Education of Man, Children of Nature

   We have often been asked about the effects our journey has had on our children. I see my children’s experiences as learning in the true, deep and real sense of learning, where life is their teacher and their experiences are connected directly to Nature. I have always been interested in education and one I have intensely observed and considered, mainly to best learn how to improve and educate myself. I have recognized though that education and learning are not the same. Education is systematic instruction and meant to be implemented on a large scale. Learning is much broader and deeper than memorizing information or learning facts; it is more personal. Learning has greatly to do with how one should live and how one learns to live. Learning never ends, and in our modern world, really only begins when a person first leaves the school building. Learning encompasses being able to improve one’s moral, ethical, and philosophical self during the course of his life. Plato says through the voice of Socrates, the true life of a philosopher is learning how to die. What other purpose are we here for? We are born. We will die. It is vital then that we learn first what we should spend our time actually learning, for learning is synonymous with living, and living with dying.
    When I observe my children building a dam in a glacial stream high up in the Canadian Rockies, just below where a gray-blue glacier sits brooding above them on the boulders and crags of a mountain side, I consider their dam building learning of the highest order. Despite their smallness and near insignificance amongst the grandeur of nature, Nature is foremost a bountiful benefactor. Nature gives freely and completely. Nature has all the learning materials necessary for any undertaking the children want to embark on. In their simple play of throwing rocks into the stream, they partake in millions of years of mountain building, in tens of thousands of years of glacier building; everything exists in that moment, it seems, so they can build a dam to pool water in order to swim. Nature celebrates the extravagance of it all, and the children celebrate with nature. It is exactly this that makes Nature so very personal. The children feel that this stream was placed there only for them, who play alone along a ridge of ice-carved rock bare of trees, who play beneath the imposing and ancient glacial snow surrounded by an amphitheater of valleys, forests, pinnacled mountain peaks, and off in the distance, more snow and glaciers, the sky so blue, not a speck is seen in its brilliance. As if they were the only children for a hundred miles. They might as well have been. And Nature providing the intimate, nurturing, unquestioning care of a parent. In such moments, it is not difficult to recognize that when children are in Nature, they have what they need to learn.
    Adults would also require little more, only adults are often removed from that magical circle that children have such free access to. The key to Nature’s secret garden is something which seems counterintuitive to adults, or better said, to modern man, because it seems contrary to everything our sophisticated, result-oriented society has told us: doing not-doing. It is not through effort that we force ourselves into Nature’s spell or uncover its secrets, as we often do with science; you need only sit still and listen to a mountain stream, perhaps at first with eyes closed, and do nothing; it is not-effort. Nature constantly gives, but we overlook its abundance, or only see what we can take for our immediate needs. The secret is deeper than our immediate gratification. It is at the heart of who we are, of our being a part of the circle of life.
    And when our children left their playing, they also never left behind a permanent trace of their presence. A rock or wood might be moved, but it is nothing which Nature could not in a short time set right again, like a parent who cleans up the playthings of his children. Nature has a more difficult time with adults, who carve a road through a mountain side, blasting the rock away; or the many dams that we witnessed on our journey where vast landscapes were completely altered. Adults move with great indifference and unfeeling through the world. When children play, their mark on Nature is fleeting.
    Many Native American and First Nation tribes we encountered seemed to have an awareness of this inner wisdom, that their imprint on Nature should be as a minimal as possible and that future generations depend upon it. This too seems counterintuitive. Modern man believes he has to “build for the future.” But after our experience in Nature, I can understand what the Native Americans might mean. You should only take what you absolutely need and leave the rest for other living things. This includes the beautiful scenery as well as what you need for your own sustenance. If you damage or destroy what is there, then there is less for the circle of life; the harmony is distorted or broken, which breaks in turn the circle, and so the life of all future generations.
    Our three children, always being close together on our travel, also always played together. This is their first, and most important, learning and social experience in their lives. If they learn to interact and maneuver their relationship with their siblings and parents, they will certainly be prepared for all the relationships they will encounter in life. In fact, the relationships between siblings and with parents are the most significant and defining relationships in the children’s lives and appear again and again: as friends, as partners, and again in their own children. They need to learn first how to get along with their family in order to later get along with the rest of the world. But to do this, they must spend a great deal of time together. This is not just mornings and evenings of the work or school day, or on the weekends at sports events or school activities. It is really undisturbed time, where the focus is each other and nothing else. This is not just between the siblings but includes the parents as well. It should be undisturbed time together as a family — for weeks, or even months. Only then can a deep bond form and the individual relationships grow.
    In the past, these relationships were more natural than today, where the whole family worked together, often farming, house keeping, raising the children. Three generations would live and work together, so these relationships and their bonds had an opportunity to form. Getting along was essential to the success and survival of the family. In our modern world, each family member is an island to himself, each person has a lonely, individual path. Beyond bringing home good grades and prizes or winning a place at a “prestigious” university, children today sadly bring very little to the real, daily functioning and survival of the family. This continual detachment from and insignificance to the actual well-being of the family (in the sense of food, clothing and shelter) leaves children without a meaningful purpose. A natural purpose is replaced by an unnatural one. The results manifest themselves in anxiety, depression and fear. A natural purpose is a real, healthy need.
    Not to mean that the children are not cared for or attended to; on the contrary, children today dominate the time and money of parents who enroll them in a myriad of activities, all with the purpose of providing opportunities to “learn.” But it is far simpler: do things with your kids. Not in organized social gatherings with strangers, but alone as a family.
    Our journey has shown me that we hand off the education of our children too often, if not always, to other people. Regrettably, parents are removed from their children’s learning, and therefore, from the lives of their children. If parents could feel more secure and less anxious that they can teach their children, and if parents were given time to be with their children without the harassment and intimidation of their jobs, then they would likely enjoy teaching their children, and indeed learn with their children: not arithmetic or writing, but the beauty and joy of witnessing a new life grow, of curiosity following its genius through the wide, wonderful world. It is a special experience to see your own child discovering who they are, the strengths and weaknesses of their character, the inner callings of their soul. This and more is kept out of reach of most parents. Through fear, insecurity, the panting, out-of-breath race of modern life, duty upon duty piled upon every employee, every citizen, every neighbor. There is no time to care for our own souls much less the souls of our children. Our courage is snatched from us at an early age, in classrooms around the globe: the bells ring, the classrooms are filled, with everyone at the designated time in their seats, ready for another day of work and labor, to conform and earn their daily loan, and then to learn to spend it on worthless objects of entertainment and to squander their free time in competitive and degrading games of social pressure and coercion. When we are “educated" for eighteen years in this manner, followed by an equal and demeaning experience in our work environments, how can it be that once we are parents, we will feel confident we can teach our own children? Self-reliance is shaken out of us at an early age, often never to be heard of again.
    Our family’s experience in Nature has taught me this: self-reliance is still there within us, even if it is a quiet, solitary flame. It is there nonetheless and is to be found in the furthest reaches of the forest, far away from the groaning of modern society and its hard-pressed work. It is to be found in the deepest recesses of forest and meadow, beyond mountain ranges and far from the edge of man’s developed world. There you will find a flowing stream that has not yet heard of man’s whipping masters and driving hounds. There you will hear birds singing and wind blowing through the trees. And not long after searching out this place and arriving there, you will feel the warmth again of your own self-reliance. Your heart will burn and tears will come into your eyes. You will find you are home. And home was always there. But you need to search it out. Do not wait. Go. Go now.



