Dr Jane Goodall and Richard Louv recently spoke together at the Children and Nature Network Conference. They conversed about a concept referred to as ‘Habitat of the Heart’, where the physical Habitat of Mother Earth depends upon human heart connections with nature. The two habitats, Habitat of the Heart and the physical Habitat of the Earth are truly interconnected. If we lose one, then we lose the other. They highlighted that if humans do not have heart connection to the Earth, then we are in danger of losing the Earth’s habitat. They posed the question, if we lose the Earth’s habitat, then what will that do to our human heart when we are not able to connect with nature?
We’d like to share with you a story about how Habitat of the Heart is fostered at our Home-school Bush Inventors’ Club which meets weekly for 3 hours in the Baldivis Children’s Forest.
Baldivis Children’s Forest is a beautiful tuart forest full of mysterious tracks, bushes to huddle under and a couple of large fallen but still growing trees to climb. Immediately as the children arrive, their tradition is to race to the climbing tree and greet her through their joy of being able to climb her fallen trunk and branches. They accept her challenge to climb to her farthest branches, to test the extent of their balancing skills and bravery. Some children race to the acacia bush which provides a little cubby den formed by its shrubbery, and they tend to the space by removing dead twigs, ensuring it is once again a safe and cosy nook. A narrow track nearby offers a mystery to follow; a snakeskin under a log, a clump of rabbit or kangaroo poo or a meadow of sour grass. We follow this track together and are fascinated by sightings of tiny spider webs, luscious gullies of grass (which we surmise the kangaroos must surely love,) strange and large grubs, fungi that look like steps leading up the trees and beautiful banksias in flower.
We arrive at our homebase and sit around the fire circle where the group is asked to share about something for which they are thankful in the forest today and why that makes them feel grateful.
“The green grass as the colour is so amazing and the kangaroos must love it!”
“The textures of the trees as it is so great to feel.”
“The birds that are singing so many songs as it makes me feel calm.”
The children listen to a story of how Nyoongar women tended to yam gardens by digging holes next to the yams so that it was easy to harvest but also would become full of compost as a gift to the plant. With adventure, gratitude and story in our hearts, some children take the invitation to create a gift of gratitude for the trees – a magic gratitude potion. They go about grinding charcoal for aeration, plus water and nutrient holding capacity, collecting rotting leaves for compost and kangaroo poo for manure, then mixing it with water in a bucket. While we were collecting ingredients, some kangaroos came up to eat grass, one of them young still. We stood still and watched, then gathered scat and watched, wondering what they thought of us going around collecting their poo. Some children decided to try and get closer, but the kangaroos eventually jumped away.
Another group of children found the mob of five kangaroos down the hill. The children had the idea that if they pretend to be kangaroos, then perhaps they may be allowed closer. The children chewed on dry grass, mimicking the kangaroos with it hanging from their mouths. They were surprised at how sweet the grass tasted and how joyful it was to munch on it. They tried hopping in different ways to look and move like a kangaroo. The kangaroos watched them and acknowledged them as innocent children playing at being kangaroos and peacefully went back to eating their grass.
Back at the fire circle, we fluffed up the collected dry grass into a tinder bundle to start our campfire. We stoked the fire with the dry sticks we found and cooked delicious S’Mores to celebrate our time together this week. Around the fire we told the story of the kangaroos and the children re-enacted how they ate grass and hopped around, re-telling the adventure and creating more love and excitement for the forest.
Taking this adventure in our hearts, we mixed more kangaroo poo into our potions then carried them to our favourite fallen climbing tree. Along the way we stopped to assess the landscape and note what parts of the forest might be most in danger of bushfire if there was a lightning strike or a careless spark. The group noted the patches of dry grass with many dry sticks on the ground as an area of risk.
At our beloved tree, we found smaller plants growing nearby that also needed a little love and attention. We carefully dug holes near their roots and gifted them the buried gratitude potion in the hope it will help them grow big and strong. Of course, some of the nutrient-rich potion was saved for our favourite tree and cubby acacia!
This is how you grow Habitat of the Heart and connect children with Habitat of the Earth. The wise conversation between two revered nature conservationists and advocates resonates with us and our experiences in the forest. We feel a great sense of responsibility in teaching children how to light fire. Our desire is to ensure children also have a love of nature so they take on the responsibility that comes with the power of knowledge and bravery. It creates an immediate link to how our actions can threaten or save a place that we hold so dearly.
You can hear more about Habitat of the Heart in Jane Goodall’s latest book, The Book of Hope.