Def: things placed out of sight; hidden.

Def: generated or released life substances

That’s my post title and I’m sticking to it.

If you can believe it, my mind is all over the map. Beyond the map, really. I’m thinking with one of my mental agencies about how to “ground” these young students I’ll have some contact with, especially next month.

Grounding. These students, every school day, spend a half hour alone at their self-selected “sit spot” that they choose for this purpose–somewhere on the large acreage of the EcoVillage property.

I’m just guessing that your education did not include such an experience of solitude in the outdoors. Am I right?

There are some of you–probably most–who can’t understand the value or purpose of this kind of experience for a young soul, heart and mind.

But I hold the notion that this time alone in a spot that becomes a kind of home ground to them can be one of the most memorable parts of their education.

They are allowed to take a sketch pad and/or note pad, but there are no obligations or directions for their use, far as I am aware.

I’d like to offer then an avuncular bit of guidance here.

One of their first assignments from me will be to take one of their “secretions”: their private and personal impressions, reflections, observations, snatches of thought, perceptions, sentence fragments, imaginations or fancies and “turn that personal nugget into a paragraph that stands alone, that tells a story, that makes the reader know your mind or heart, see the world differently, to feel, think or wonder.”

I am thinking about how I would have benefitted from someone who made me do just that–to think, wonder, feel and imagine in a wider, deeper, more curious and appreciative way than my self-absorbed 13-year-old self.

A gentle course-altering nudge early in our journey can make such a difference in our ultimate destination.

So I’ll be thinking about how to frame a quick cosmic overview of our place in the order of things–of time and space, of Earth and life, of self and our present place on the planet and the opportunities and challenges that brief time provides.

That’s what their half hour alone on five square feet of Earth is a part of.

I’m getting some re-grounding myself in all of this; and that, perhaps, is one of the best benefits of teaching.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I’m a huge believer in grounding, along with hydrating and some sort of zen practice, mine is noting sunrise and sunset. So glad you are involved in the new high school, I know you’ll be a great asset and teaching seems to inspire you.

  2. I loved a book called Journey to the Heart of Nature that I used every year with my 7th grade science students. It gave them ideas about how to relate to nature. One of the ideas involved choosing a “special place.” I assigned it as a 6 week project and the kids got a lot out of it. I think you would love this book for your teaching.