Eco-tellers Retreat 2010

Organizing tool for the April 9th,10th and 11th 2010 Environmental Storytellers Retreat in Yellow Springs Ohio.

Monday, May 10, 2010

2010 ECO/Environmental Storytellers Retreat (Summary)

The 3rd annual Eco/Environmental Storytellers Retreat was held April 9-11 in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Previous retreats were held in other states.

Eric Wolf, with assistance from Jonatha Wright, organized the event, held in the Vale Community in Yellow Springs. Those who arrived on Friday enjoyed a pot luck dinner with residents of the Vale community. On Saturday evening, a fund-raising concert performed on the Antioch College Campus by many of the retreat participants raised funds to benefit the Tecumseh Land Trust.

Workshop sessions and discussion topics were determined in advance through e-mail conversations with those attending. Sessions included:

• “Guided Inquiry” led by Kevin Cordi, who chose coal mining as the topic for this activity. We each selected 4-5 documents scattered over the floor, then wrote a question prompted by each. Kevin facilitated an unscripted role-playing discussion based on the questions. Roles included mine owner, engineer, widow of a miner, surviving miners and others. A good technique to prompt in-depth exploration of a topic.
• Environmental Theater for Kids — Eric Wolf. Eric writes scenarios wherein campers become characters, perhaps even animals. These are set in places like Africa, a meadow, and a local community with a polluted pond. The focus is on a conflict/crisis that affects humans and/or the natural world. As many as three scenarios are taking place at one time, (all in the same habitat). The discussion that follows provides additional insights and evaluates students’ understanding and increased knowledge.
• A discussion of the need for stories with a positive outcome, (vs. tales of environmental disasters), both in folk-tales and in true stories was led by Fran Stallings of Oklahoma. Having observed a feeling of hopelessness about the earth’s plight, especially among teens, She suggested using stories, including true “ECO-Hero” stories, to promote hopefulness and provide examples of actionable projects.
• A discussion of National Park Residencies and the obligation to create a useful product for the park ws led by Sally Crandall (who will be resident at Homestead National Monument in Nebraska later this year)
• Creating a themed program — start to finish, led by Joyce Geary, Jonatha and Harold Wright and Janelle Reardon. We divided into three groups, each group creating a program on one of the TOPICS: Air, Fire, and Water. A guiding THEME for each (a sentence describing the desired take-away message of the program) was developed by the group. Each group presented the theme, an outline of the program and stories to be included, telling one or two stories from the program.

There were opportunities for “hat stories” (storyteller’s name drawn out of hat), nature hikes in the nearby parks (a deep gorge and beautiful glen), and quiet time in a serene natural setting.

Day of Friday, April 9 2010

(Times listed are approximate and may be adjusted when more accurate information is available)

Please have someone else report on the following two events -- I was not present.
1 p.m. – Tree Walk with George Beri, Land Manager, the Glen
3:30 p.m. – Flower Walk in the North Glen

6:30 p.m. – Pot Luck on the Vale Commons
Registered attendees are invited to meet the Vale community members
Our excellent dinner, including contributions from the travelers, featured delicious, healthful vegetarian and vegan choices provided by residents of the Vale community. In addition to the bonfire area, there is a large community garden that inspired some discussion of the advantages of locally grown fresh produce.

8 p.m. – Hanging around the Vale Commons Campfire telling stories (Moved to the Yurt)
Because the night was cool, we moved into the yurt for storytelling. The spacious yurt was home to most of the retreat activities, providing the warmth of a wood fire, an excellent hardwood floor appropriate for all kinds of movement activities, comfortable rugs underfoot that could be moved as needed. There was an assortment of cushions and blankets available for those who preferred floor sitting, or who may have forgotten to bring a chair. Colored lights and symbolic banners brightened the perimeter, along with an assortment of objects for inspiration and reflection.
Names were put into a hat of those willing to share stories. One by one, the tellers’ names were drawn and the stories told.
(WHO, WHICH Stories?) Anybody remember – please email Eric Wolf

Morning of Saturday, April 10

9 a.m. – Opening Ceremony
Eric Wolf provided a number of colorful silk scarves, along with an invitation to create a focal point in the center of the yurt. One by one, we added color, texture and shades of meaning with the scarves, stones we brought from home, and objects found in the yurt. The soft, colorful scarves provided the feeling of flow and motion, anchored by the stones and other objects added to this centerpiece. Textures and symbolism were provided by a large exercise ball, a tall drum, a stone goddess figure, part of an animal’s skull, a painted gourd and a lampshade.