The Natural Pace

Prince Rupert, BC, Canada

    Many people have asked about the places and people we encounter, about us, as a family, our experiences together, about our children, and what we do on a day-to-day basis. I suppose when we started this journey, I thought the Earth with Man project would be enough in itself: a project, logically organized, visually based, with the clear goal of exhibiting photos made along the way and the added uniqueness of the photos being shot analog and developed on the road. These are typical goals a typically educated, result-oriented, creative, European-American would probably make. This typical, result-oriented person would not undertake anything without a clear goal that delivers a result (especially one he can earn money from), a timeline, a list of places to go, a return ticket. But as I have mentioned in previous writings, the project has metamorphosed into what I consider a true journey, which means it is above all spiritual, individual, genuine, with no expectations of what it will “give,” and certainly I do not need to do anything to make it “unique.” By nature, each and every journey is unique. It is individual and personal; therefore, it is unique. I recently learned from the First Nations of the Northwest Coast, in particular a weaver from the Tsimshian Nation we met on the ferry to Prince Rupert who invited us to his home for a meal of smoked salmon and told us about his people and his family: you will be provided for. It is only necessary that you are prepared, which means being aware, of Nature and of people. Then you are ready to have a supernatural experience. 
    So to begin, you have to understand that you need to be aware of your surroundings and observe carefully. This is how our journey began and what follows are a few insights we have learned so far.

