benefits of vacationing, but you can have them throughout the year, rather than crowding them into just a few weeks each year.

Let us know what you think of taking mini vacations into the local environment. Tell us what you learn and how it helps you to understand the complex relationship between our human existence and the abundant exuberance of the natural world. We are always anxious to hear stories of the events and insights that each of our ECO-Tourtists experiences and describes. Blessings and happy eco-tourism!