Back to the Land: 13 Years of EarthWalking

by Adam Blachly

While poised in front of a camera, I was asked the question, “How did EarthWalk complement your educational experience?” That was a difficult question to answer, not because I couldn’t think of a response, but because I could think of so many. Where to start?

I began attending EarthWalk in 2005, its inaugural year, at the age of six. For almost a decade I attended the summer camps while also participating in the Village School, a year-long program. Once a week I walked the well-trodden path to Hawthorn Meadow, played tag in powdery snow, listened to ancestral stories, and roasted apples over the fire.

Founded by Angella Gibbons, the Plainfield-based non-profit aims “to inspire and empower children, families and communities to reconnect with and care for one another and the Earth through long-term nature mentoring.” Over the years, it has grown dramatically, from a group of ten kids in the small property behind the Jaquith Public Library in Marshfield, to more than 200 annually, who use the Goddard College woods as their classroom.

As I re-entered the meadow, now at the age of 19, I was struck by its familiar beauty, and as I passed landmarks, I was reminded of specific memories. There was the hawthorn whose needles jabbed my feet countless times; there was the place where the longhouse used to stand, a traditional native American shelter hand-built by earthwalkers; there was Ridge Runner Trail, where, one day after camp, I spotted a gray fox trotting down to the creek bed.

As I followed the path to the meadow, I saw deep, fresh holes in the trunk of a mature red spruce. I felt the inner bark, rubbing the soft yellow punk between my fingers. Probably the handiwork of a yellow-bellied sapsucker, although I couldn’t be sure. Soon, I heard a deep caw echo above me, and a large black bird swooped out of sight behind a pine grove. A raven, I thought.

Thanks to my experience with EarthWalk, I’ve built a deep curiosity for the natural world and hear the questions of my EarthWalk mentors still in my head. What direction is the wind coming from? How did these tracks get here? Why is this log covered in fungus? The more I asked questions about nature, the more I discovered about it. I could’ve very easily ignored that sapsucker drilling and disregarded the passing raven, but I didn’t.

Reaching the meadow, I noticed the tall, orange-topped Scotch pines, and the young red oaks, speedily growing by the edge of the field.

My arboreal knowledge came from an independent study I took during my sophomore year of high school, led by local naturalist Brett Engstrom. My biology class was for the most part indoors and unstructured and I wanted hands-on learning more than anything, knowing I’d get more out of it. After just a week of my self-designed field botany course, I had become passionate about plants and soon was out cataloging tree species just for the fun of it. Without those years with EarthWalk, I would never have wanted an outdoor education.

The alumni reunion, this past January 27 on the Goddard College land, was a special event. I saw faces I haven’t seen in years, and we laughed, played games, and reminisced with each other and for the camera. Most importantly, the event reminded me how much I value EarthWalk and all it has given me. There is no question in my mind that the program has complemented my education immensely.

Who knows? Maybe instead of wanting to be a naturalist, I’d want a desk job, aiming my laser at a power point on multivariable calculus in a fluorescent-lit classroom. Instead I am fueled by an undeniable desire to explore the natural world

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