9:20 a.m. -- Acceptance of Schedule
All present agreed to the schedule as proposed

9:25 a.m. -- Lisa Homes – Performance of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Lisa presented part of the program she created for the Clark County Solid Waste District, called “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.” Designed for Grades K-4, the program has currently been presented to about 800 students in Clark County, Ohio, and is part of their “Keep Clark County Beautiful” campaign.
The program is presented by three characters: Trash Hildaville, The Wizard of Waste, and Mother Earth. These characters make learning about waste and recycling fun for kids.Lisa plays both Trash Hildaville and Mother Earth. A colleague who plays the Wizard was unable to be present. Eric Wolf did an abbreviated version of the wizard during the presentation.
When Trash Hildaville appeared on stage dressed in dirty, ragged clothing with brown teeth and with her huge stash of trash, we were surprised and confused. When she began emptying it on the floor and throwing it at us – rats, used diapers, plastic jars and much, much more, we were appalled. She LOVED the stuff, describing the ugly litter, the danger to animals, and the pungent odors (which we were thankful were not part of the presentation) with great delight. Though Lisa portrayed Trash Hildaville with great delight and a positive attitude, she elicited the desired response – disgust and disagreement.
After making a disgusting mess, she left the trash behind and left, telling us that Mother Nature was coming and she’d better leave.
At that point, the Wizard of Waste arrived (substituting for him was Eric Wolf.) As he started picking up the trash, he described other uses for some of the discards, and that some of the items were made from recycled materials. He talked about appropriate recycling and disposal methods of the items picked up.
Following the pick-up, Mother Earth arrived, looking beautiful in a gown adorned with flowers & butterflies. The Wizard’s part provided time for Lisa to change from “Trash” to Mother Earth. She discussed what children can do to help the earth and reinforced the previous messages.
After the program, the main points are reviewed in a discussion period with the children. Teachers may follow up with a recycling project, but Lisa’s agency doesn’t track that. The agency puts together big bags of things for the kids to take home.
Discussion provided the following additional ideas:
• Possibly track behavior changes
• Take home a 3R’s report card and grade the family’s trash/recycling practices
• Schools could evaluate what is thrown away after lunch and try to make appropriate changes
• Encourage kids to pick up litter regardless of who tossed it
• Consider a teen level version of the program

10 a.m. – Eric Wolf report on Living Theater Education
Eric presents Living Theater education to turn already eco-knowledgeable participants into activists. He has done this throughout the summer at a nature camp for several years. Eric writes several scenarios, dividing the kids into groups and assigning roles. There are usually three scenarios running simultaneously. While viewing videos of campers in action, running through a scenario, Eric described the process.
In Living Earth Theater, Mad Max is a bad guy. Kids become animals (and/or human characters). Eric is a trained tracker and teaches kids how the animal actually moves. They can finish by having the kids discuss, interpret and comment on the experience.
In one example, the participants are role-playing as an elephant and villagers in Africa. As the designated time goes by, the role-playing becomes easier for the kids. With increased comfort comes more improvisation and more involvement. Conflict
inside the group occurs. The three scenarios may include:
• Ivory
• Hunting elephants
• Butterfly
In one scenario, villages make a deal with Mad Max to get guns, paid for with ivory, to fight against an evil dictator. This sets up an ethics discussion – ivory poaching is bad, guns are bad, but the evil dictator may be worse. Eric crafts the story and possible endings. He mixes age level of the kids and gives them roles.
Younger participants tend to reduce the story to black and white, good and bad, while older students see shades of gray and multiple values in the situations.
In the scednario, “Mad Max and the Poison Pond”, a company dumped popcorn waste into a pond. There is a frog spirit who talks in riddles and a wise man who interprets his sayings.
This (Living Theater) is a method of teaching kids using emotional learning, which is more powerful than intellectual concepts. Though Eric has found that is very difficult to trigger creativity in the kids. When triggered, however, their imagination can be a powerful part of the process. During one scenario, the kids staged a sit-down strike because of ivory being sold in the store.
Eric said that he has led this at the same nature camp every summer at “Free Spirit Nature Camp”, 6 hours a day for 80-150 children present at any time. (For two weeks.) Other facilities say it sounds like “Earth First” and consider it too radical to include in their curriculum.
Youngest participants may be 4-5 years old. Though they are not really players in the exercise, they are given roles, becoming “The African Village.”
Eric’s current repertoire of scenarios includes: Africa, Pond, Fields, Nuclear Power Plant (Poisonous Peter).
This program requires a lot of adults, with a ratio of 15 to one being maximum, 10/1 is better. Eric involves lots of junior staff (15-16 yrs old). Three groups at one time, each with adult, junior staff, a major character and a facilitator (Eric)
Fran Stallikngs commented that this would work in school residencies based on the approximate contact time.

