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Growing Season I: Humans and Nature

There was a time when I teetered precariously with an awkward foot in each of two worlds--the scientific and the indigenous.  But then I learned to fly. Or least to try. It was the bees that showed me how to move between different flowers--to drink the nectar and gather pollen from both.  It is this dance of cross-pollination that can produce a new species of knowledge, a new way of being in the world. After all, there aren’t two worlds, there is one good green earth.

That September pairing of purple and gold is lived reciprocity; its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other.  Science and art, matter and spirit, indigenous knowledge and Western science--can they be goldenrod and asters for each other? When I am in their presence, their beauty asks me for reciprocity, to be the complementary color, to make something beautiful in response.

--Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

A broad tradition in Western thought and culture has for centuries held that nature and humankind are fundamentally opposed to and in conflict with one another. Whether in folk tales filled with dark forests and dangerous animals, or in economic drives to drain the swamps and subdue the virgin soil, or environmental narratives of humankind as a disease infecting and polluting the purity of wild nature, the story told in Western culture has long been one of unceasing warfare between ancient and irreconcilable foes. At this moment of unprecedented ecological crisis, the need to answer Wendell Berry’s urgent question “What are people for?” on both a personal and a societal level has never been more critical. Fortunately, many promising seeds have been planted for a holistic reconciliation of the nature-human dichotomy. These include the wedding of indigenous wisdom to the spirit of scientific inquiry, such as that found in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, as well as efforts to integrate an appreciation for ecological wisdom into traditional religious theologies. These also include the growing movement to reimagine and restore balance to the ways in which we produce food and steward land, such as we find in regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and biodynamics.

Above all, the work before us seems to involve cultivating a form of empathetic thinking that can transcend the seeming split between the subjective and objective modes of knowing. The nature writing of Henry David Thoreau, the spiritual scientific research of Rudolf Steiner, and many other contemporary efforts suggest that we can retain scientific rigor while entering into a greater living and sacred whole that embraces both nature and humans. In Growing Season I, we will immerse ourselves in the question of our relationship with nature through study, observation, contemplation and lived experience, seeking wisdom from ancient traditions, great thinkers, from one another and from the Great Work of Nature herself.  

The Arc of the Year

The Growing Seasons journey follows the contours of the cycles of nature in our region.  We will begin in the last days of March, at the vernal equinox, just before the quickening of spring has begun. We will bear witness as green life returns to the land with rising tempo and exuberance.  During this same period, we will also come to know one another and our shared work, starting daily practices of journaling and dialogue, and exploring a variety of approaches to thinking about and representing natural phenomena and the rhythms of the seasons.  We will plant literal and figurative seeds for the year to come, share stories about ourselves and about the world, and strive to make a shared home in this new place.

As the year passes the summer solstice, we will tend and begin to reap some of the seeds we have sown.  In July and August, the focus of Growing Seasons community will move to the country, to the Driftless Folk School campus at Bear Creek Farm, where days will be immersed in the light, warmth, and green of the summer season, as well is in manual labor and shared life on the land.  As the year progresses, participants will play an ever greater role in determining the focus of their activities and in shaping the development of Thoreau College as a whole.

With the turn towards autumn, our attention will turn to ethics and action in the world.  Our studies will address some of the practical problems related to the technology, economics and politics of agriculture in rural America, as well as to some responses to these problems.  The harvest season will bring opportunities to collect and preserve the fruits of our labor, as well as to share what we have gleaned in service to the wider community. With thoughts of the future and of the approaching winter, we will transform all that we have gathered into works of art and grateful celebration and prepare the seedbed for the next Growing Season and for the next phases of our own lives, as each participant prepares to go their separate ways.

Blocks and Expeditions

The activities of the Growing Seasons year will be organized into five blocks of 6 or 7 weeks each, interspersed with a series of wilderness expeditions and solo experiences.  Each block will have its own theme connecting the academic, artistic, social, and manual work in relationship to the overall arc of the year.

APPLICATIONS DUE: Priority will be given to applicants who apply by January 1st.