On the final weekend of July, a group of new Paper Garden Generators (aged 11-18) and alumni (people who have been been in the past or are currently involved in Global Generations) went down to Pertwood for what turned out to be quite a wet and windy camp, accompanied by Jane, Rod and their friend Kent from Canada. Through many sessions spent huddled around the fire, sharing home-cooked meals, morning walks and qigong in the fields and, for the alumni and some of the Generators, nature solo experiences, we formed a close and connected group.
The theme of interconnection came up multiple times over the weekend, taking various forms. To begin with, there was a strong sense of connection between all of the campers, who persevered through the wet weather with barely a complaint. In a discussion about our interpretations of leadership, we highlighted the importance of collaboration, listening and diversity – the basis of the power of an interconnected team. And beyond the human connections, we felt a profound sense of our place within the ecological community.
The feeling of being part of a natural family was voiced almost immediately. In some of the first free fall writing of the camp, Generators wrote about having respect for, and a friend in, nature:
“Respect is a great thing and although we can’t fully communicate with nature as they are not human, we need to know even the smallest insect, largest tree or a blade of grass need respect, the exact same level we do.” – 11-year-old Generator
“You look across the horizon, and you realise that you’re not alone. The wind and the trees and the ground beneath your feet accompany you on your journey through life. Loneliness is no more; you have an eternal friend, nature.” – 14-year-old Generator
Activities that gave us a feeling of the energy of nature strengthened the sense of belonging to a holistic, environmental family. Each morning we practiced qigong, making movements that link to each of the five elements: earth, fire, water, air and metal. Generators commented on the connection they felt to nature, writing:
“It was like I am one, like I am the calmest ocean, I am the calmest stream too, I am the breeze at dusk blowing up against the trees.” – 11-year-old Generator
“When we were doing the movements for the 5 elements I felt really good as if I feel the extraordinary energy of nature inside of me. My favourite element is water.” – 14-year-old Generator
On one of the days, we were taught about bird identification and taken on a bird watching walk. Our guide, Allison, is a member of a team that surveys the bird populations around the Pertwood Farm area. She explained that the numbers of many species, like barn owls, have been declining as a result of human activity. Our connection to nature is a fragile one.
Arguably, the most intensely ‘natural’ parts of the trip were the 24-hour nature solos which the five alumni completed. For me, the solo experience was humbling. Alone and exposed to the wind and rain, I felt bare and vulnerable, thankful for the tent and tarpaulin that protected me. I felt a strong sense of the beauty and wisdom of nature, but also an awareness of its power and ruthlessness. Looking over my writing from the day, I notice, again, the theme of interconnection and interdependence:
Dressed up in our wet weather gear, living in tents we’ve put up or houses we’ve erected, we are odd ones out here. We’ve become so dependent on each other that we don’t need to be dependent on ourselves, and don’t see ourselves as dependent on nature.
Perhaps dramatic and a little cynical, I was getting at the way in which social interdependencies often override our sense of being connected to the natural world, especially when we live in cities. However, through my experiences with Global Generation I’ve seen how these modern concepts of interconnection can be challenged. By encouraging creativity in young people, and by giving them opportunities to get involved in gardening, Global Generation allows young people to become more self-dependent and recognise their dependence on the natural world.
The ultimate story of interconnection, interpreted and performed by the Paper Garden Generators at the end of the trip, is the story of the universe. This narrative tells of how the universe began with a bang 14 billion years ago, how the larger elements were formed in supernovas, how the earth formed, how life began as bacteria and evolved to eukaryotes, then plants and animals, and later to humans. Often thought of as a scientific explanation for how life began, this story still leaves room for mystery and other beliefs about creation, in the interpretations of the young people. A final remark from an ex-Generator and member of the alumni group sums up the broader meaning of the story:
“I have remembered the importance of keeping the truth of the universe in your heart – everything is connected – is bonded to one another. You will always be part of a community – of not a human one forever a universal one. Universal in the truest sense of the word.”