10:30 a.m. – Break
10:45 a.m. -- Hat Story

10:50 a.m. – Fran Stallings – A discussion on healing ecology through storytelling
Fran Stallings pointed out that many stories in common use by eco- and environmental storytellers are of the “ain’t it awful?” variety. Her example: “A Drop of Honey, lists a chain of events beginning with a drop of honey and ending with the violent overthrow of a kingdom. Often, a story of what should have been done to facilitate a desired outcome is not readily available.
Fran shared experiences of teens in despair over what is happening to the planet. They are not finding stories of hope about reversing some of the earth’s problems, including global warming, chemical pollution and other environmental disasters. She is seeing reactions like the Kubler-Ross stages of grief/terminal illness. (Denial, anger, bargaining, depression), reflective of the attitude that “there is nothing we can do about these earth-threatening problems.”
In previous retreats, a difference between other storytellers and Environmental/ Eco-storytelling has emerged. Our goal may be to motivate the listeners to action. “Surveys show that knowledge can be spread, attitudes can be changed, but behavior may not change.” Fran used the phrase: “Aware—Care—Dare,” in which “Dare” is the hard step.
Fran shared information about Eth-No-Tec’s program “Green Grow the Stories.” At the end of an assembly, the partners share four things kids could actually do. They partner with local organizations such as Audubon Society and Sierra Club to provide follow-ups and materials. Some ideas from our discussion:
• Mom can turn off the SUV while waiting for school dismissal
• Walking school busses—volunteers meet kids, picking more up along the way as they walk to school together
• Walking school bus mom could use the time to tell appropriate stories
• Pick up letter along the way to/from school
Fran stated that we cannot afford the depression/denial cycle. We need an action step. The discussion that followed included how children and adults have become disconnected from nature, seeing it only through or on a screen. Perhaps a program on urban ecology and the microorganisms that live in and on you and your home, or about urban wildlife, could help townspersons make connections with nearby nature and, by extension, nature in a wider world.
Eric spoke of comparing the wall of grief to a wall of green. There are people who, when looking at a habitat, do not see individual plants. As people begin to recognize individual plants and animals in nature, they become more emotionally linked to the individuals and to the whole habitat.
Fran commented that research on community based social values may provide insight into a gibber wedge into certain communities.
Though people may realize: “I am a part of nature,” modern people will never be as integrated as tribal people were.
Kevin Cordi suggested a pledge as part of “Aware—Dare—Care” feedback: “Here’s my challenge to you: take this pledge__________________.” With every story there’s a responsibility behind it and in front of it. Follow up, suggest other programs (by other storytellers/presenters.)
Another participant (Reesa?) pointed out that the stages of coming to terms with loss are not linear, that they can manifest in any order and last different periods of time, or overlap. Young professionals working with preschool kids find that kids are in “cages”, intimidated, and that teachers emphasize safety to the point of ludicrousness – “don’t touch dandelions!” Noted that a teacher became seriously ill from handling a used diaper. Referred to Vivian Paley (recipient/founder?) Genius Grant, and to books about systems thinking. When trying to deal with corporations that get bogged down when negotiating between opposing views, the facilitator needs to keep asking questions to clarify understanding and find a small point of concurrence.
Our audience may be made of people or groups that each have a different “take” on the story. Her (Fran? Reesa) challenge is to find YOUR story about the issue. Steven Demings (?) used storytelling to change the World Bank. The story was 20 seconds long. It was short, true, hand an emotional component and included key facts and figures.
Ken said that it is important to know what your audience values.
• Children want to be good and be accepted
• Adults want to know the value of the experience
• Teens value contact with local celebrities, and need to know that we are acting on the belief that it is not too late.
The message: There IS something you can do, and it is the RIGHT thing to do.
Fran said that she has been using hero stories of things that have been done and that have worked, such as Amnesty International and environmental groups saving the lives of activists who might have become martyrs in developing countries.
She referred to Kieran Egan’s literature about emotional learning stages. (Book: The Educated Mind). Fran uses his writings in developing science stories and programs.
Hero stories, mythic, good & bad are black & white, are good for younger audiences. When older, one can apply stage theories, philosophical and ironic elements.
Reesa noted that it is important to explore what unintended consequences may be. Children may hear more, or less, than we expect.
Fran said that for elementary and upper grades, chain stories lead to understanding connections and provide a bigger picture.
Reesa acknowledged that teachers shut down storytelling by kids because they start with shooting things and death. Look at the similarities between what kids are trying to figure out and what adults are dealing with.
Fran remarked that if people are pushed (rushed) through romantic stage to ironic stage, they sometimes get locked into a rigid mindset. Referred to hero stories and stories of things, and Kendall Haven’s “Story Proof.” Also acknowledged the success of high- and middle-school teachers who costume themselves as historical scientists, and their success in reaching the teen audience. Knowing what stage of emotional development your audience is likely to be in helps you develop an appropriate program.

