ACA Forms Educational Alliance with Outdoor Afro

Outdoor Afro was fortunate to make contact with the American Camp Association (ACA) at the Grassroots Gathering hosted by the Children and Nature Network last summer, and after several enthusiastic conversations about connecting diverse communities to the outdoors, Outdoor Afro and ACA decided to form a new educational alliance. Outdoor Afro believes the camp experience, particularly family camp, can be an important gateway to connect children with nature, create lasting environmental stewardship, and inspire a healthy future.
The American Camp Association is a community of camp professionals who, for nearly 100 years, have joined together to share knowledge and experience and to ensure the quality of camp programs. ACA is dedicated to enriching lives through the camp experience. They believe that all children, regardless of their family’s financial capacity, deserve the opportunity to attend camp.
“We are pleased to partner with Outdoor Afro,” said Peg Smith, ACA’s CEO. “We share a commitment to bring the benefits of first-handexperiences with the natural world to diverse populations.”
Outdoor Afro will support ACA’s efforts to better reach diverse populations with information about the camp experience. And in February of 2011, Outdoor Afro will host a talk at the ACA National Convention called: Cultivating and Recognizing Diversity in Family Camp to examine strategies camps can use to support cultural relevancy in the camp experience.
As part of this partnership, ACA is offering the Outdoor Afro community of readers a free, one year membership to their association.  Use the following link: Use the code COUNSELOR-2010 for the free membership, a value of $200.

The Bracebridge Dinner

When visiting the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park years ago with my sister Delane in the summer, we both noticed the promotional materials for the winter Bracebridge Dinner and absentmindedly added it to our bucket list as an experience to have at least once in our lifetime. So imagine my pleasant surprise, when I learned my Bracebridge moment would come this year!

Outdoor Afro friends Frank and Audrey Peterman were invited, courtesy of the Deleware North Company, to take part in this historic Christmas Pageant penned by John Muir, as Visiting Squire and Lady. They generously provided a table for their guests to enjoy the experience, and Outdoor Afro was so glad for the invitation! Dr. Carolyn Finney was also in the mix, so we decided to make the pilgrimage together by car to Yosemite from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Without a shade of difficulty on the road, we descended into the Yosemite Valley in all its winter splendor with a fraction of the crowds. Light snow had fallen on the ground and around every bend of the road was a perfect visual frame of nature hard to harness within words.

The experience of Bracebridge is where “music, nature, and peace are united” in the austere and historic Ahwahnee Hotel that pays homage to native culture and its natural surroundings.  After an hour of pre-dinner caroling and picture taking in The Great Lounge (no cameras were allowed inside), the trumpets blew and guests were allowed to process into the festivities in the Great Hall and transported into eighteenth century England. As the program began, I felt so much pride to see Frank and Audrey enter as part of the cast. They brought so much elegance (and diversity!) to the show and their hosted table where we sat was positioned right near the couple at the foot of the stage.

The eight-course meal was served over four hours by the Squire’s serving party, with each course announced with enthusiasm and pageantry by The Manor Parson, serenaded by song: The Fish! The Peacock Pie! The Boars Head! The Baron of Beef! And in between the delicious courses the court jester and cook routinely poked fun at unwitting audience members with some hysterical results – including a gag on yours truly!
After hours of laughter, and revelry, the Squire Bracebridge and his family lead the final procession from The Great Hall and into modern times, and as they did, we Bracebridge guests rose our glasses over full bellies to celebrate with gratitude the joy of the Season and coming of the New Year.
Outdoor Afro is deeply thankful to Frank and Audrey Peterman, the Delaware North Company, and the fabulous folks of table 19 for including us in a memory of a lifetime!
Click to read more about the Bracebridge Dinner and its history, also check out Frank and Audrey’s delightful narrative of their wonderful experience.

EcoSoul Wisdom: Re-Imagining the River

By Outdoor Afro Contributor, Phoenix Smith, MSW

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to know — Winnie the Pooh

Wade in the water, Wade in the water children. Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water— African American Spiritual

It has been noted that the esteemed African American ancestor Harriet Tubman sang this spiritual as a warning to runaway slaves. This song signaled a need to change paths and move into the water, to go with and trust in the flow of the river. We can learn from her lesson today.
Where I live, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the rains have returned after a long season of dryness and drought. Although rain comes in sheets today, the drought remains.
Usually I lament the coming of the rains as it has signaled less time in nature, but I’ve now come to appreciate the rains differently, knowing that a “flow” has returned, and whatever droughts I have experienced can be healed like the water that flows in the river.
The creeks and rivers are now full of rushing water and of life. When I am still and listening near the river, hearing her rushing water, feeling her mist on my face, I am restored.
The simple act of being still at the river allows me to listen deeply and I stop and ask what does the river have to say? In the freedom of the flow I hear,: Do I flow full of life like the river, or do I resist?  In my practice, I seek guidance by asking questions of the natural world as I embark on making big changes in my life, and aligning myself with my highest purpose.

