Up early before the sun. Bundled in warm Winter garb. Out on icy roads. Climbing twisting mountain by-ways. Soon the sun peaks up over the Sierra Nevada Range…often called, “The Range of Light.” I am in my homeland, my mountains on a perfect Winter morning.
That was how I started my day on Thursday, January 6th, as I drove to my first In-Service Retreat for Yosemite Institute and NatureBridge.org. The workshop was held at Yosemite Institute’s Crane Flat Campground. And what a delight! Along with a day of breathtaking natural beauty (Yosemite in Winter, covered in deep snow), there THEY were: Forty-Two brilliant young naturalists. These are NatureBridge’s dynamic environmental educational specialists. They are working with groups of inner-city schoolkids, who come to visit California’s premiere National Park. And a more enthusiastic group of new storytellers could not exist! To have the chance to mentor this group was a true honor.
We began with an introduction to The Art of Storytelling. My favorite way to teach this involves a highly interactive game that I call, “Mingle, Mingle.” It’s based on the idea of being at a party and sharing snippets of conversation with lots of people. The snippets are factoids about storytelling, each person gets one to share with everyone else. Directions are to talk with as many people as possible. By the end of 7 minutes, lots of people have gained lots of little factoids from everyone in the room.
Then on to Margaret Read MacDonald‘s “Rapid Story Learning Method” from her seminal book: The Storyteller’s Start-Up Book. Many years ago, The Story Quilters (Cynthia Restivo and me) contacted Dr. MacDonald to ask permission to use her work in our workshops. Thank goodness she said, “Yes,” because many workshops later it is still THE magical moment. And sure enough, a dozen NatureBridge participants told me how surprised they were at the ease and quick way that they learned their stories! Thanks again, Dr. MacDonald!
Then came the really fun stuff: Characterization! I love helping storytelling students take their tales into their bodies with Laban Movement Analysis. In 1999 at the San Diego National Storytelling Conference Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo and Nancy Wang, Eth-noh-Tec, led me through my first Laban lesson. What an eye-opener! Cynthia and I delved into this methodology more deeply, and now it is an essential part of my storytelling and storywriting process. And, boy! Did those 42 frisky “natureheads” (said with complete affection) have a great time! We moved in every direction with every motivation. We even danced out into the snow!
Onto The English Teacher Portion: Literary Elements, Story Structure and The Arc of the Story. We talked about revising, re-writing, creating our own original stories. Along the way discussion arose about how to honor California’s Native Peoples and their stories. Environmental Educators often rely on Native American stories for source materials. So, a quick summary on the ethics of telling these indigenous stories brought up lots of ideas and questions. Fortunately, this group of people is lucky to have close access to the Yosemite MiWok of the Southern Sierra, who can guide them on best practices.
For three hours we played, laughed, pondered and questioned the ways that storytelling can enhance their teaching. Their mission: To help students gain a sense of place, to awaken their love of Yosemite’s awesome spirit. At the end of our three hours, according to reports, they also felt filled up with the awesome spirit of STORYTELLING!
Thanks, NatureBridge and Yosemite Institute!