Today: Anna Sharratt, executive director of Free Forest School, a national initiative that emphasizes unstructured play, with a nature immersion ethos. Parents and their children regularly meet in play groups, in all seasons, outdoors. The Free Forest School Facebook group for the Twin Cities has almost 4,000 members.

 

Reading

I’ve been reading “Black Elk Speaks,” by John G. Neihardt. There’s a nice edition that was released by the University of Nebraska in 2014 that includes color reproductions of the fantastic artwork by Standing Bear which was featured in the original edition.

Black Elk was an Oglala Lakota visionary and healer who came of age during the traumatic years when the U.S. government forcibly took the Black Hills from indigenous peoples, and tribes were forced into reservation life and all its associated traumas. The book features Black Elk’s detailed accounts of the profound visions he experienced starting at the age of 9, a riveting glimpse of “two leggeds” living in harmony with the natural world. To read this is to be transported to an alternate reality. The rest of the story — the colonization of free peoples; the disease, starvation, cultural loss, and environmental degradation that resulted — feels like another telling of current problems. Destruction fueled by greed and racism is a recurring American narrative.

I know this isn’t very uplifting, but I’ve found a positive takeaway. My work centers around connecting young children and families to public lands throughout North America. I’m using that platform to invite families to research the origins of the land where they live and recreate. Who is indigenous to those lands? What happened when colonizers moved in? What presence do indigenous people have now? Taking the time to learn this history with our kids, to contact local indigenous tribes and ask permission to recreate on these lands, is a step toward healing.

Following

I’m interested in the growing movement among communities of color to reclaim space in outdoor recreation and on public land through the use of social media. Being in nature is often portrayed as a white pursuit. Yet every culture has a unique relationship to nature, historically and present-day, and research shows that humanity stands to benefit from developing a deeper connection to the natural world. Instagram accounts such as @melaninbasecamp and @adventurekidsofcolor are examples of grassroots efforts to bring visual representation of people of color into outdoor recreation; organizations such as Latino Outdoors (@latinooutdoors) and Outdoor Afro (@outdoorafro) are pursuing the same goals on a larger scale. The #representationmatters movement is creating space for people of color in outdoor recreation and adventure, thus tackling a significant barrier to nature equity. To see more, check out #adventurekidsofcolor and #diversifyoutdoors.

Watching

Well, for one, I’m watching a house grow before my eyes. My husband and I dove headfirst into a large home addition project to turn our 600-square-foot cottage into a place our family of four can expand into as the kids grow. He’s skilled, having worked as a carpenter in the past and now as an architect. I’m not; I’m learning on the job, everything from carpentry to project coordination. Watching large piles of lumber materialize as a home is fascinating. As a person who generally isn’t motivated to find out “how things work,” it’s stretching my brain in many ways.

 

Listening

As sauna season has ramped up, I’ve been listening a lot to the new Low album, “Double Negative,” while I watch the flickering flames in our backyard sauna. It’s haunting and weird and totally captivating. My kids are obsessed with the Okee Dokee Brothers, so I listen to their albums ALL. THE. TIME. Parents often hate “kid music,” but these guys strike an amazing balance of appealing to kids and adults. They have a fun new album out — “Winterland” — and we’re so grateful they are supporting Free Forest School.

 

Doing

Eating at the recently opened Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant in Minneapolis. Don’t be tricked by the warehouse-like appearance outdoors. It’s cozy indoors, and the food is so tasty.

Curing fish. Gravlax is a fairly simple thing to make at home, and a great luxury around the holidays. I’ve been experimenting with additions to my gravlax rub in preparation for teaching a Nordic Table class at the American Swedish Institute this month. Sorry, the class is full, but there are spots available in my upcoming family baking class for Santa Lucia Day!