Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

“We Ain’t Got No Wildlife Here”: Teaching Ecoliteracy May 8, 2012

click on the image to make it larger


The paper linked below, “We Ain’t Got No Wildlife Here”: Transformative Effects of a Contemplative Assignment in Ecoliteracy, was one of three chosen by Naropa University in response to President Obama’s campus challenge. Naropa chose to specifically focus on Contemplative Education and Ecological Sustainability, “in order to challenge ourselves to bring a contemplative perspective to service in the ecological sustainability sectors.”

As I had just moved to the area when the call came out, upon reading my proposal, Dr. Burggraf and committee allowed me to waive the requirement of co-authorship with a community partner. I was grateful to be able to participate anyway – and I dearly wish to have such partners in future.

Fast forward to May: last week, the authors presented our final papers as a panel. Anne Parker & Mark Wilding illustrated ways to engage adolescents and young adults in “Transformative Learning and Sustainability.” Sherry Ellms & Leila Bruno described how the Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium is “Nurturing a Culture of Possibilities.” With each encounter at Naropa, I feel even more impressed by the depth of my new colleagues’ wisdom and heartful caring for the world.

The Green Papers will be made available on Naropa University’s website sometime later this summer, but my students have graciously asked to read mine now. So here it is, out in the world already like an early crocus peeking through the snow. As the Spring semester is winding down and they find themselves without any formal reading assignments, the void looms.  😉  I hope you enjoy this paper, or that it at least helps fend off any grad school withdrawal symptoms.


Click on the link for a PDF:

“We Ain’t Got No Wildlife Here”:
Transformative Effects of a Contemplative Assignment in Ecoliteracy

by Tina R. Fields, Ph.D.

Fields_Green Paper_Teaching-Ecoliteracy


If you’re wondering what you’d be getting into, here’s the trailer. The paper itself is much more fun to read than the Abstract. It centers on a story!

Abstract:  This paper describes a college assignment intended to foster ecoliteracy in social science students. The inclusion of a contemplative component conducted over time outdoors has repeatedly resulted in not only cognitive knowledge about the denizens and processes of a given place, but has transformed students’ relationships with the more-than-human natural world to a much deeper relational gnosis and comfort level. Excerpts from one inner-city student’s journal are presented (with permission) as a case study, and elements contributing to the assignment are discussed.


Feel free to engage with me via the “Comments” box below. I look forward to hearing your responses to this work.


A deep bow to Naropa University for choosing this paper, and to former colleagues/forever friends Nicky Duenkel and Judy Pratt for generously giving me feedback for improving it.


25 Responses to ““We Ain’t Got No Wildlife Here”: Teaching Ecoliteracy”

  1. Julie James (facebook link) Says:

    Need to sleep, as it’s past midnight, but I’m reading about Shona’s journey of discovery, fascinated and pleased as all get out by the concept.
    Have to stop and tell you, though: A friend who directs an herbal studies program in Colorado asked his students (clinical herbal students, mind you, folks FOCUSED on plants) what the tree was that they passed each day on their way into school. 2/3 of the students couldn’t name it. 1/4 of the students didnt remember that there was a tree there.
    Blindness to the “wildlife” in our locale is insidious, and strikes us all.

  2. Julie James (facebook link) Says:

    Truly lovely to see that awakening. Proud of, and excited for, you for having your paper chosen. Exhausted and going to bed. In that order.

  3. Don Sprangers (facebook link) Says:

    Congratulations Tina. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  4. Lisa Mertz (facebook link) Says:

    Congrats, you’re such a great writer!

  5. Lorraine Fish (facebook link) Says:

    Brilliant, I loved it!

  6. Lorraine Fish (facebook link) Says:

    I’m going to pass this on!

  7. Frances Hatfield (facebook link) Says:

    congratulations, Tina!

