Susie Fiore founded the Field Institute of Taos (FIT) in 1996, blending her background in archaeology and geology with her experience as a ski instructor working with youth. FIT provides children with experiences of how amazing it is to connect with nature on a physical, intellectual and emotional level. Several years ago, when Kodak stepped away from selling cameras, many basic digital cameras were generously donated to FIT, an event that allowed the kids involved in FIT’s outdoor education programs to explore nature through a new angle — photography.
The children’s photographs are beautiful and unique, showing how a smaller vantage point and a young mind can generate new and interesting perspectives. The youth’s responses to questions about their favorite things in nature, how to best protect nature and their experiences outdoors are similarly insightful.
Ten-year-old Ozias Miller describes how attending camp with FIT changed his perceptions of nature, “Going to FIT camp this summer was really special, and hiking and camping up in Taos Ski Valley was amazing. I loved seeing the animal tracks, hearing the birds, swimming in the clean water, and the beautiful delicate plants. It made me feel connected and a part of nature like I never felt before, like I was far away from everything else.”
“I think the best way to protect nature is do what FIT teaches you. The thing that I think helps nature the most is not leaving a trace. If you go camping, you should leave the place better than it originally was. You can also conserve resources such as water and energy,” says nine-year-old Noah Joseph.
Despina Sfris, age 12, and Jaimie Ritchie, age 14, share their memories of an encounter with elk in Rocky Mountain National Park during a FIT excursion focusing on alpine ecology, camping and hiking in the summer of 2017. Despina recalls, “We turned around and there was a huge mama elk behind us. As quickly as we could, we quietly speed-walked away, but then the mama elk started to run. We thought it was going to trample us, but it ran around us so we hurried to see what it was running to. As we walked, we approached a big crowd of people. They were all watching a baby elk. Then the mama came and they reunited. It was a sweet and cool moment, but I felt bad for the mama and baby elk because they were surrounded by people taking pictures and before that they had been separated. It was a rare experience that was cool and scary at the same time.” Jaimie recalls that “the momma elk charged through and nuzzled her baby that had been on the other side. Then the baby elk started suckling on her momma, and it was truly a sight to behold. Too soon, the moment was over and the momma and baby left, the crowd dispersed and we kept moving.”
All the kids involved with FIT have important and insightful ideas about how we can do a better job of taking care of nature. 10-year-old Jacob Krause pointedly shares, “The best way to protect nature is to stay on trails, not litter and not cut down trees. You should not cut down trees because some animals' habitats are in the forest and the animals won't have any place to live if the trees are cut down. Trees also give us oxygen and if you start cutting trees down, then that is less oxygen for people. Littering pollutes our planet. For example, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is two times bigger than Texas and it is full of garbage. If we recycle, there will be less trash added to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
Ozias Miller says, “I think global warming needs to stop, and we need to stop polluting the air and poisoning our water supply because when we water plants with polluted water it kills them. People should stop using gas and propane to heat their homes and use solar power like we do at our house, like my stepdad does with his building business, and we should start using electric cars.”
The experiences provided by FIT clearly provide an expanded view of nature to the young participants, showing them how to be better stewards of the natural world and how nature can improve the lives of each of us as individuals. Young people often have great ideas for making the world a better place. Listening to their ideas and experiences offers the rest of us inspiration for protecting nature for future generations.