I start with the most basic questions: What’s the word river? What’s ‘up mountain’?  How’s it going dear hill? In response, something amazing happens. The river, the mountain, and the hill respond: “Ah, I’m glad you finally recognized me, didn’t your mama teach you to greet your Elders?”  When I heard this the first time, I stopped in my tracks, and looked around to see if someone was fooling around with me, but there is no human there. Just wisdom. So now I sit by the riverbank, ask questions, and listen to the message for the day.
“What has happened to your flow? “She asks. I remain silent. shocked that the river knows I’ve felt a little sluggish lately. And so she says, “I have only one course and that course is to the truth, to beauty, to life, to love. But I don’t always flow, and more often than not I’m not flowing or I’m very sick because of human neglect, and abuse and ignorance.  I hear her saying, “Please remember me and thank me when you take a sip of cool clean water, as I am no longer flowing everywhere –thank me when you are flowing in your life. Consider me when you are not.”

J. Phoenix Smith, MSW is the founder of EcoSoul a leader in the movement to foster a deeper connection between nature and intergenerational healing for personal and community wellness, sustainability and transformation. She is an Ecotherapist who utilizes ancestral wisdom, mindfulness based practices, and nature to cultivate peace and well-being.

Equinox and Rebirth

Inga Sarda-Sorensen

Even though we lived in the city, my father remained true to his southern roots and was devoted to growing all types of things from the soil. And he consulted his Farmer’s Almanac and later the Weather Channel regularly to inform his urban gardening plans. I have to admit that I did not grow up with a spoken consciousness about the solstice. But considering the bounty of his garden each year, I know my father respected the solstice as a time of transition into a season of dormancy necessary for the new growth in his garden.
Last night marked an historic moment in the earth’s sky. For the first time since 1544, the earth aligned directly with the sun and moon, which cast a shadow on the moon’s face. This all happened on Winter Solstice, which is the longest night and shortest day of the year. For many, darkness is associated with negative things, but we also know that darkness is the birthplace of dawn — of light.

Nature is a generous teacher and model for how we might live our lives. Those flowers in my father’s garden regenerated and bloomed after a period of barren stillness in winter.  So too, can we retreat into contemplation of those things we want to be born into our own lives for the new year, and we can allow anything that no longer serves our highest good to die away.
In this rare solar event as light recedes, perhaps we can take a moment to imagine the world we want to live in. What thoughts, ideas, or circumstances no longer serve you? How might we bloom differently or commit to change in the world to prepare for the sun that is certain to rise?

Brother Yusuf’s Corner: Adirondack Youth Summit on Climate Change

Green Tech High Student Climate Change Ambassadors (SCCA) attend

Adirondack Youth Summit on Climate Change.

Green Tech Climate Change Ambassadors (from left to right) Qua Shawn Van Tull, Brother Yusuf Burgess, Ms. Amanda Wilson, Jabbar Johnson, Aaron Cassidy and Lionel Mann.

Adirondack Youth Summit was held at The Wild Center (Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks) in Tupper Lake, 2010 on November 9&10. The two-day summit was a successful means for students, educators, administrators and staff to work together to build a realistic, achievable plan to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Through partnership schools learn, formulate and implement ideas regarding climate change. The Summit served student and teacher participants from 30 schools throughout the Adirondacks and Northeast New York State – bringing together high school juniors and seniors, college students, educators, school administrators, and facility staff to discuss how climate change is affecting them and their future.

Students learn more about Solar Power and other alternative energy sources.

Director of Programs at The Wild Center Jen Kretser,  invited student/members of Albany City’s Green Tech High Charter School – BOYS OUTDOOR LEADERSHIP TEAM to attend. The Green Tech High students were escorted by the school’s Service learning Coordinator, Ms. Amanda Wilson and the Family Intervention counselor, Brother Yusuf Burgess. Troy High School was also in attendance, as the second urban school, adding to the conversations and planning.  The students attended a series of sessions and hands on workshops, hearing research-based information about ecological consequences of climate change. They also learned strategies to respond to climate change and in the process save their school and communities money.

Green Tech students Qua Shawn Van Tull, Jabbar Johnson, Lionel Mann and Aaron Cassidy represented the school’s student body and benefited through increased knowledge and leadership skills gained by their participation in the Summit.  These students developed carbon and cost reduction plan to bring back to Green Tech High and their community.

