Ernest Thompson Seton Lifecraft Philosophy #3

Observation and the Learning Model
Observation and the Learning Model

In this essay, I am taking a somewhat different tact, using by permission, the Learning Model of the Academy for the Love of Learning. This has been developed over many years and is explored through the Academy’s programs. I believe Seton would have understood this approach since observation and experience were key to his view of learning.

We can enter the Learning Model by referring to events from Seton’s life, and then follow up with questions that we can ask about our own. Learning Model components create the basis of all programs offered through the Academy. Even in its simplest form, it brings personal engagement to the learning process, invites creativity and insight, and the establishes the potential for deep learning. Four key elements of the model (below) are also inherent to the meaning of Seton’s Lifecraft.

The Academy’s founder, Aaron Stern, while he was developing the fundamentals of his organization’s approach to education, had no knowledge of Seton or his ideas on Lifecraft. It may be too much to claim convergence of the two sets of ideas, but there are parallels which I mentioned in the previous essay (Lifecraft #2).

When Aaron made an agreement with Dee Seton Barber (Seton’s daughter) to provide the Seton Legacy with an institutional home at the Academy, he saw that Seton’s life illustrated one of the Academy’s core principles: one can become the change that one wants to see in the world. To learn more, we invite you to visit the Academy’s web site (the link is above) as well as the campus at Seton Village to take part in its programs. (In the meantime, we are happy to hear your thoughts on all of this.)

While there is no direct connection between Seton’s Fourfold Path and the four aspects of the Academy’s Learning Model (the number of four being coincidence), you may wish to join me in consideration of the parallels. The Fourfold Path (or Lifecraft Way) summarized:

  1. Service of Love (a waking up of consciousness about oneself, and one’s place in a larger context.
  2. Spirit of Fortitude (courage arising from self-reflection and empathy)
  3. Body of Beauty (recognition of the sanctity of life and standing for the well-being of all life)
  4. Mind of Truth (accepting honesty, reverence, and reasonableness as core guiding values)

As an adjunct to this, I can add, that although Seton was a romantic (in reaction to the mass-war, mass-industrial age), at the same time he specifically rejected the irrational as a legitimate means of interpreting meaning in the world.

The Learning Model of the Academy for the Love of Learning summarized:

EXPERIENCE
Seton hunted wolves, and eventually trapped Lobo. He came to see the nobility and intelligence of the wolf and, as he watched Lobo’s dignity in dying, was profoundly touched.  His understanding of animals was forever changed.

Begin with the experience—either an experience in the moment, or one that can be remembered…

  • Experience could come in many forms: drawing or painting, storytelling, movement, group activity, time in nature, going for an outing
  • Pretty much anything you give full attention to could be called an experience

Can you recall an experience that was transformative for you?

REFLECTION
Seton spent much of his time alone while he was in New Mexico trapping wolves. He kept a journal of his experience, and thought deeply about what he was seeing and feeling. Writing Lobo’s story was a powerful form of reflection.

Take some time to think and feel into the experience…

  • Reflection can be alone, or with another – can include journaling, drawing, going for a walk
  • Tell the story of the experience to a partner
  • Include feelings, emotions, memories that were evoked

When you reflect back on your transformative experience, what do you remember most clearly? What were the details, including feelings and emotions, that seem particularly meaningful to you now?

MAKING MEANING
To find meaning from his experiences in New Mexico, Seton made an extensive study of its birds and animals as an artist and naturalist, and also learned from Native American friends and mentors. Over time, Seton formulated an understanding of the interconnectedness of the natural world, including the role and impact of humanity.

Explore learning from the experience and what meaning can be made from it…

  • What personal or shared learning came from the experience?
  • What other sources of information can add insight?
  • How can this learning be applied in life? How can it be explored further?

What meaning does your experience hold for you? What did you learn from it about yourself, and about the world?

ACTION
Seton’s life of activism as a conservationist, naturalist, and educator, grew out of his experience with Lobo, and the resulting transformation of his understanding of the natural world.

Try out the learning…

  • Follow curiosity, see where this learning leads
  • See if it invites another cycle of learning…

How were you changed by that moment in your life? What actions, or new ways of being in the world, resulted from your experience?

Four Ways to Support the Learning Process

  1. This way of learning involves the whole person:
    Thinking is only a small part of the picture. Invite the whole of each person into the inquiry.
  • Physical movement – can you dance your experience, or explore it with your body?
  • Sensations – what textures, tastes, tones are in your experience?
  • Emotions – how do you feel? What do your feelings want to tell you about your experience?
  • Imagination – what colors are in your experience – what could you name your experience
  1. Slowing down helps bring awareness to reflection:
    Often our need to reach completion overwhelms the richness that comes with savoring the journey.
  • Invite participants to stop for a moment and listen, or feel, what is happening inside themselves, and in the group.
  • Encourage participants to relish their stories, take time to speak, and really get into the telling.
  • Listen slowly, too. As a facilitator, listen with depth, and experiment with reflecting back what you hear when a participant says something that touches you. Let him or her know how you were affected.
  • If things are going too fast, suggest everyone takes a breath, feels their weight on the chair, looks around the room.
  1. Follow your curiosity:
    What catches your attention can bring guidance as you work with the group.
  • Ask questions that deepen and invite feeling: “Can you say more…?”
  • Invite the unexpected: “What might happen if…?”
  • Allow yourself to be transparent at times: “When you said that, I felt very moved. Thank you for being so open.”
  • When strong feelings come up for you, as facilitator, can you follow the thread internally – what is being evoked in your own story? Be curious about that, too.
  1. Attend to what goes on in the ‘field’:
    When the unexpected happens, it may bring a key insight to the group.
  • Notice the tone of the group – is it alive, sleepy, all over the place.  Can you play with that, and make it part of the experience? “Let’s get up and run around the room.” “How about a five-minute nap?” or, “What do you think our sleepiness is trying to say to us?”
  • Are there themes coming into the group through reflections? Stories?
  • What’s happening outside the group? Are there interruptions? What’s the weather doing? Was there a powerful headline on the news?