    Besides the insight, you will be provided for, I have also learned that a journey is also all about the details and you cannot pay enough attention to details. For example, if you position your tent with the undercover in the wrong direction or over-hanging the edge of the tent a centimeter, it will collect water underneath as soon as there is a rain and within a short time the inside of the tent and your mats and sleeping bags will be wet. You sometimes do not think of that as you put up the tent in sunny, warm weather. But you are reminded quickly of these minor mistakes and they cost time and effort to remedy. So a point learned: man cannot pay enough attention to details when it comes to Nature. This leads me to believe that man’s survival in nature has had to come from his constant observation and arrangement of nature to meet his needs for shelter, food and safety. This seems an obvious observation but one of great importance. It seems to dominate all the cultures and people we have encountered along our journey, regardless of how sophisticated their tools are. 
    The less hinderance a person has seeing Nature and participating in Nature, the more likely he is to personally witness these details. That is exactly what we have done as a family: we have reduced as best as possible that which lies between us and Nature. We are a family of five: we have five forks, five knives, five plates, five bowls, five cups. We have a cast iron skillet, a cutting board and a wooden spoon (each from my great grandmother), a pot, a sauce pan, a wooden spatula, a cutting knife. We have a portable propane stove with two burners. We each have a small space, 25cm x 15cm x 40 cm, for our clothes, but we have found we could easily live with even half of that. I have two pairs of pants: a pair I always wear and a pair of jeans for when I am washing the other pair of pants. I have a few pairs of socks, a few T-shirts, two long sleeves, two pair of long underwear, and a wool sweater from Scotland. This wool sweater has proven to be the best piece of clothing and I have had it on nearly all the time. It has protected me from cold, wind and mosquitoes. 
    But again, I could get by with even less. All of us could. We have lived seven months with what fits in a 180cm x 180cm x 180cm space. A fifth of that is film equipment and photo material, a pure luxury item I found I could have probably done without (that will be the subject for a later article). A tenth is books; a tenth learning materials for the kids; a quarter sleeping bags and mats. So you see, we tried to reduce to a minimum.
    By reducing what we have, we have naturally increased our direct contact with nature and our world around us. It seems to have a magical effect, but it is simple practicalness. Nature rewards simplicity; Nature penalizes complex living arrangements. For example, the Recreation Vehicle, the RV. These people carry their homes on their shoulders, or better said, they drag them behind them. Things break constantly and need fixing; they have to attach their water and electricity to run simple things. Regardless of how much money they spend, these contraptions are poorly made. It is an expensive, rattling box on wheels. No magic can happen inside one of these things.
    On the other hand, nothing can beat the simplicity of fresh air while sleeping. John Muir wanted to experience Nature as direct as possible and slept out in the open, but since we have children, we decided a tent and 0° F down sleeping bags were best. We were greatly rewarded when it was -15° C for a week in the Grand Canyon. We slept snug and sound. The cold, fresh air is wonderful. Also, sleeping on the ground for seven months is great. Your body learns to feel, itself and the earth beneath it. When we went into the houses of friends or families, I often decided to sleep on my mat rather than in a bed. And I would move my head close to an open window. When we returned to the road, everyone rejoiced to be again outdoors, sleeping on the ground and in the fresh air. The mattress industry is based on overly complex living arrangements. Save yourself $1000 dollars and years of back aches and just sleep on the ground. Our species has done it for millennia; it works.
    Being outside all day also brings one closer to Nature. How else can you read the weather. Certainly not from being indoors. Spend a few days outside, all day, and you will quickly watch the clouds, the wind, the sun and the moon. After a week, again as if by magic, you will be predicting the weather; go inside for two nights, and you will forget everything. The walls and windows rob you of all sense. What a sad tragedy that so many people have no idea what it feels like to know how the weather will be tomorrow. You can often smell it. On the other side, you always have a coat handy, one that is definitely waterproof, just in case. You also know after the first few days, Nature can change very quickly. You must always be alert and observant. We lose these simple details in our modern society. Most people only notice the weather from the time they go from their front door to their car door. That is not enough time to know the weather.
    Knowing the weather is knowing your limits of comfort and safety. Here is a question: when you are caught in a thunderstorm on an open ridge, do you lay down to avoid being struck by lightning or do you continue moving? I have heard from a few people (who have probably spent more times indoors than outdoors) to lay down or crouch in a low place and wait for the thunderstorm to pass. Experience shows that when lightning flashes and the thunder claps, your instinct says, keep moving. Do not run, just keep going. On speaking with a Swiss man who hiked the complete Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada, he said just keep moving. Besides his own personal experience of hiking in numerous thunderstorms on exposed ridges and mountain sides, he even went so far as to justify it with modern science: staying still allows negative ions to collect above your head, which makes you a very good lightning rod. Interestingly, we did not need science to confirm this. Our instinct told us what we needed to do. But how could we understand this if we were never threatened from above? Lightning is an ancient threat to humans, and interestingly, we seem to know how to deal with it. 
    So this is another observation: we seem to remember a great deal from our ancient ancestors. But we forget it because we never come into contact with the natural world. Another example: day and night. At day break we wake, at night we sleep, regardless of how early it gets light or dark. There are exceptions to this: John Muir again proved that it is possible, and good, to sometimes explore the night out of the pure fascination and other-worldly experience the night offers us. But in general, we are vulnerable and blind animals in the night and are better off near a fire and asleep.
    This all confirms my observation that we are not really long away from the forest, not long a sophisticated society. We are still more like our ancestors than we are modern city dwellers, who believe they require all kinds of sophisticated objects and tools in order to live. It is our ancient instincts that still reveal themselves in our supposed dependency on modern luxuries. These instincts manifest themselves in a variety of manners: eating and enjoying high-calorie food (a natural instinct when you are not sure when your next big meal will be); fascination and mesmerization by visual and auditory experiences on screens (our highly attuned senses to our immediate environment). These modern luxuries are created by people who recognize these age old instincts and simply want to take advantage of them for money and profit. Their customers though, that is, their fellow homo sapiens, have become sick eating too much and watching too many movies. It is very simple: return to nature. 
    Another observation: humans are made to move at the pace of nature, not the pace of technology. I have noticed the ideal speed for a human to observe their world while traveling is the speed of walking. Anything faster is too fast. Our senses cannot optimally register its environment if it is faster than walking. Even when running, we miss a great deal of our surroundings. Running is a state of fleeing; it is clear that you will not be fully aware of your environment. If you are walking, you can follow a sound in the trees and bushes. You can study the ground, you can smell flowers, trees, or even danger. Try doing any of those things from your car. But the longer one spends outdoors, it is amazing how quickly our senses awaken. By walking through a forest for half a day, all your senses become alive and you feel simply human again. And when you always sleep outdoors, your senses never dull.

