Now, I’m at the page to report how grateful I am that I was invited to teach at IslandWood this May. IslandWood is an amazing Environmental Learning Center located on Bainbridge Island, Washington, on the west side of Puget Sound just a ferry ride away from Seattle. Thousands of 4th-6th graders from all over Washington are served an extraordinary learning experience over their 4 day, 3 night stay. On the 255 acres of trails and indoor and outdoor classrooms, small groups of students are guided by innovative mentor/teachers, who lead them through an intimate investigation of natural ecosystems and cycles, ethnobotany and cultural history, with art and science integrated throughout.
It’s hard to believe this was my ninth year being an Artist in Residence at IslandWood. I’ll always remember how excited I was in 2002, being the first Artist in Residence in their Pilot Program. I had just walked the beautiful mile-long trail through a lowland forest filled with Big Leaf maple, Western red cedar and giant Douglas Fir trees. This was the distance from my car to the little cottage where the guest artists and scientists stay when they teach at IslandWood.
After exploring every nook in the cozy cabin - a gas fireplace in the main room, two guest bedrooms, rustic log furniture, hand-woven rag rugs by Susan Snover, a tiny kitchen in the back, art on the walls - I had just begun to unpack my bags, when there was a knock at the door. I opened it with wonder, and there in full smile was IslandWood’s chef, Greg Atkinson. He welcomed me with a basket filled with grapes, yummy oat-bars, chocolate truffles, and a bottle of sparkling cider. Later I was impressed by his demonstration of food-chemistry when he showed students how to turn freshly made lemonade into pink lemonade using wild-rose petals.
In 2002, I taught students to make rattles using recycled juice cans, ‘the weedy vine ivy’, Western red cedar inner bark, and yellow iris leaves. And, each group planted a baby cedar tree in the garden outside the art studio.
This year, as I introduced myself to the 150 or so students I worked with over two weeks, I was able to also introduce these trees that young people like themselves had planted in 2002. The cedar trees are now 11 or 12 years old, 8 to 10 feet tall, healthy and thriving. It is gratifying to be able to work in context. To teach in an environment where I can connect students, utilizing all their senses, to the important lessons that native plants teach about cultural knowledge and place. These types of lessons help us see and how we, as individuals and communities, fit into this big picture.