Noon – Lunch Sponsored, with a walk to the Garden
The garden of Eric’s family lies in the woods downslope from the house and yurt, with a grassy area of flat land surrounded by forested land. We enjoyed hearty vegetarian sandwiches and pizza donated by two Yellow Springs restaurants.

Afternoon of Saturday April 10th

1:30 p.m. – Kevin Cordi, Ensemble Storytelling – Guided Inquiry
The Magic of Inquiry – Imagining to Learn by Brian Edmiston.
Kevin led a guided inquiry exercise like those used with students. He scattered a wide variety of articles, lists, and photographs relating to the coal mining industry around the floor, along with blank post-it notes. He invited us to pick up 4 or 5 papers, quickly scan them, and write a question that springs to mind on a post-it note, attach it to the paper, and turn it in to him.
We then became members of a coal mining community, wives, engineers, miners, politicians, mine owners, foremen… Kevin selected one question to start the discussion. As we took on roles of people involved in or interested in a mine accident, Kevin stepped into and out of a facilitator role in which he could provide some guidance or prompts to keep the discussion moving.
This hands-on example of guided inquiry provided insight into how it could motivate students to explore/research a historical or scientific subject far beyond a textbook’s ability to stimulate students.

2:30 p.m. – Break
2:45 p.m. – Hat Stories
Sally Crandall – Why Mosquitos Only Buzz
Fran Stallings – Beavers and Western Willow Flycatchers 

Eric – Grandmother Key & the other friends (Wabanoak elder of Anishinabe -- ask Eric about this – biography on Amazon?)

Announcement by Eric:
• Everyone may post one post on the retreat blog, up to 1400 characters (300-600 words). Deadline for comments and responses will be 30 days.
• E-mail Fran to become a part of the Environmental Discussion Group
• Jonatha will send letters of thanks to the restaurants that donated food. (Eric or Jonatha, please add restaurant names here.)
• Eric expressed disappointment that several expected participants cancelled or didn’t show up. A possibility for next time he may require a $50 deposit that will be refunded to those who come.

2:50 p.m. – Janelle Reardon, Jonatha & Harold Wright (Water) and Joyce Geary – break into three groups for an hour to create themed programs from scratch then each team has 20 minutes to present a portion and concepts of their program
Janelle provided a quick review of some aspects of story/program creation.

