Week 3: Nature Names

Greetings, Robin Circle families,

This past Tuesday we at Robin Circle took an important step together toward deepening our relationships with our wild neighbors, and with each other.

We all were given “nature names,” which is a teaching tool used in many nature-based mentoring models and at 8-shields organizations around the country. A nature name is typically a non-human resident of your local bioregion, perhaps a mammal or a bird, and being assigned a nature name provides a way to learn about local ecology in a way that is personal and emotional.

Traditionally, you don’t really get to choose your “nature name”–or else we’d all just choose our favorite animals and might not have as much motivation to learn about the creatures we pay less attention to.

Arielle and Sage made beautiful nature name “cards” with a drawing or picture of a particular local species along with some quick facts. At our opening circle, we passed around the deck of cards facing down, and each person picked one, not knowing what animal they were choosing (or being chosen by!) Then, we all kept our nature names a secret until the end of Robin Circle, where we would each get a chance to act out our nature name and have the others try and guess.

Everyone seemed really interested in the process of getting a nature name. Our circle was so quiet while we were choosing cards (some of us had our eyes closed), that when we opened our eyes, we noticed three mule deer grazing only about forty feet away from our circle. They had approached us while we were silently immersed in the process of choosing cards! Then, some other people walked through the park and they all ghosted away. We were really able to see the power of stillness and its effects on the world around us.


Our next mission was to do a sit-spot (a nature observation practice of sitting quietly outdoors), trying to embody our nature name as we felt called to. But first, we went over some cool tricks for nature observation: “fox walking,” and “owl eyes.” Fox walking is a way of walking carefully and purposefully that makes less noise and allows us to look at our feet less so that we can instead observe our surroundings. Owl eyes is a way of training our visual awareness so that we are able to pay attention to our entire field of vision equally as opposed to focusing intently on one spot. People often unknowingly use “owl eyes” while they are driving on the highway—this is because it is the safest way to pick up on non-typical motion that could be a threat. In owl eyes, we can pick up movement very easily, but cannot as easily pick up detail (until we choose to focus in on it). This is also called “wide angle vision,” or “splatter vision” by some nature-connection and wilderness survival skills instructors. Something like owl eyes is used by predators that need to scan their visual field, but also by prey animals that need to do so to detect threats. Some of the girls had been introduced to these “animal forms” before and readily offered up tips and guidelines for how to drop into these non-typical modes of moving and seeing!


I noticed that as we walked up a trail to find some sit-spot sites, some of the girls were practicing trying to observe what was going on in their peripheral vision while still looking forward. Awesome job! That’s more like how the mule deer we saw might move through the world. Why do you think that deer vision is more adapted to picking up motion than detail? The Robin Circle girls might have some insight!

I was so impressed by how the girls engaged with their sit spots. Human speech stopped and I heard tweets and saw hops, bounds, and some awesome hiding spots as they all dropped into their spots. When I asked them afterwards some surprise questions about how many people walked by the trail we were on and what they looked like, the girls turned out to have observed way more than I did about our passersby!

Then, we headed back to the pavilion and had our closing circle. We went around and we each had about a minute or two to act out our nature name animal without words. Everyone eventually guessed each other’s nature names. If I had to choose a nature name out of that deck, it would be hard because they are all so cool. I ended up getting “Great Blue Heron,” which I’m grateful for because lately I’ve been admiring how herons move with incredible stealth and precision. People don’t typically think of them as “birds of prey,” but they are incredibly capable hunters of fish and small mammals.

We invited everyone to do a little research on their nature name in the coming weeks. I wonder if you could guess your Robin Circle girl’s nature name if she acted it out for you?

We’re looking forward to next week. See you then!

-So, Arielle, and Sage

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