Let's Stay Outside

"Its important to listen with your heart as well as your head," cautions Eric Spruth of Sacred Transformations. His audience, sporting tie-dye and and mosquito bites, nods knowingly. 

Over the past few days, these campers have donned protective gear while helping to restore a local natural area, held a wide variety of amphibians & reptiles with their bare hands, and conquered the infamous 3-Dune Challenge; but today they are calmly taking a plunge into the unknown—poetry.

It’s all part of Dunes Learning Center’s five-day, four-night, Mighty Acorns Nature Camp. Each year, 140 Mighty Acorns from across Chicago and Northwest Indiana convene at Dunes Learning Center’s Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore campus to extend school year lessons in science and conservation into the summer and beyond.

Today, campers are seated in a circle under the trees at Indiana Dunes State Park, where thanks to an “Arts in the Parks” grant, they are collaborating with local artists to interpret and share their experiences in nature.

Spruth instructs them to close their eyes as he reads a short poem titled, “The Sting of Life.” The kids are thoughtful and share surprisingly (to me, at least) personal insights as they discuss the poem and its authors. “Who do you think wrote this poem?” asks Spruth. Turns out it was the product of a collaboration, much like the one the campers are about to participate in. Ten minutes later, they have written a poem, inspired by their summer camp adventures:

“Let’s Stay Outside”
Trees rustling, grass, leaves,
Clouds, Lady Bugs flying around,
Squirrels who wished the wind would never stop,
These are memories that I wish will never end,
Here at Dunes Learning Center.
Cool breeze on a hot summer day,
Things are sweating,
People want to go inside, they are very sad,
But birds are chirping, the sun is shining, the wind is blowing,
flowers are blooming, and the sky is blue.
I am Stuck.

“It was inspirational,” offered Amaya, referring to both the process and the poem. “This activity made me feel good, it made me feel like I was a part of something,” added fellow Mighty Acorns camper, Logan. All of the campers, I think, were a little bit surprised and very proud of the quality of their output—a feeling that was reinforced by Spruth’s respectful tone as he thoughtfully addressed, listened to, and noted each child’s reflections.

After providing time and materials for campers to illustrate their poem, trail group leaders began the job of rounding kids up in preparation for their next adventure.

The time spent quietly reflecting upon nature and meaning under the trees may not be something that these campers will boast about when they return to school this month, but I am betting it is something that will pay dividends in unexpected ways, down the road.

Arts in the Parks activities are a signature project of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, made possible, in part, with support from the Indiana Arts Commission, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.