Expressive Arts is a place I feel at home. I have been teaching art, theater and movement since I was miraculously hired as a kids’ camp counselor at an outdoor education center when I was a junior at Penn State University, just after I opted for the glamorous “Undecided” as a major instead of “Theater Arts.” “But I don’t go outside, I’m an artist!” I told the amused interviewer. “You’ll figure it out!” she said. She must have seen something in me that I didn’t yet see myself.
I happily led children to make puppets out of sticks and leaves, drew masterpieces on smooth rocks, baked cakes in a solar oven and told legendary myths under the grove of pine trees just north of the lake. My group was the only one that never hiked around that lake in the high heat of noon or any other time of the week. We would wave to the lines of mini-hikers when they would round a bend close to the opposite shore within our line of vision, cake crumbs falling off our lips.
I picked a little boy to narrate our elaborate puppet play at the end of the week camp fire presentation for parents, because he did a good job with it during practice. After the performance, his mother came up to me in tears. Apparently her little boy suffered from anxiety and stuttering in school and she was so appreciative that I gave him this opportunity. “Huh?” I looked at her with surprise, “What stutter?”
I remember the director of the center, a brilliant Outdoor Education Leader. I assisted him once during a corporate leadership training at the center the same summer. As he talked to the group of sweaty men and women, dressed “down” in their pressed casual khakis and collared shirts, I felt his words resonate inside of me.
What nature had to offer me, was profound. I had lost my pallid white complexion and the eye makeup. My hair was back in a ponytail and my fingernails were clipped short. I was Natural! And Serene! I didn’t swat at the bugs and they didn’t swarm me. I was peaceful, my mind was QUIET! I waited patiently while the corporate participants struggled with the sun in their eyes to understand his philosophy about what nature could teach them in the workplace. I watched driblets of sweat pour down a woman’s face, taking the makeup off with it.
I did figure it out that summer! Or I let it figure me out! The groups of kids and I traced our steps throughout the day to see how the appearance of the sunshine changed in the nooks around the woods near the center. We saw the tiny signs of animals making their way through our favorite lunch spot. We watched the other groups come and go throughout the day, in various moods and energies, as we contentedly made our crafts and danced in the front garden. It was a glorious summer. I enjoyed repeat campers, love notes from parents and a trust in myself from the staff who hired me.
God/Goddess is in nature. In the little things…the sunshine patterns across my cats’ fur, the hummingbird who hovers to greet me on a San Francisco sidewalk, a child’s smile to me as his mother pushes his stroller past. But I must be quiet and present to let these gifts from the Divine find me. This was the wisdom put to words that day in nature with the sweaty professionals.