Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Children of the Forest

Ragged Mountain Reservoir will be our first destination. It's a very accessible wild place--but not for long. Reservoir expansion will inundate the trail system.

Story|Line is a program in which we lead children on an urban hike and then tell stories and draw a huge mural about their experience. This year, we’re changing things a little bit and taking them on a road less traveled (by them). We’re trading streets and sidewalks for trails and streams; we’re taking them into the woods. One day they’ll visit our reservoir; the second will be a trail system along a stream; and the third will be a river.

When we hatched the concept, we knew intuitively that urban children could gain something they lack and that exposure to Nature would open important doors within their creative lives, though I must say that our ideas were somewhat vague. Then we came across a book that had been passed around some of the architects’ offices that talks explicitly about what we are trying to accomplish with the program.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv explains why direct exposure to Nature is so essential to a child’s physical and (especially) emotional development. He sites a confluence of two major trends. On the one hand, human development has moved us farther from the land in all that we do. Most Americans of just two generations ago grew up in rural homes that lacked electricity. In a very short time, their grandchildren have become divorced from the land in all they do—work, play, eat, drink and sleep.

At the same time, the Naturalist movement has also become very abstract, focusing on global trends and microbiology. Clearly these things are important but they do not resemble actual experience. So our educators are not talking about trees or even forests—it’s soil and airborn CO2. Does Nature and its experience have a part in Environmental Science?

Whether we like it or not, we’re large mammals and have more in common with squirrels than with charts and numbers. At a minimum, we suffer if we completely ignore the physical world of which we are part. Immersion in the riot of life and death that is nature re-centers that balance.

It will be very interesting to see what the children have to say—and draw—about their experience in these places so foundational yet so alien. I always learn more from the children than I teach them. I’m really looking forward to being around them and sharing their explorations and growth.

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