Beginner's mind... and what Camp taught me

Several years ago, I enrolled myself in the California Naturalist program presented through UC California at Camp Ocean Pines on the central coast of California.

And I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I jumped in head first, my typical MO, thinking I was signing up for some time outdoors, enjoying nature... Kind of a glorified Girl Scout camp and right here in my own backyard. 

As the bios of the other participants were shared with the entire class before the program started, I was blown away. To be honest, I was panicked. 

They were botanists, biologists, the curator of a natural history museum, an owl specialist, the program director for an aquarium, an eco-tourism director specializing in whales, even a park ranger... You get the drift.

I'm just a potter-artist who likes taking hikes.

I almost quit before it even began, fretting the night before about how dumb I was going to feel, comparing my lack of knowledge to their wealth of understanding about the whole field of natural science and environmental studies. And then my wise husband said something that has stayed with me ever since:

"It's OK. You're just going to learn more than everyone else."

And that, right there, is one of the many gifts to come out the program. I experienced the fun of being a beginner, and I learned that people are so very generous. Every single fellow student shared what they knew with me, and their excitement about the natural world.

At the end of our time together, each student presented a capstone project, kind of like a mini-thesis that we would continue working on in the weeks ahead. From developing nature trails to documenting owls in flight, it was an impressive group.

My presentation?

I got all of my fellow students outside, gave them leaves and plants and had them impress them into clay slabs. They exploded in delight, like first-graders on a favorite art project.

Later, I showed them how those impressions would become molds to be used in the creation of wall hangings. (The pieces were sold initially as a fund-raiser for the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, The Ranch had special meaning to my fellow students as it was part of the land we studied during the naturalist course.)

It was an experience I will never forget, a reminder that art can serve as a special conduit for information and connection. 

Detail from floating tiles.