Reflections on rhythms

Ms Kim Wood, Director of Outdoor Education

Over the Easter break, while things were a little less busy, I had the opportunity to stay still and take notice—the sun setting earlier, the nights getting cooler, and fewer trees and plants in flower. At Marrapatta we are also noticing misty mornings across the Moocooboola/Mary River valley, an increase in frog sounds at night following the recent rain, and the drier grass ready for burning as we transition from summer to autumn, from the season of the celebration of bunya harvest to the time of custodianship of Country and community. Nature has a rhythm of her own, at times seemingly unconnected to our daily concerns and schedules, but ultimately an intimate aspect of our daily rhythm, if only we give it the time to be heard.

As we return to school for Term 2, we resume a different rhythm, dictated by class timetables, School calendars, and assessment planners—but, of course, we are also welcomed by the many familiar faces of the blue community to which we all belong, and which we all play a role in building and sustaining. In this busyness we become less aware of the rhythms of nature, and more attuned to the rhythm of lessons, co-curricular activities and homework, of Monday to Friday and weekend commitments, of Alpha and Beta weeks, and of assessments and deadlines.

Yet, we are all part of not only the rhythm of Girls Grammar, and our families and friendship groups, but also the rhythms of nature and the cycles of life. By slowing down and connecting to nature’s rhythms, we feel part of the world around us and see ourselves as more than the various roles we play.

Nature has a restorative power. By tuning in, we experience awe, as beings of the utmost significance and also total insignificance—we have a sense of being part of the world around and beyond us. First Nations Peoples across the world understand the importance of honouring this connection as a fundamental human need, and the responsibility we have to care for Country, to protect not only the environment but our own wellbeing.

As a teenager, I had the opportunity to develop a love of nature, adventure, travel and the outdoors through studying Outdoor Education, participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award, and going to Japan as an exchange student. These experiences helped me to become a considered risk taker and problem solver, and set me up for a life of curiosity. When I go on a trip it always amuses me to observe the way that travel focuses us on life’s necessities—‘where are we sleeping tonight?’, ‘when are we eating?’, ‘where is the toilet?’ The experience of being away from our familiar places and routines makes us aware not only of the needs of our stomach and feet, but also the weight of our belongings, the weather, and the people and environment around us. We find ourselves slowing down our thoughts and worries, and getting into a rhythm that is about meeting our most basic needs and those of our travelling companions, while contemplating the bigger picture of our life and dreams. Having planted these seeds of slowness, of wellbeing and connection, we return to our ‘normal’ lives with a fresh perspective.

The Outdoor Education Program at Marrapatta has been designed to provide students and staff with the opportunity to slow down in this way, and to adopt a different rhythm while developing a sense of community among a small group of peers. We focus on noticing ourselves, others and the environment, and working together to meet everyone’s needs safely. We take time to check in with each other every morning and evening, to solve problems together, and to reflect on how we feel physically and emotionally. We get to know each other over meal preparation and dishwashing, reflect on our observations of birds, insects, trees and animals, how they interact with each other, and fit into the broader rhythms of the seasons. We observe the movement of the stars across the night sky and contemplate our place in the universe.

These experiences provide an opportunity for our students to take time to reflect, and better understand themselves and our world. While we hope that students enjoy paddling on Borumba (place of minnows) Dam and Nguthuru (shadow, ghost)/Noosa River, building rafts, roasting marshmallows, choosing and cooking their own meals, that they remember celebrating completing the ropes course, laughing with their friends and the satisfaction of achieving their goals for the week. Ultimately, we want them to return to Brisbane with a fresh perspective, and a renewed understanding of themselves and their peers. By working through their individual discomfort—whether that be learning to ride a bike, being away from home, eating different food or existing without their phone—students come to understand and value their strengths, gain confidence in their ability to do hard things, and listen to their inner voice. They have the opportunity to create a new pace for themselves, to connect and grow with the world around them, and to take responsibility for their contribution to sustaining the life-giving and life-enriching rhythms of nature.