There are people who pass through our lives, whether briefly or spanning a number of years, who cause us to pause, to listen, to remember, and ultimately to try to be better people. Dr. Tom (“Tommy”) Russell is one of those people.
In the rugged backcountry of Southern California’s Sespe Wilderness - the place that the National Park Service takes “bears for relocation” because these rugged sycamore and chemise canyons are remote and vast in area - sits a small rock cabin without a front door. The doorway remains open, a hand-polished hearth directly across the floor one could easily imagine Will Rogers sitting beside, welcoming the hiker, the equestrian or mountain biker needing a roof over their head for the night. Like all places in California’s outdoors, the unique blend of light, aromas, color, breeze and textures gives a person the feeling of being in their body, being at home.
Outside the door of this sturdy stone dwelling, known as ‘Patton’s Cabin’, amidst the huge white boulders emblematic of this part of the transverse range of coastal California, stand several hitching posts that have been used by young people since the early 1900’s. This cabin provided sanctuary in a particularly hard, sustained winter rain in 1989 to a small group of teen hikers that I was leading on a weeklong backpack trip from a high school from over the ridge in Ventura County’s Ojai Valley. It’s here 30 years earlier that Tom Russell as a lanky teen from San Francisco took care of a horse – as all students at the Thacher School are required to do – and it in turn clearly took care of him. As Tom’s wife Nona related recently to me, the founder of Thacher School no doubt would have said, "There was something about the outside of a horse that was good for the inside of Tom Russell."
Tom went on to work a dude ranch in the summer in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley as a 15 year-old, returning the following year as head wrangler. An axiom to those in outdoor education – arguably to anyone involved with youth and who trusts in the development of beings when allowed to be in nature – is that time spent outdoors can and does inspire youth in developing courage, leadership, compassion and focus. This kid had focus.
On the surface, Tommy was a highly successful Doctor of regional and national importance, the Executive Director of the American College of Surgeons, a flight surgeon serving in Vietnam and a man in his 70’s who stood ramrod straight and beamed a warm smile. Tom’s motto, "Take the stairs, be nice to the janitor, and the patient comes first" was abundantly clear to me not just as a well-intended credo from a gentleman, but as an ethos to live by when I was fortunate to visit with him over the past six years. Tom was - and remains – a cherished uncle to dear friends of ours from Healdsburg that have shared with my family numerous occasions to be part of their family, over harvest meals outdoors, camping in orchards in the Anderson Valley and at events in support of clean food, progressive candidates and human rights. On these occasions Tommy, seemingly without effort, eschewed his significant accomplishments in medicine and his public stature. Without grandchildren of his own, Tommy seemed to truly delight in the attention our daughter heaped on him and his beloved Border collie, Speedy. On one occasion, Speedy got startled with all the activity at a party and gave our daughter, Iris, enough of a nip to draw a little blood. Tom was horrified by this, but Iris soon after – in an email exchange – took to allaying his remorse.
"dear speedy, I wish that I could see you soon. It's okay that you got a little cited - I get cited too. P.s., what I do when I'm cited is I go into a different room, and I make sure my teeth stay together. I hope you have fun and I'll see you soon. From Iris"
After a battle with a particularly lethal form of cancer, Tom passed away from us peacefully at his ranch in Philo earlier this month, in the very spot on earth that in part sculpted his life. Dr. Russell had been able, you see, to buy up – and preserve in its beautiful California cowboy rusticity, wildness and beauty – a ranch overlooking ridge upon ridge of bear and lion, owl and warbler, salmon and madrone comprising the drainages feeding the Navarro River and a number of unnamed tributaries. His years at Thacher School – in the dining room where his name still adorns the wall as ‘outstanding camper of his class’ - and in the Anderson Valley helped to create an ethic of taking care of people, being a friend and working partner with animals and loving the open landscape.