    In this article, I have not yet written about our children or our family dynamics; I will do that in more detail in a later article, but in relation to what I have described here, my wife and I have observed over and over again that our children come to life in nature. Nature is the best teacher, the woods, the mountains and rivers the best school. Our children have become sensitive and aware of their world in a way that cannot be taught in a school. In order to learn sensitivity, in order to learn how to see and smell and hear, the children must be outside, and outside for long periods of time: wake up outside, go to bed outside, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner outside, hike in forests and mountains, swim in streams and lakes, and of course, play outside. By not allowing this, we are robbing our children of the greatest treasure, and resource, they can have. 
    In further articles, I will talk more about observations my wife and I have made of our children and their growth on our journey, of our family dynamic, of traveling, of living on the road together, of how we have grown together in a manner that has surprised and astounded us.

    One last observation: each day is filled with many of the insights and observations described here. Often we meet people and are introduced  to hundreds of impressions at once. It is rewarding to experience them all. But above all, you need time — to experience them and then to reflect on them. Plato, through the voice of Socrates, said, the unexamined life is a life not worth living. So another point observed: it is an ancient instinct of ours to reflect on our condition and experiences. This need to reflect is as natural and necessary as our need to eat high-calorie food or to travel by foot. So we need to heed this need of ours. In the past, we had more time during the day to observe and contemplate our world. If I can provide one piece of advice, it would be this: each person should give himself more time in Nature, to observe and reflect on his origin and place in the natural world.

    In further  articles, I hope to  share my observations and insights because I see it is very important to let others know that we do not need to be slaves to modern society; we do not need to forfeit our individuality and freedom, nor do we need to define ourselves only by the things we own and possess or the many artificial duties that modern society has created for us. I want to inspire people to go out and explore and experience the world. We should think less about money and objects and the status attached to them and should instead risk embarking on a journey. A personal journey. Each will be far greater rewarded than had he stayed and only gathered material wealth.