• Taking into account Maslow’s Hierarcy of Needs as appropriate for particular audience demographics and in the context of the venue as well as within the stories & program choices
• Choosing a topic and developing a theme statement around which to build the program
• Exploring tangibles and intangibles
• Addressing different learning styles
• Conflict/crisis and resolution for each story and the program as a whole
• Defining goals and objectives (especially important for a resource or a school system)

Three groups formed to create programs based on the TOPICS: Water, Fire, Air. Each group was asked to: Describe their audience, create a theme statement, and outline a program that worked together to deliver the message of the theme statement.
• Water: Johnatha and Harold Wright & team
Ken, Kathryn,
o Ocean (topic)
o Ocean, their mythic past to their unknown future (theme)
o General audience
o Goal is to inspire participants to greater knowledge of endangered oceans and their importance for our future.
o Stories/segments

  1. Mother Turtle – Ken told a version of the Earth on Turtle’s back
  2. European belief in sea monsters
  3. Polynesian explorers and their navigation techniques
  4. A story of a tragedy and how it can be turned around
  5. Other comments, connectors:
  6. Scientific inclusion: diversity before man’s interference as found in Galapagos Island, Darwin’s writings.
  7. Kathryn commented on man’s inability to recognize something outside his experience: Clipper ships seen as “shadows” needing interpretation
  8. Europeans exploiting the oceans
  9. Kathryn, polar bear story about mother bear’s inability to return to the ice floe where she left her cubs
  10. Jonatha – Eco-Hero story needs to be found for the topic

o Ended with choral reading of a list of ocean-related topics, such as death of coral reefs, dead zones…
• Fire: Joyce Geary and team
Eric Wolf, Reesa, Kevin Cordi
o Fire (topic)
o Fire as friend, fire as foe (theme)
o Audience – 4 & 5 years old
o Goal: Helping children understand fire
o Stories/segments

  1. Pele story (Hawaii) Eric
  2. Snail brings Fire into the World -- Sally Crandall
  3. Fire can start small: Cleveland Browns Practice Stadium – Kevin Cordi

Note: Discussion of fictional stories in science education emerged. Fran said: “Sometimes it works, sometimes not.” A discussion of “talking animals” and mythology, spirits, etc., was tabled for later conversation if time permitted.

• Air: Janelle Reardon and team
Fran Stallings and Michael Kasony-O’Malley
o Air (topic)
o Air – the invisible gift (theme)
o Audience: General/Family
o Goal: Bring a greater understanding of the importance of clean air to the audience
o Stories/segments (with an effort to structure the stories/message in Elizabeth Ellis’ excellent pattern (ha-ha, aha, ahh, amen)

  1. Introduction by “Snake oil Salesman” – Trying to sell air (empty hand extended), but no one wants to buy it—they can’t see it.
  2. Gluskabe and the Wind Eagle (Bruchac & Caduto, Keepers of the Earth)
  3. Create something that relates to Kathryn’s story of sharing breath with a horse, or Michael’s reference to a gift received from the last breath of a dying person
  4. Just Enough Rain (praying for good crops—forgot to pray for wind)
  5. Hero story about the clean air act (to be researched)
  6. “Snake oil Salesman” reports to boss about his lack of customers – Boss says “That’s o.k., I decided just to give it away for free.”

5 p.m. – Dinner Break –
An excellent vegetarian chili provided by a Yellow Springs restaurant was supplemented by salad and items from the pot luck.

7 p.m. – Tecumseh Land Trust Fundraiser
Held at Antioch College (Location?)
Kevin Cordi, Fran Stallings, Jonatha Wright, Harold Wright, Michael Kasony-O’Malley, Eric (Brother) Wolf, Lisa Homes, Joyce Geary, Sally Crandall, Janelle Reardon
The concert was recorded. CD’s will provide a fundraising resource for the Tecumseh Land Trust. Participating storytellers will be able to purchase them at a deep discount for their own use.