To recollect on the life of a truly noble human being is important, but it’s just as vital and timely to now ask, “Who are the Tom Russells-in-waiting of today?” Young women and men of promise, whether they be First Nation, white or Latino, black or multi-ethnic, from north county or west, from homes of means or humble backgrounds. What are we doing to encourage these young people to live their lives with purpose, and with strong ties to the land that uplifts us all, and shows us all correctly to be as equals?
-Craig Anderson, LandPaths Executive Director, August 28th, 2014
After eating their lunch, these kids lend a hand stewarding Bayer Farm.
The Summer Free Lunch Program for youth at Bayer Farm is once again underway. Every weekday, all summer long, any young person has an opportunity to spend the entire afternoon outside on the land - participating in a free, shared meal, unstructured play, physical exercise, organic gardening, health education, summer reading and a vibrant community of all ages - at no cost.
After a hot lunch provided by Redwood Empire Food Bank (and served under the shade of a walnut tree), children and families are invited to linger and enjoy the land - to help steward the community gardens, pick berries, and learn about health and outdoor access opportunities from visiting agencies and organizations such as Regional Parks and the Center for Well Being. Parents offer story time and the Bookmobile is parked with free books for kids. On July 15th, the Imaginists will present their "Art is Medicine" show at Bayer Farm during the lunch hour.
Thanks to a core group of a dozen Bayer Farm volunteers, working alongside LandPaths Staff and the Redwood Empire Food Bank, hundreds of kids and their families are reaping the mental and physical benefits of spending a bulk of each day outdoors and sharing a meal amongst friends, all summer long.
The Free Lunch Program is offered Monday - Friday from 12pm-1pm at Bayer Farm in Roseland - 1550 West Ave. Youth 18 and under are invited to receive a free, hot meal through August 8th. For the first time this year, parents are also welcome to receive a free lunch on Fridays as long as they are accompanying their child.
If you are interested in presenting during the Summer Free Lunch Program, please contact Omar Gallardo for more information.
LandPaths depends upon community support in order to offer a wide breadth of community-enriching programs at Bayer Farm.Please click here to donate.
In Our Own Backyard - Nature Immersion for Youth...and Parents!
Parent Chaperone Fanny Falcon stands with her son Jeremy and three classmates from Waldo Rohnert Elementary School, proudly showing off "Bob," a Native Hazelnut the group planted as part of their Stewardship Day at Jacob's Ranch with the In Our Own Backyard Program (IOOBY).
Fanny Falcon and her son's class "adopted" Jacob's Ranch (the Sonoma Mountain North Slope, soon to become an open Regional Park) for the entire school year. Over the course of four themed visits, the group discovered Pacific Giant Salamanders living in the headwaters of Matanzas Creek, planted native understory in the redwood grove, and trekked up to the open grasslands and the "Umbrella Tree" where expansive views knock the socks off even the most avid Sonoma County hiker. "You could fly off this mountain!" said one student, when seeing the view for the first time. Another was nearly speechless and simply said: "Whooa."
At the end of the year, and on her last visit to Jacob's Ranch, Fanny Falcon wrote the following note about her experience with the IOOBY Program:
"This has been one of the most amazing field trips I ever shared with my son Jeremy. I learned a lot, even though I missed the first hike. I really want to do this more often with my family and friends. Take it as an invitation!"
The In Our Own Backyard Program can be a life-altering experience for hundreds of Sonoma County children each year - as it offers them a unique opportunity to connect deeply over time with a protected property near where they live. That this transformative experience, in the case of Fanny and Jeremy, has leaped beyond the individual student, and into the family sphere, is another success for LandPaths.
LandPaths recognizes family as a critical shaper of life-long habits - influencing everything from the food we eat to how we spend our hard-earned free time. LandPaths enhances family experiences by bringing them outdoors with IOOBY (and many other family-oriented programs) to explore and connect with the land where we live.