  8. Julie James (Pingback: Facebook share) Says:

    Oh, this paper will make you feel warmhearted and optimistic about the state of education today. Professor of Ecopsychology at Naropa University in Colorado, Tina’s paper was accepted as part of Obama’s Interfaith & Community Service Campus Challenge. A great honor, but a really GREAT paper on a practice we all could benefit from. Oh, to have had an opportunity like this when I was in school…
    Tina’s also a fabulous contra dance caller, singer, and *highly* accomplished Silly Person.
    READ THIS. It will make your day. I promise.

  9. Otto Verdoner (Pingback: Facebook link) Says:

    A few weeks ago I carpooled to the contra in Fort Collins with the caller, Tina Fields. At the time I had no clue as to just how impressive a personage was occupying my passenger seat. I have now read every word of her paper and so now I do have a clue about her.

  10. Nicky Duenkel (facebook link) Says:


  11. Celina Briggs (facebook link) Says:

    Well Done!

  12. Nicky Duenkel (facebook link) Says:

    So now that you are famous can we come up with an idea for some research together next year??? (of course, you’ve always been famous to me, Vladamir!)

    • Tina Fields Says:

      ‎Nicky, are you going through herring withdrawal? You have forgotten your name! You are Vladimir, and I am Boris (and Judy is Squirrel, right?) Anyway, yes – if i can survive this first year. For now, thank you again for your invaluable feedback on this paper. You are acknowledged in it.

      • Nicky Duenkel (facebook link) Says:

        Ack!!! My dear friend Boris, it has been a harder year than I thought on my poor memory! And can you please remind me of our comrade’s name who goes by the alias of Brian?

  13. Becky Nankivell (facebook link) Says:

    Hi, Tina, I enjoyed your ecoliteracy paper (shared by Julie James the other day). Today I came on this article that might be of interest to you. Kind of the flip side of your story.
    ~ Becky (biologist & also a dance caller)

    • Tina Fields Says:

      Hi Becky, thanks for writing and for sharing this story. I do find it interesting, indeed – and a nice reminder of how the arts (even TV) can lead us home. I wonder what LaTisha would think of my assignment. Well met!

  14. Melissa Edwards Says:

    Hi Tina,
    I am wondering if you think there are more stages of ecopsychological development in education when considering animal or birds well being in wilderness. I worked with a woman named Geni, who takes care of a permanently disabled Eagle and Great Horned Owl. Before Geni, the handler named the birds thinking that it would help people connect to them more in our education program. She named the Eagle “Aurora” and the owl “Midnight”. Geni came in and then stripped the birds of their names because she felt that it would mislead people in understanding these raptors true nature. She wanted to make the distinction that these birds are not tame, domesticated, or cute. Geni said that it was important that people see their wildness. After their names were stripped, I felt my relationship change toward them and a powerful sense of awe came into me. I saw them restored in the wilderness acting as ambassadors to their species in our education program. The way I cared about them shifted and expanded. It felt different. Do you agree that naming wild animals may not always be appropriate, or even harmful in peoples connection? For example, you should never pet an eagle that you might find injured in the wild.
    I really enjoyed reading about Shona’s ecopsychological development. The shift you describe is significant. I really enjoy the way you use the power of stories in your writing and at the same time model a strategy for other teachers to use. I think teaching observation is a gateway knowledge, like teaching someone to read. I really LOVE your work!!!!

    ….your loyal student, Melissa Edwards

    • Tina Fields Says:

      Hi Melissa –

      I do indeed think more attention could be paid to the ecopsychological dimensions of working with other species. The thing that comes immediately to my mind is the unconscious way we often use them for our own benefits – good-hearted ones like education and therapy – but we rarely consider the flip side; the reciprocity of the exchange: how the interaction is for that animal, and how we might benefit both these specific animals and their kindred in return.

      Regarding your question about the eagle: when you said, “After their names were stripped, I felt my relationship change toward them and a powerful sense of awe came into me,” I think you answered your own question. 🙂

      Thank you for taking the time to write to me here. I love your idea of observation as a “gateway knowledge” like reading, and it pleases me a lot to know that you like my work.


  15. s.a. manzo Says:

    This was the read I had been waiting for!

  16. BrujaHa Says:

    That is wonderful to hear, Stephanie. Your comment leaves me quite curious: why is that? What about it were you looking for?

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