Sunday, April 11

9:45 a.m. – Sally Crandall, Building a National Park storytelling program
Sally will be in residence at Homestaed National Monument (HNM) in Nebraska for two weeks, beginning next Sunday. Many national parks provide an opportunity for an artist to reside in the park. Facilities vary widely, from a cabin requiring a one or more mile “pack-in” hike to a room at a lodge. In turn, the park requires something from the artist within a year of the stay. (Go to to explore the possibilities.)
Sally will be staying at the Homestead National Monument for two weeks. During that time, she will appear at their 12th annual storytelling festival. Her goal is to create a replicable story-related product that can be used within their park. Homestead would like to have lessons specific to their location. Settlement in the area was based on the Homestead act of 1862 during which 10% of the U.S. land area was claimed and settled. Homesteaders had to be a head of household, at least 21 years old. Homesteaders included former slaves and single women. Many were newly arrived immigrants. They were allowed five years to “prove” the land, (building a dwelling and creating an income-producing farm.) HNM staff aim at serving the curriculum needs for 4-6 grades. Sally prompted discussion with the questions: “How do I approach the area, and how do I leave behind something others can do?”
Discussion followed.
• Nancy Donoval researched and provided stories of pioneer women in a previous project.
• Other topics could be prairie animals and plants, disasters such as grasshoppers and fires. Sally, having previous experience with the disaster story of the Dayton flood of 1913, might be able to find a serious natural disaster to research and write about.
• Resa suggested that the settlers might not be able to fully understand (see) what was already there on the prairie, which to them looked like a vast nothingness.
• Sally referred to one of Sherry Norfolk’s books which included ideas for a scavenger hunt including sounds, textures, smells and other sensory prompts.
• Suggestion by ? – cooperative efforts with local historical societies, museums
• Harold suggested the possibility of transportation: Prairie Schooners, the “ships” of the great plains
• Joyce referred to the wants and needs of the homesteaders. They didn’t need a road. Instead, the later settlers followed items that were discarded by earlier travelers. Strict limits were set by those guiding the westward parties, Explore what people hid in their luggage: dolls, a toy top, a poetry book). Things thrown out included a grandfather clock, a large bureau.
• Eric proposed a class full of historical characters and scenarios. Kathryn suggested that some of the characters need not be human, but could be animals.
• Sally will be taking stories of here experiences of the ocean, the NYC area, and building on those to amplify the contrasts and similarities to life on the prairie, (i.e., “a waving ocean of grass” and seasickness which occurred on the prairie as well as the ocean.)
• Resa proposed using technology and artifacts: Google Earth maps, audio and video, artifact related to specific spots.
• Fran related that Lyn Moroney did a writer’s residency in the Colorado Mountains. The director of parks in Oklahoma worked with Territory Tellers to develop stories about the Waushetau and Black Kettle battlegrounds where Custer’s troops massacred Native women and children. Tellers there tried to interview Native folks. In another residency at a park based on springs, sound-makers used interactively by students reproduced sounds found in nature. A park ranger used those soundmakers as part of a food chain program.
• Sally said that the ideal would be to create a program where there is an introductory “talk”, then students would break up into groups and “explore,” coming up with stories based on what they have found. Resa remarked on the possibility of using “guided inquiry,” such as Kevin presented, having participants find things and attach questions that lead to discussion.
• Sally noted that there is an in-residence Education Director at the park who will be able to guide her to some degree, assuring that her work product will be utilized by HNM.

11:20 a.m. – Talking Stick Circle (as time allows)
We were given time to comment on the weekend, as a “talking stick” was passed around the circle. Remarks were universally positive, with a majority feeling that they were taking away a feeling of stimulation, motivation, and useful tools to improve their programs.

12:15 -- Short Ending Ceremony
The artistic central focal point built by participants on the first day was disassembled. Each participant removed the stone they had brought from home and the objects added to the assemblage were put back where they had been found. We wished each other well and disbanded for lunch or to head home.

Such an abundance of food had been provided during the pot-luck and by the restaurants that many of us stayed and enjoyed another friendly meal at the Wolf household before heading home.

Note: Thanks go to Kathryn who cleaned and vacuumed the floor of the yurt after our many comings and goings had inadvertently brought in dust and dirt. We hope we left it in good condition and will be invited back.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

More Photos from the Retreat....

The Family that tells stories together....

Ken Oguss Fran and Gordon Stallings

Photos in this section curtsey of Ken's Camera

The Water Line down to the Garden
and the Creek that runs past the Yurt...

During discussion of ecological storytelling and hope.

Left to Right.

Resa Matlock
Fran Stallings (Facilitating)
Lisa Holmes
Sally Crandel
Jonatha Wright

During Ensemble Storytelling.
From Left to Right

Kevin Cordi (Facilitating)

Lisa Holmes 
Mickeal Kasony-O'Malley
Legs of Eric Wolf?
Joyce Geary