In Our Own Backyard brings nearly 1,000 children and over 150 Parent Volunteers outdoors each year, over the course of four, full-day field trips - truly adopting a protected property through learning and stewardship. Opportunities abound for these students and families to take that "next step" into the great outdoors with LandPaths - be it through returning to their adopted property on their own, signing up for Owl Camp, participating in our Family Outings series, obtaining a Willow Creek Permit, or even becoming a volunteer.
We accept your invitation, or challenge, Fanny, to continue offering innovative opportunities for everyone to find and pursue their own connection to Sonoma County's Big Outside. And in turn invite you (all of you) to join us, and see what happens!
Click here for more information about the LandPaths' In Our Own Backyard Program.
Click here for information on the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District - generous supporters of Waldo Rohnert and many other Sonoma County schools who visit Open Space protected properties with the In Our Own Backyard Progam.
It's the last month of the school year. We are sure that it flew by as quickly for you as it did for us. As we wrap up our 2013-14 field season, we reflect on how our students, your children, have grown. Some students were timid on their first day hiking in nature. Now, by their fourth visit, students exhibit their comfort in nature, their excited curiosity in exploring it, and their growing understanding of how nature works.
We are honored to have helped close to 1,000 students deepen their relationship with the earth this year. We hope that they take the lessons of nature home with them, and allow their experiences with IOOBY to shape their unique perspectives on life.
As you reflect on your child's growth, we hope that you see a deep respect for nature growing in them. Please remember LandPaths as your child continues to grow. Take your family on a hike at one of your beautiful Open Space Preserves, enrolling your child in Owl Camp, making a donation, or looking into other ways to step into the outside!
All of us at LandPaths
The theme of our final field trip was habitat. We explored just what makes a habitat through song, exploration, investigation, and down- right fun. Your child may have experienced a critter's habitat, first- hand! Ask your child about their experiences: what they saw, learned, and loved. Here's an idea of activities we completed together, along with some complimentary questions to get you all talking.
(1) SINGING THE HABITAT SONG "A tunnel for an ant and a cave for a bat, what were those four things that make a habitat?"
Just like your child, every living creature needs four things to survive: food, water shelter, and space. You can bring home the concept of habitat by asking your child how their food, water, shelter, and space compare to that needed by other living things like earthworms, Stellar's Jays, or their brothers and sisters!
(2) THE SALMON GAME is a fun, creative, way to learn about the life cycle of this important fish. Salmon lay their eggs and begin their lives in freshwater creeks and rivers before making their long voyage to the Pacific Ocean. After up to 5 years in the ocean, they return to lay eggs in the exact same place they were born! Ask your child what they know about the salmon life cycle: Can salmon be found close to your home? How have humans impacted salmon populations? How can we improve habitat for salmon?
(3) POSITIVE REFLECTIONS
We took time to look back on our whole year with IOOBY and wrote postcards to ourselves! Using watercolors, we painted pictures on the front of our postcard and described our favorite experiences in nature. Ask your child: What did they paint? What were their favorite IOOBY experiences throughout the year?
(4) SAYING GOODBYE TO OUR SIT SPOTS Since it was our last visit as a class, we said goodbye to our sit spots. Ask your child if they liked their sit spot. Would they like to go back? Many of the parks we visited are public and can be accessed anytime. Offer to take your child back to their sit spot. If their IOOBY site is not public, remind your child that sit spots can be created anywhere, anytime.
Sit Spots are central to IOOBY field trips because we believe that time alone in nature can allow us simple, quiet time; create peace in our hearts; and clarity in our path and purpose. Encourage your child to create their own sit spot in a local park, your garden, or in a special place at home.
IOOBY stands for In Our Own BackYard. IOOBY is LandPaths' premier environmental education program that aims to cultivate a level of comfort in, connection to, and informed appreciation of the outdoors for students involved. Through four theme- based field trips, we hope to awaken each student’s senses to the world around them through discovery and exploration, enliven their curiosity about the natural world through fun- filled investigations of their own watersheds and local habitats, and ultimately, inspire them to respect, protect, and steward the land.
Click here to learn more about IOOBY.
A BIG Thanks to our Sponsors: