It’s safe to say that Pine has shaped me as a person. I started attending Pine Project programs when I was 7 years old, as part of an unschooling community. Though many of us would split into different Pine groups, we grew as a collective, gathering together after each session to share stories and learnings. As I reflect on my many years with Pine and memories come to the surface, I recognize the importance of sharing these experiences and learnings with others – so that the next generation might be inspired to go outside, connect with nature, and experience the growth that I have. I’m excited to share some of my reflections with you today.
Gratitude is forever built into my life and self, thanks to Pine. I’ve found that many people outside of the Pine community find it a little bit silly to go around in a circle and say something that they appreciate. But after practicing gratitude for so many years, it has become what I call on when I crave a moment of stillness and perspective. Gratitude and sit spots. Sit spots inspire reflection through stillness, and provide a physical space to practice mindfulness. Both of these practices have become so important to me.
Pine encouraged me and my peers to fully immerse ourselves in the outdoors. We didn’t talk about video games. We didn’t bring distracting toys or any form of technology. At times we were even challenged to join without watches, fostering new perceptions of time as we noticed how much daylight was left. The forest is where we thrive best as children. Without modern distractions, it became a place where we could reconnect with the curious and playful sides of ourselves.
Challenges and pushing our own “edges” were also encouraged. Through the immense support of mentors and peers, I relearned my capabilities as a person. I discovered that many of my personal boundaries were mental. On a two-week Voyageurs trip last summer, with some of my oldest friends from Pine, I pushed myself harder than I ever have before. From long, muddy, hot, and buggy portages and overnight sit spots, to catching and eating my first fish, I learned that I could push myself much further than I thought, while also recognizing when I need to take a break. Pushing edges teaches you what you’re capable of, and how much you are realistically able to take on.
As I learned and grew as a person, the land around me also changed. One of the most exciting things I remember from childhood is quietly wandering in the forest, seemingly alone though mentors were always close by, and seeing an animal, finding the first signs of spring, or following tracks through the landscape. Bringing that experience back to the group and verbally sharing was so validating. It combined the importance of individuality with community. Processing memorable experiences together in circles was part of how groups were able to bond so quickly. The people I’ve met at Pine have been some of the most impactful relationships I’ve had, due to openness around vulnerability. It was a safe place to be myself. Sharing was exciting and feelings were encouraged. Conflict was not overlooked, it was seen as an opportunity to get closer with the group.
The relationships I’ve built with Pine mentors have also been critical to my personal growth. Pine mentors interact with kids in a way that they feel truly heard. I felt that my opinion and stories were just as important as an adult. These interactions taught me that respect is earned by both sides in a relationship, and when it is earned, it must be respected.
Over the decade that I’ve been part of the Pine community, my relationships with myself, others and nature have grown to be extremely introspective and strong. They’ve shaped the way I see myself and others around me. They’ve taught me how to explore my place and role in nature, and apply these learnings to other contexts – whether I’m exploring the forest, navigating friendships, doing schoolwork, or confronting new life challenges. Pine has taught me how to live with admiration and gratitude for my existence as a human on earth. I hope other kids have the chance to build the types of relationships that have made such a difference in my life.