As a group these Student Climate Change Ambassadors (SCCA) will share their school action plan with other interested students and members of the BOYS OUTDOOR LEADERSHIP TEAM. Their mission is to implement a school cafeteria waste and recycling program and assist the school administrators in the reduction of the carbon footprint of Green Tech High Charter School, see their school serve as a model in energy efficiency, sustainable energy usage, building maintenance, landscaping and grounds management, school and community gardening planning and how to affect the current science curriculum in the school.

Brother Yusuf (center) takes a break with students at the Fresh Water Fish display at the Museum.

These Green Tech High Students, along with 6 other young men from the school’s Boys Outdoor Leadership Team, will be attending the Green Careers and Job Fair at New York City’s New School on December 11, 2010. They will visit with representatives from regional organizations, find out about jobs, internships, scholarships and programs for environmental careers in the New England area.  This select team of students will network with over 100 high school students and teachers from environmentally-themed high schools in New York City and build career-enhancing skills and get the scoop on trends in green jobs.

Never Too Late to Learn How to Ski!

Zoe of the San Francisco Bay Area (CA) wrote in to Outdoor Afro today to share a glimpse of her outdoor adventures this winter. She told us she began cross country skiing just two years ago, and fell in love with the sport!

She writes, “I am an attorney in the [San Francisco] Bay. I moved to the Bay from New York City two years ago because the parks and outdoor spaces are more accessible than in NYC and it was easier to have a work life balance and eat great healthy food here. I haven’t looked back since I left!
Zoe’s other favorite outdoor activity is camping in Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.
Thanks for sharing Zoe! What are some of the ways you are enjoying the winter weather?
Send us your winter loving photos and a short blurb so we can share here to inspire others!

Review: Hike to the Top of Point Reyes in California

By Outdoor Afro Contributor, Alex Genadinik
Point Reyes National Seashore is too large to hike in its entirety unless you are a marathon hiker! The entire area spans thousands of acres and is large enough to be home to over 1,000 species of pants, birds and animals. If you are planning a hike in the area, you can start at the visitor center like most people, but if you want a real adventure, I suggest you choose a more unforgettable hike like the one to the northern-most point of Point Reyes.
The hike is a 5-mile trek to the very north tip of Point Reyes National Seashore called Tomales Point, and an extra 5 miles retracing your steps to get back. It requires a few extra minutes of driving north from the visitor center, but it is worth the extra drive because it is one of the best spots to see wildlife. Make sure to bring your camera.
The hike itself is through pretty flat ground, which is good because you get to spend more energy looking around. About 1 mile into the hike there is an area called the Tule Elk Reserve. The elk are not too afraid of people and will just stare at you as you walk by. You can take plenty of pictures as they will just stand around and won’t run away like some deer do. The elk are bigger than regular deer that you may see at Muir Woods or other preserves. Be careful though, even though they have a friendly appearance, don’t approach them carelessly or you may set of a defense mechanism where they feel forced to fight back. The elk typically don’t do much and people tend to get bored staring at the elk, and just hike on.
When I last visited, as I walked up the trail, a turkey vulture began hovering over me and glided towards me. These are relatively large and ominous-looking birds that eat the remains of dead animals, so I felt a little uneasy. Luckily, this vulture moved on. It was either confused, overly hopeful, or didn’t have me in mind at all. In truth, while these birds get a bad rep due to their somewhat unpleasant appearance and name. They actually provide a great service to nature. By eating the remains of dead and decaying animals, these birds help prevent disease from spreading, and are actually known as nature’s sanitizers.
After the vulture glided away (they don’t fly fast) I resumed my hike. Since the trail is beside the Pacific Ocean, there are many seabirds in the area. If you bring binoculars you can see many birds perched on a huge rock in the ocean called the “Bird Rock” which is best observed about 3 miles into the hike. After the bird rick, the trail becomes more sandy and it is a 2 mile trek to the Tomales Bluff, which is the complete end of all land from which you can see far into the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
Standing at Tomales Bluff, I witnessed one of the wildest sights I have ever seen during a hike. I saw a typical v-shaped flock of birds fly over the ocean that gradually came down to just a foot above the water, and then proceed to spread into a single row in an almost machine-like manner. The original v-shape slowly spread out into a perfect horizontal line, almost like a ruler. All flying in a row beside one another just a foot above the water, these birds began hunting for fish. There must have been twenty or thirty birds and together they covered an area of about 50 feet, sweeping through the ocean. I tried my best to take photos, but between being completely amazed, and a non-professional photographer, none of the photos captured anything worthwhile.
After seeing that, the hike felt complete and since I could not go any further after running out of land, I dragged my tired self back to the parking lot past the elk, without seeing any more of my friend, the vulture, and thinking about how I’d tell the story of seeing the hunting birds in the ocean.
Alex Genadinik is the founder of a Bay Area Group Hiking site – a community for hikers in the Bay Area. Please say hello
on Twitter @sfhiking.