Lobo Graphic Novel Premiers

Academy founder Aaron Stern and Ernest’s granddaughter Julie Seton at the opening reception
Academy founder Aaron Stern and Ernest’s granddaughter Julie Seton at the opening reception

The passage of time brings change to the details of life. But overarching themes may change very little. One-hundred and twenty-four years ago Ernest Thompson Seton attended the last hours in the life of a wolf. Referred to in his journal as specimen #677, the wolf returned to literary life as “Lobo” ten months later. The wolf’s biography, “The King of Currumpaw” become “Lobo, The King of Currumpaw” in 1898, four years after his first appearance. The story anchored a short story collection in Wild Animals I Have Known. It was, in its way, the first Lobo graphic novel.

Seton illustrated the Lobo story (depending upon the edition) with more than twenty drawings. He referred to Lobo several times in later books and often in his lectures. Lobo has now appeared yet again in a newly illustrated version the story. The Academy for the Love of Learning has just released a graphic novel, Lobo, The King of Currumpaw, The World’s Greatest Wolf Story. Forty-eight artists created fifty-five illustrations for the latest re-telling of the story.

A new art exhibition

The original art premiered on Sunday, August 12 at the Academy’s Seton Gallery. The opening reception attracted an attendance of over 150 (including more than twenty of the artists). This also marked the debut of the graphic novel.

Each artist was given one section of text from the story to illustrate on a 20 x 15” board. Their only instruction was to create an original work of art in reaction to the text. They used whatever medium they wished—painting, drawing, prints, and collage. The artists worked independently from one another.

The visual result is remarkably evocative of the landscape and challenges faced by Lobo, of the violence and loyalty of wolf life, and of the role Seton himself played in this drama. There were as many different artistic approaches as there were artists. Lobo and his story continue to inspire us in the Twenty-first Century, much as he did in the Nineteenth.

Wolves still in trouble

And yet, the tragic theme of wolf killing in that earlier century continues to repeat itself in our own time. The two wolf subspecies living in northeastern New Mexico where the Lobo story was set are long extinct. Today, the remaining subspecies, the Mexican Gray Wolf, is similarly beleaguered.

The names change. The stories remain much the same.

Ernest Thompson Seton Legacy Project

Seton Castle
Seton Castle

The essays to be presented on this site are about the life and legacy of the writer, artist, educator, and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton. Sponsored by the Academy for the Love of Learning, the Seton Legacy Project came about due to a fortuitous meeting between Aaron Stern, founder and president of the Academy, and Dee Seton Barber, Ernest’s daughter. Dee, inheritor of her father’s property not far out of Santa Fe, found in the Academy an institution to care for that property (including an art collection). The Academy found at Seton Village a physical location on which to build its educational programs.

“In our work, we open to the heart of learning itself and rest upon a deep trust that the seeds of basic goodness, love and learning live within all of us.”
Aaron Stern, Founder and President, Academy for the Love of Learning

Seton, as we will come to see through exploring his creative and scientific writings, his art, and the accomplishments of his life generally, would have been in complete agreement with Aaron’s statement about learning. Having myself lived with (and often by) Seton philosophy for several decades now, I feel that he would have been mighty pleased that his home had become a center for learning as a goal in and of itself during these challenging times.

Seton’s interests were dizzyingly broad. He wrote about subjects from the coloration of birds to American Indian sign language, and from the education of youth to stories about wolves.

It is to that latter subject which we will turn in coming weeks. Seton gained notoriety and set the foundations for later critical success with a story about wolf hunting in New Mexico. Published in the November 1894 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, readers were confronted with a hero (the wolf) who exhibited moral dimensions, particularly a capacity for love-loyalty then believed mostly (or entirely) absent from wild animals. For the next half century Seton would expand the notion of what is encompassed by wild nature, and how that informs (or at least should inform) the way we humans live in this world.

In my view, the world shifted a bit with the publication of “Lobo, The King of Currumpaw,” for thereafter, making the argument that animals are senseless things or objects, became much more difficult. That particular fight is not over, given the destructiveness with which our civilization treats its physical environment.

All the more reason, then, that we should review the pro-nature message in “Lobo.” The Academy for the Love of Learning is publishing a graphic novel of the story (August 2018)—Seton’s words with commissioned artwork.

More than a century after the death of the great wolf, his spirit lives on.