The Casper Star-Tribune
Thursday, 10 February 1983
by Charles Levendosky
(The Teton Trip’s very first Writing Instructor)
“Learning on skis in Teton’s winter silence”
In the mountains there are silences so deep that we plunge unexpectedly into our forgotten commonality with the earth.
Last week teaching at the Teton School of Science in Jackson Hole I was reminded of that silence and that common spirit. Students stood in small groups on their cross-country skis hushed by the intensity of soundlessness in this winter landscape, as if they were in a cathedral or library. Perhaps they were, for there was learning and there was awe.
For the past two years Principia High School of St. Louis, Missouri has sent twenty juniors and seniors with selected teachers for the Teton School of Science. They come to participate in a program called Creative Expressions from Nature which evolved from two learning projects begun by the Jackson Hole High School called Art in Nature and Literature in Nature.
Creative Expressions from Nature blends the teaching of natural scientists from the Teton School of Science staff, artist/architect George Vlastos, and myself, as poet. Journals offer the opportunity for an articulate blending. The white pages of those journals – like like the snow around them records their ski tracks – imprints their thoughts, drawings, information, poems, fragments of ideas, feelings, and the week’s experiences.
This is an exciting kind of teaching and learning. It is a total immersion into a learning setting, as a child when teaching itself to walk; leaning, falling, toddling, with no fixed boundaries except body and place. Those arbitrary boundaries between disciplines like science and art are erased. One compliments the other. Winter survival is part of winter ecology is part of an awareness of place and habitats and a growing sensitivity to oneself and what one participates in. And the awesome silence around us and in us with which we create.
Many of these students have never seen skis, but learn confidence in their ability to travel miles across snow. They learn to differentiate moose scat from coyote’s, pine from fir, the types of snow and what they mean to someone in a winter environment. They learn to draw, or to express themselves visually. They learn to be more open in expression of feeling as poem, as a sensitive use of language, beyond mere carriers of observed information. They learn to listen beyond words.
It is an intensive week, but it exemplifies the kind of learning situation which all our students deserve. It accepts more than information. We used to call it ‘affective education’. Education that appeals to an emotional base so we make what we learn truly ours; it becomes integrated into our silences. What we love, we learn more quickly, more thoroughly, and with more care. We call that ‘dedication’.
When the students went out in teams to observe, draw and write, no one had to remind them to respect the environment. Over and over again, with different students, I saw them stop and stand in quiet contemplation, listening to a raven’s caw, the creek’s flow below the ice and snow, the prisimatic reflection of the sun off stellar plaques of snow, and their own breathing. This place, this week was being silently etched into each one of them.
I know I sensed the earth, listening, too.