On Sunday, July 19 YSA youth were invited to participate in a Visioning Quest. This is a ritual that marks a significant life transition or change and is shared among a community. With the guidance of the Women’s Forest Sanctuary, our youth spent time alone in nature seeking a personal vision that might support them or an entire community.
The day began with intention setting. These ranged from ‘being open to new experiences’ to ‘building relationships’. The group leader, Ms. Werner, had the youth play drums together as a way to tap into their energy. Afterward, each person remarked on what they saw, heard, and felt in the woods. The exercise increased mindfulness of the space.
Next, the youth went further into the forest. They sat by trees, and took about 40minutes to self-reflect in silence. Over lunch, everyone talked about thoughts that came up. One youth remarked, “It was quiet in the forest. In Fremont, there are quiet neighborhoods, but it’s also loud. I like it when it’s quiet. When babies scream, it makes me uncomfortable. A lot of kids scream while they are playing. The cars honk too loud. When I sat with the tree, it felt peaceful. I noticed the quiet sitting by the tree.” This time in nature helped the youth reflect on a taken for granted joy: silence.
The lunch was a healthy experience: egg sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, jicama, carrots, cucumber, corn chips, hummus, and sweet potato. Overhead, majestic redwoods casted shade on the table. Relaxed, the group discribed feeling at ease. A youth would later discuss feeling connected among the trees:
“Everyone is consumed with social media and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. You have to take the time to get all that off and just be a part of nature. Things that actually matter have a little more substance. You need to be connected with what’s going on around you. That’s why there shouldn’t be cutting of trees. Trees are a pivotal thing that connects us all. When you think about it: trees have a huge role in our survival. However, people take it for granted. The more people see that, the better chance we have of sustaining our environment. You have to just appreciate that you were created by the powers that be. You are a part of something that is naturally just so magnificent. It’s so valuable. I can hardly put it into words. When I actually took that time to submerge myself in nature, it was just right. This is something that we should have been doing since the beginning of time, appreciating the other organisms around us.”
As the lunch talk dwindled, Ms. Werner invited the group to make art, hike, or enjoy the forest at the youths’ leisure. One youth said, “The training was good. We drew trees. That was my favorite part” and another youth generalized from the experience, “I like making poetry in nature. It is really good. I make art. I listen to music. I notice redwoods. I like being out in nature because it feels good. I’m by myself. It is the best thing. You become a part of the forest.” The youth took advantage of having the freedom to do as they wished. Some played tag, others wrote poetry, and a few others drew intently: “I was acting really childish. No one was there. I was literally running around. I felt really free and open. I did whatever I wanted. No one was watching, no one would judge me. I was not surrounded by four walls. I didn’t need to be this mature person. I was just me, surrounded by trees.”
The youth shared their work and reactions to the free time in a circle at the end of the day. Ms. Werner introduced some information about Redwoods: their thick bark allows them to survive forest fires. They are highly resilient. A youth said later, “I learned about redwood trees (…) I don’t see redwood trees in my daily life. The trip is one of the few times I get to see them.” At the end of the day, everyone noted new appreciation for the Redwoods.
The Redwoods trip provided many insights for our youth. It inspired them to talk about nature. Many other youth had gone on this trip in the past. Even though they had been unable to attend this one, they remarked on similar lessons learned. Several had sought out more vacations with their families in nature. When the discussions about nature continued in the studio we heard:
- “When I go to Yosemite, I love seeing the waterfalls and the mist in the air. It makes me feel open and broader. I can enjoy the peaceful quiet out in nature. It helps me think of what I’d like to do in the future, such as fishing. That’s on my to-do list.”
- “I really submerged myself in nature on a couple of vacations. I also remember going to the marina, just hanging out. Listening to the sound of the waves crash, really becoming one with everything there.”
- “I felt really in tune with nature. In fact, I climbed a tree.”
- “(…) When I swam it was really just me and the animals. It created this connection. I couldn’t actually talk to them. But I could tell they understood me. I was their friend not their enemy.”
- “In Oregon, I was in the mountains. I saw a wild bear. It was about to attack. I have never run like that in my life. My life depended on it. The bear chased me. I had no weapons and needed to run to the car. My brother was there. I told him to drive. I was scared but it was also one of those moments that I never felt so alive.”
- “My favorite memory is in nature and also in the city. Wild Cat Canyon. It stretches from the Oakland hills to El Sobrante. El Sobrante means the leftovers in Spanish. Wild Cat Canyon has half alive and half dead grass. Way far down there is a lake. On top of the hill, there’s a house with a farm. It used to be an artillery mound from the Japaense scare of World War II. I like standing there because you can see into SF and the Oakland docks. I got clarity there. I felt free, so high up above the drama. There was a gang war in Richmond when I went there. It was a very violent time. Actually, it was a race war with drugs. I went to the Canyon because it was 10 blocks up from my house and I could escape it all. I would go up there and chill, have nothing on my mind, and worry about nothing, except maybe a wild cat.”
The Visioning Quest gave youth a chance to reflect about nature. The number of youth who went on the trip was fewer than the number of youth who were impacted indirectly from the trip. It got the youth to share stories. The stories built more community as some youth found common ground with acquaintances. Close friends learned new information about each other, and individuals developed a flare for dramatizing their vision. The Vision Quest ultimately inspired our youth to have more confidence and share personal experiences with others.
Example of Poetry from the Visioning Quest: