Guest Blog by Emily Gadd: Summers in nature

The life of a teacher is a cyclical one, and as with all cycles, its seasons bring reflection. As a teacher in the New York City public schools, I hunger for summers in nature, and experiences that offer a stark contrast to my urban life and work. This past summer, I traveled in my car for seven weeks (yes, a luxury!) and spent much of that time in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Through the WorkAway website, I connected with Shauna and the Harrison Lewis Centre, and planned a week of work-stay in August. Despite having prior experience with this type of exchange, neither I nor the Centre had used WorkAway as a resource before. Creating a profile for their website forced me to really think about my intentions and what I have to offer. As is usually the case, the more authentic and thoughtful we are, the more likely we will make meaningful connections. This was truly the outcome in this arrangement.

The week passed in a flash, though the connections were indeed meaningful. The work I did was varied, and I arrived with the hope of being useful, doing tasks that could allow Shauna, Mackenzie and Robinson more time to focus on their planning and execution of projects. It was clear that had I been able to stay longer, I would have contributed in more substantive ways, but in the one week I was fortunate enough to spend at the Centre, I played a support role, from readying cabins and cleaning a new trailer, to removing nails from repurposed wood and mowing the property.  I honestly felt that I didn’t do enough labor to justify the value of what I gained. But apparently it was sufficient, and I fantasized in my final few days about staying on, or returning for an extended visit.

During my stay, HLC hosted a bird call interpretation workshop, a medicinal plant walk, and lunar landing anniversary skygazing. There were guests in the off-grid cabins, a major baby frog surge, and the early days of the new chickens. There was yoga, gardening, and hours of interesting conversation and shared experiences. And, of course, the vibrancy of the land itself, the peninsula on which it is situated, the beach and the sky.


To this visiting worker, the space was one that felt cohesive. Despite challenges that may exist (as all organizations face), the Centre felt grounded, with many layers interacting and influencing each other at once. The continual change and overlap of different participants and experiences created a flow of positive energy that centered around respect and stewardship of the land and all its inhabitants. The camaraderie that I experienced with Shauna, Mackenzie and Robinson during the week seems almost surreal, in retrospect. I have rarely experienced such warmth, humor and sense of teamwork with new acquaintances. In fact, by the middle of the week, the communication and level of trust between us had far exceeded my expectations. I also spent time talking with Dirk, discussing the history of the Centre and other projects in the area, as well as politics, music and publishing. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I really felt like I was a part of this magical small community, and that I had been there for a long time.

So here I sit, in my classroom in midtown Manhattan, creating and teaching curricula about environmental justice and climate change. I reflect on the season that has passed, my summer travel and its influence on the work I do in the city. I have much to say about the urgency of environmental education in inner city schools, and hope to contribute such thoughts to this blog in the future. My thoughts of Nova Scotia linger, and the dream of an eventual return to the Centre motivates me to keep the lessons of stewardship, learning, and collaboration central in my efforts here today.