“It’s Beautiful Out Here”

The Nature Conservancy is doing some terrific work to help youth connect to the outdoors and foster the next generation of environmental leadership though its LEAF program — Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future, a comprehensive environmental leadership program for teenagers and their educators.
Brigitte Griswold, Outdoor Afro friend and Director of Youth Programs says, “The Program brings students from all different backgrounds to work together towards a shared set of conservation goals. For many of these urban youth, it’s their first time living outside of the city, their first extended time in nature, their first paid job, their first opportunity to swim in a lake or a river, to camp and kayak. All of these “firsts” combine to provide a truly transformational experience. And when they return to the City, they become ambassadors for conservation in their families and communities.”
Great job Brigitte and the Nature Conservancy! Learn more about these courageous kids and this amazing program by clicking HERE!

December’s Bird of the Month

Douglas “Birdman” Grey, Outdoor Afro Contributor
As one who spends a lot of time outdoors, I’ve noticed that nature seems harsh at times. Even with birds, their lives can sometimes seem brutal. And some birds even appear to be equipped with “Weapons of War”. Keen and intense eyes, swept-back wings, sleek aerodynamic bodies, razor-sharp talons and menacing beaks.
But the Bird of the Month for this month, doesn’t possess any of these weapons of war. This month’s bird is the common, but not so commonly known, Ruddy Duck.
When it comes to ducks, we as humans typically consider them to be …”cute”. We are usually introduced to ducks even before we can speak. They animate our baby books. They cover our baby bibs. They float in our baby baths. They’re symbols of cheer for us, usually from an early age. And this is probably because they’re just so ding dang …”cute”.
The Ruddy Duck is an odd bird but it is, in my opinion …”cute”. I find the rattling sounds this bird makes during courtship a bit odd … but cute. During the breeding season the male’s bill turns a bright blue. I find a blue bill on a bird a bit odd … yet cute. They have an odd looking spiked tail, which is often times held straight up, which makes them look even more …”cute”.
While checking out a very large retention pond a few weeks back, I noticed a number of different species of waterfowl out on the water and among them were about 80 or so Ruddy Ducks. I spent almost an hour observing them, all the while thinking, “Awwww…those Ruddys…they are just soooo cute!”
(Just then a Bald Eagle swooped in, snatched one right out of the water, and carried it off for consumption. The life of birds can seem brutal at times.)

By Lynne Arrowsmith

Douglas “Birdman” Gray has been birding almost all of his life. He grew up on a family farm near Clarksville, Tennessee, where they grew crops ranging from apricots to wheat, and most things in between. They also raised chickens, guineas, pigs, horses, and a cow named…….Apples. Doug’s grandfather identified the birds they would see daily on the farm.

Doug now resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for “Backyard Birds”. Doug can be reached at 317-255-7333.

Image is Everything

By Outdoor Afro Contributor, Javaughn Fernanders
There is an uneasy predictable phrase I hear after requesting my family’s presence in the great outdoors: “You don’t see us out there!”

Seeing. We are told not to believe what we see, and yet we trust our eyes not only to reveal truths about our immediate environment, but to tell us about our cultural practices.  This is why in 2010, I created a campaign of six posters named “Your History is Waiting For You,” to encourage African-Americans to reconnect to an environmental community from which we have been visually disconnected.
The creation of the posters were part of a three-part project, which also included a comparison of photography of African-Americans in nature.
Before the Great Depression, images of Black bodies in nature could be categorized as exploited laborers, lazy workers, or as terrorized victims. Of course, these images are not our true story. African- Americans have and continue to be in nature, which includes vocations,  religious ritual, environmental justice, and in the preservation and conservation of natural resources.

Unfortunately, many mainstream environmental publications have omitted images of African-Americans positively engaged in the outdoors. And this has created a popular perception that African-Americans are not connected to environmentalism and outdoor recreation. Therefore, I encourage my fellow readers of Outdoor Afro to share family photos that depict people of all hues engaged with and enjoying the great outdoors. Share your photos with this site, or with schools, and in other places where our faces are not often visible. Also, download the posters and put them in your home, classroom, church, or environmental organization. Let’s create a new vision of ourselves outdoors and return to the history that waits for us.
Javaughn Renee is a 40 year old writer and artist currently living in South Bend, Indiana, but missing sunny California. She is a nature loving, yoga teaching, parent, striving to live simply and with love. In 2010, she completed a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Her research focuses on images of African Americans and nature and their effects on stereotypes. She has written for regional and national publications and blogs regularly about her unique parenting situation at “”