Nature, Magic, and the Hitchcock Center

By Natalia Jacobs

Note: This is an article from our Salamander Scoop eNewsletter in January, 2023. To read more and subscribe to Salamander Scoop, click here.

A honeybee flits between flowers in the Hitchcock Center’s Teaching Gardens under a bright blue sky.

Growing up, my favorite book was My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I had convinced myself that one day I, too, would run away to a tree trunk home, survive a blizzard eating acorn pancakes, and befriend falcons and weasels alike. The only problem was that my family had already moved from the city to the forest, and finding me would take a matter of minutes.

Though I do not live in a tree trunk home, I still love exploring the land around me and going on forest adventures. Much of this is thanks to the Hitchcock Center. I grew up attending programs at Hitchcock, starting early as part of the Nature Preschool. As a middle schooler, I was part of the Leaders In Training camp which led to me becoming a CIT, and I now work at Hitchcock for our Nature Summer Camp and the Girls Into The Wild after-school program. More than anything, I love the social aspect of this work. Hitchcock has taught me so much about relationships and communication. What is an ecosystem but a series of relationships? Not only does Hitchcock teach about interdependent communities, but models one as well.

As a little kid, if a story didn’t include dragons or magic shoes, chances are I would not listen to the lessons it had to hold. Looking out my window the real world seemed bland in comparison. But Hitchcock got me outdoors, curious, and showed me the abundant magic just in my own backyard. Even now, our students are constantly teaching me new ways to see the world, and new ways to be amazed by it.

This year, I have been also excited to participate as a member of the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit’s Leadership Team. The summit is a collaboration between the Hitchcock Center and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. It has been such a lovely experience to work with other students from across the region and create action plans to help our communities. It has also provided me with some incredible opportunities to see creative climate activism in action!

One of the most noteworthy was the invaluable opportunity to be part of a youth panel for WILD!, a new musical about climate activism presented by the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. As part of the panel, we were invited to watch the show at multiple stages in the creative process, and provide feedback and insight. It was unbelievable to see some of my musical theater heroes giving voice to these issues. It also got me wondering about the many ways in which the arts and environmental sciences may intersect.

Girls Into The Wild spend many of our afternoons pondering the Earth’s little mysteries: What animal made these tracks? Whose poop is this? How did a perfectly preserved garter snake make its way into a snowbank in the middle of January? I believe that if we’re encouraged to be curious about our world at a young age, we will love it all that more deeply. I no longer have to dream about daring adventures in the woods because I know they await me at Hitchcock.

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