By Sophia Hutnik, Phase I Fellow
Some of the most soothing and educational experiences that I’ve had throughout the Fellowship have been during my free time on AMI’s mountain campus in Highland County. I believe that several Fellows have already written about their experiences and connection to where we are living right now, but I wanted to chime in as well. Having access to 500 or so acres of forest and trails has given me the space to explore my connection to the world I live in.
Many people have told me that it wasn’t until they started foraging or participating in their woods or ecosystems that they started to develop a deeper connection to it. This is something that I have found true for my own experience as well. I used to go on hikes and walks, but would often feel perplexed as to why I was feeling disconnected from the woods and all of the beings that were in them. At times, I felt blocked and unable to connect with the larger world around me.
During my past academic studies, I discussed and read a lot of theory on our current global ecological crisis and the roots of this crisis. Now, I think that the dividing idea in dominant culture, is that humans and nature are separated, and that is the root fundamental cause of this crisis. I also now know that this divide is something that I want to address in my own life, both personally and professionally.
I won’t bore you with academic theories on mechanistic world views and the framework of capitalist expansion and contraction, but suffice it to say that I have chosen to leave academia behind, for now, for a reason. What I would like to emphasize here is how important it has become for me to practice as I preach. Before I go into the world and try to instigate conversations on the crisis we are in and how we got here, I need to help people remember that we humans are part of the ecosystem, that we are not above and separate from it. Ultimately, I feel the need to live in a way where I actually feel more connected to the world I live in.
Part of the reason why I believe that I felt blocked from really connecting with the world was that I have lived in 3 different countries in the past 7 years with a lot of travel in-between. I think this led me to feel incredibly displaced and culturally confused. Without a sense of place, I had a hard time connecting wherever I was. While my time on the AMI mountain farm campus is coming to an end, and although I have been here for only 6 months, I have gained a stronger connection to this place than I think I ever had to any place. In this place, I started to actually feel connected to my ecosystem, at least somewhat.
It was here that I started to learn how to identify trees and pick out St. John’s Wort. At first, I was afraid that I was just learning the different ways that I could use a plant or tree, just learning for pure utilitarian value, whether or not I was interested in that plant or not. But the more that I learned and explored, the more I started to feel connected to the plants that I was learning about, and not just for their uses, or to be able to identify various animals and insects going on with their lives.
As I continue to delve into herbalism and foraging, I believe that I will find even more connection to the place I am in, wherever that may be. I hope this connection will foster a desire to not just protect these ecosystems in the ways that I can, but to also participate in nature as a member of the ecosystem. I hope that I will arrive at that point, someday, wherever I am. I have a well-warranted, sneaking suspicion, that I will achieve this only when I settle down and really get to know a place.
Until then, I will continue to strive toward unraveling my cultural biases and human centric notions, explore herbalism and plant identification (among other things), and instigate conversations with people and seek mentors who can help me on this journey. And, I will always remember my time spent on these mountains as one that has deeply touched my soul and has altered my direction in life. Whether the experience has straightened out the road, or made it more twisted is yet to be seen, but I look forward to my next steps.