Five Ways to Create a Sense of Place
“This campus is a wonderful place to teach environmental science,” says Christine Jones. “For one thing, it allows students to visualize a large swath of our country’s history in one location. And it is very rare to find three hundred acres of land in an urban setting.” Even if you’re long out of school, you can still take a few notes from the teacher’s syllabus for connecting to nature wherever you may roam.
1. Take a Walk.
The simplest way to feel like a part of nature: Let your feet take you there and then you can notice something new. Jones has students try to determine the age of trees. “A lot of students don’t realize that there are actually more trees on the East Coast than there were two hundred years ago,” Jones says. “Fields, woods, and water are all present on campus, which fosters biodiversity. There are some white oaks by the big chair, overlooking the old Lake Ashnoca, that I believe are at least two hundred years old. A big red oak recently fell on the entry road, adjacent to the cemetery. I counted its rings and got to 185, so it predates the construction of our campus.”
2. Watch the birds.
Even if you don’t know their names, it’s a joy to watch birds in flight. “We have a wonderful rush of spring migrants,” Jones says. “The magnolia warbler is always a treat to see. For the last few years, we have had a nest of red-shouldered hawks in an old white oak next to Anderson. It has been fun for my classes to watch the fledglings emerge from the nest and to hear the adult birds calling above. One reason we are a hot spot for migratory birds is because our campus represents an island of protected land in an ever-growing sea of development.”
3. Plant a tree.
If you’ve got room at home, consider establishing new roots, like many students at Asheville School have. “An example for how we have used the campus as a living laboratory is in the planting of American chestnut trees,” Jones says. “In 2015, Brad Stanback, the father of a former student, gave me five American chestnut tree saplings. These were back-crosses between the American chestnut tree and the Chinese chestnut tree. We make frequent checks on these tree species, which were planted by students in the class of 2016.”
4. Observe and write.
“We take our field notebooks out and sketch trees, focusing not just on their leaves, flowers or seeds, but also on their architecture,” Jones says. “In other words, what does the tree’s shape look like? Is it a low-spreading form reminiscent of Japanese art, like the dogwood, or is it tall and straight as an arrow, with few lower branches, like the tulip poplar?”
5. Or watch a show.
A little screen time is okay, too—over the course of the pandemic, Jones enjoyed watching a remake of the show All Creatures Great and Small. “I remembered first watching that on PBS in the eighties,” she says. “It is a series based on James Herriott’s books about serving as a country vet in the North of England.” Another idea: set up a trail camera to observe the wildlife nightlife, as Jones has on campus. “We often get wonderful surprises on these cameras. For example, last year, we saw a barred owl land right in front of the camera. When we checked the time stamp, we discovered that this event occurred right around midnight on Halloween! It is fun for the students to discover that our woods are so alive.”