Monday, April 16, 2007

"Where Inspiration Comes Naturally"

And that's (the post title) what we learned really happens at Islandwood (this website is extensive, sit down with a cup of fair trade coffee) outdoor education center. Already, after simply driving up the windy, evergreen-canopied driveway, we'd been transported to some place familiar and futuristic yet ancient and forgotten. Sleepy gray skies held at bay by giant fir trees, and the pace of life slowed down to match the rhythms of the forest, set by the deer, slugs, geese, and birds (maybe a cougar) that share this space with the humans. Everything softened by green moss. It's easy to forget that the city is a 35-minute ferry ride away.

Okay, so that's the parking lot, and we finally did make our way to the actual school where we had a few minutes to read the information on the walls and models in the visitor's center while we waited for our tour guide Caryl. We read about recycled glass counter tops, recycled yogurt container counter tops, cork floors, fiber boards, certified wood, buildings and windows placed to maximize natural energy, on-site water treatment, organic gardening, and technology. We also learned that this week we were sharing the grounds with one retreat group and University of Washington education graduate students who live there for a year to develop and teach the curriculum to the visiting 4th-6th grade students.

Next, we set out on our tour, which covered a couple of the more than 4 miles of former oxen trails, now for humans. There were streams, lakes, native and invasive species, dorms, outdoor classrooms, a suspension bridge, composting toilets, and 3 tree houses. A student (or adult on a retreat or attending a seminar) at Islandwood experiences all of the amenities, man-made and natural. Technology is used as a means of communication, as well as a tool to help maintain and sustain the ecosystem at Islandwood and wherever the visitors live, hopefully. Each day, after each meal, food waste is measured and recorded. And students spend a tremendous part of their free time journaling in quiet spaces. Something Greg and I would have loved to do, although simply walking the trails in silence with Caryl was awe-inspiring and inspirational.

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