Word from the Wild - Maren Freeland reflects on her experience leading the 2015 Wild Time programme for girls
The lack of support teenagers receive in our culture today is often lamented. We don’t have any clear traditions that provide rites of passage during this important time in a young person’s life when everything is changing – body, emotions and mind. They are labelled disruptive and difficult. Left to their own devices, teenagers might “self-initiate” by seeking thrills in all sorts of unsafe ways (drugs, sex, crime etc.).
But who is there to turn to? Peers’ or parents’ presence in their lives may not be sufficient at this stage. In many cultures around the world, young people would have elders and mentors, who would accompany them in their transition from child to young adult.
So when I was asked to get involved in setting up a nature-based mentoring programme for teenage girls, I felt excited to contribute to such an important endeavour. I have memories of my own teenage years – confused and unsure of myself. Would my life have been different if I had been welcomed and supported into adulthood?
Our team of three women dreamed up WildTime for girls, a programme that stretched over 5 weekends from April to September. Run for WildWise, a Devon based organisation, who offer nature connection events and a similar programme for boys - the Wolfpack. The weekends were themed around the four elements: air - intention, fire - power, water - relationship/ emotions and earth - body. The last weekend was marking the journey taken - center, the girls stepping into their wholeness and being celebrated for who they are.
The intention was to have fun, challenge and adventure, whilst giving time and space to explore the connection to self, each other and the earth and to instil a sense of belonging – in our bodies, in womanhood and nature. It was an honour to see the six girls unfurl and grow during our time together. I saw their body postures change, as if they started being proud of who they were and what they are becoming.
The reluctance of the beginning soon transformed. Having to get up before dawn seemed a drag, but walking into the sunrise sparked awe and wonder. One of the city girls experienced sunrise for the first time and comments ranged from “I’m feeling so alive!” to “it’s like coming home, being in nature!”
We had many adventures. The girls met the physical challenges of canoeing day and night, and walking wild on Dartmoor, navigating with map and compass. They learned to manage themselves in the outdoors: making fire, shelter building, wielding axes, saws and knifes safely. They slept suspended in hammocks in the woods, cooked tasty meals round the fire from wild food gathered, and got creative making art and crafts from natural materials. One of the highlights was the sweat lodge ceremony under the stars on Dartmoor where we were singing, praying, sweating and skinny dipping in an ice cold river.
The girls appreciated being in all female company: “this is really different because most of my time is occupied by boys and them always taking over. I’m really able to focus on my learning about what nature is and about myself.” We encouraged the girls to track their cycles, to understand that their emotional states can be related to its phases, and to value themselves as cyclical beings.
Being allowed to make mistakes and nevertheless to be accepted was the team spirit of WildTime. “I pretend so much to be somehow different from who I really am, here it doesn’t matter.” These supportive relationships, allowed the girls to explore, understand and hopefully resolve some issues. And, although we all matured during our time together, we always made sure to have plenty of fun and PLAY, because we all love to be kids at times!
A mother’s voice: “an incredibly positive experience providing solid mentoring that has strengthened my daughter as a person”. A daughter’s voice: “I would explain this experience to a friend as an amazing outdoor spiritual awakening camp - full of laughs and fun, with great people and facilitators - in beautiful places - it was just AMAZING!”