On creating art and the benefit of writing 

   While traveling on our 21,000 mile journey of Earth with Man and carrying a 15 kilogram, large-format field camera up mountains and across desert expanses, I have naturally considered why I make such an effort. Is this really the best method to capture this experience, the landscape, the Earth and Man’s life there? Photography captures a 1/60 of a second of life. A large format camera perhaps 1/8 or 1/4 of a second. And there I stand with this camera, across from a mass of rock created 300 million years ago by the dead materials of marine life forms, rock that was uplifted 30 million years ago and eroded by water and air ever since; and I release the shutter for 1/8 of a second. Such extremes of scale. This is how we human’s see our world: in a blink of an eye, we stand across from Earth’s deep history.
    In the evening, as I lay in my tent while the sand and wind howled outside, I read a passage from Thoreau’s journals:

"If you have been to the top of Mount Washington, let me ask, what did you find there? That is the way they prove witnesses, you know. Going up there and being blown on is nothing. We never do much climbing while we are there, but we eat our luncheon, etc., very much as at home. It is after we get home that we really go over the mountain, if ever. What did the mountain say? What did the mountain do?"


    I think photography can capture some unexpected and amazing insights in our world and life, but the one thing I dislike about photography is the equipment — a great deal of equipment. And often highly specialized and precision equipment. It is not only the technical complexity of the camera and its lenses, but also the developing of the captured image (whether analog or digital) so that it can be conveyed and shared with others. All of this process is highly sophisticated and very dependent on a variety of special tools: the mechanical parts of the camera, the manufacturing of the lenses and casings, batteries for light meters, production of film, chemicals for developing, electricity for scanning the negatives, the scanner technology, a computer for processing, etc., etc… And then to carry all of this equipment across the land, protecting it from thieves, sand and dust, from falling and breaking, etc., to then bear it on my back, along with a tripod and six 4x5 film holders that were loaded with sheet film earlier in the day in a dark bag by hand, to bear this 1000 meters up into a mountain desert and hope for a unique shot, and if one is found, to unload all the equipment, to set it up for the two to at most four shots, focus the scene, make light meter readings, load the film…
    So I ask myself: what is a photo? Most photos are irrelevant without an explanation, a context. What provides context? Most often it is writing. It is the written word that really begins to frame what we see, what we experience. When I shoot a photograph and share it with another person, it really only begins to expand in meaning when I provide the other person with some background information, tell them where it was shot, about the subject matter — that is, to provide a context. Most often, any amount of context is better than none at all. I would even wager that no photograph has ever been made or will ever be made that is better without a context. In fact, I would say, that no artistic production can exist that is better without a context. If we have no context, then it only has a mysterious aura.
    An example of this are the petroglyphs that I saw (and photographed) in the Saguaro Desert. We have no written or oral record of why they were made or what they mean. They are patterns and images etched on rocks — that is all. They have a mystique about them because they are so old, because they have survived for hundreds or thousands of years. They are mysterious. They are wondrous. We are moved by them. But they are really quite meaningless when we do not know why they were created or what the symbols represent. If we just had some context to put them in. Today, we have developed theories and explanations. We can piece together a little of the historical circumstances why they might have been produced. That is something. We want a context, even if we have to create one. We try to imagine it. Then the images grow in meaning, in significance to us. We then in return grow intimate with them. We make them a part of our experience. This is how we put them into context if none is there. We need a framing of what we are looking at so that we can appreciate its deeper meaning.
    These thoughts linger with me as I take great effort to capture 1/8 of a second of existence — and only that which exists in the narrow light of my lens.
    I believe in simplicity. Photographs are not simple. Nor are most other means of expression these days. We have too much technical burden to our process, to our production.


    Part of our 21,000 mile journey was to see what Man has needed on his journey. He certainly needs less stuff, less equipment. He needs basic things to express himself: a pencil and paper. In negative, below freezing weather, my computer does not start. Out in the desert, I have no electricity or internet reception. Water is a limited resource too. It is unrealistic to think that I could survive as a photographer for long — let alone, use a computer to express myself. Under these circumstances, wherever I was, I arose before morning, in the dark, and made a short walk into the desert, away from our camp: amongst the Saguaro cactuses in one place, amongst the Organ Pipe cactuses in another, then amongst the Joshua trees. I watched the sun rise in the cold morning light. I walked back, made some coffee over my stove and with a pencil wrote in my journal and questioned the great effort we humans go through in order to share a moment.
    For myself and my own memory, I do not need a photograph. For myself and to remember, I do not need to document any of this. Just my being there and reflecting on it in my mind is enough. In fact, just being there and witnessing is enough. The universe feels my presence, responds to my thought, to my reflection on the experience.
    To climb the mountain and photograph it is futile. It will tell us nothing without our context in the larger picture. In the morning when I walked out into the desert without a camera, without anything to record the experience, but just went to witness, the desert responded, the millions of years responded because it was acknowledged. It was for me to go back to my camp and sit by the warm fire and consider: what did the desert, the mountains say to me? When I begin to answer this, I can begin to put into context what it meant to me.  To convey it to others, I chose to write it down.