In Early Spring: A Curriculum of Awakening 

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Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a series on Arts-Based Research in the Anthropocene edited by Amrita DasGupta 

Author’s note: The impetus for this blog post comes from our history of deep interest in the connection between arts-based research and the natural world. Kelly is a writer, eco-justice, literacy and curriculum professor, ally and arts-based researcher. Karleen is a butch/trans lesbian, mixed- race, eco-social justice professor, arts-based writer and researcher. They are founding members of the Trent Arts Research Group (TARG) at Trent University. Trent Arts Research Group (TARG) is an interdisciplinary research group of educators, practitioners and theorists engaged in arts-based research and practice. The aim of the research group is to explore the ways in which the arts and arts-based research can foster relationships and collaboration among educators and community members for eco-social justice and reconciliation. As a social practice, arts-based research integrates seemingly disparate disciplines through primarily qualitative research projects that serve individuals and communities and their development. The purpose of the research group is to support research dissemination and project development by creating a collective space for people in the arts at Trent to work together, to move from fragmented individuals to a community of researchers. By incorporating a collective approach, we engage in co-collaboration that includes faculty and graduate students to focus on research, knowledge mobilization, and community connections through arts and action. 

What follows is a selection from a larger project on the arts and environment during COVID 19. In Spring 2022, TARG brought together a group of educators and artists into nature through the question: “How has nature become more a part of me during covid?” While we featured the art of six of the members in a previous publication (Gosselin et al. in press), we did not have the space to include our own poetry from that day.1 In conceiving this blog entry, we revisited our writings from the project to investigate a theme within our works. Inspired by the work of McDonald (in press) how the Canadian curriculum might better engage with winter, we note that our pieces focus on spring.2 The images in our post provide a natural canvas to reflect upon and respond to spring through arts-based methodologies. We consider questions, such as: “What is environmental arts pedagogy in the spring?” and “What do we learn from the spring?” 

Prompt 1

Karleen’s writing begins with the prompt, “ ______ is a part of me.” She chooses rain as an object of meditation and happiness.3

Image of small shoots
Figure 1: Spring rain and shoots. Image taken in Little Italy, Toronto, Ontario by Karleen Pendleton Jiménez

The rain is a part of me 

dead roots exposed in the mud

Tiny neon buds bust through

Always the sound of water 

In Toronto 

houses are built in a buried river valley

We jump off curves 

avoid the breath of neighbours

Seek sanctuary in parks 

Somewhere in time 

my dad cares for pink rosebushes

I kick about in the wet muck 

that simmers 

Prompt 2

Kelly’s writing begins with the prompt: “I went outside during COVID and _____ .” She sees cardinals as a rumination on spring as life-giving. 

Image of male and female cardinal in front of bird feeder
Figure 2: Kelly’s Cardinals Painting Grain. Image taken at Young’s Point, Ontario by Kelly Young.

Cardinals in Spring: Reflections from a Nature Walk 

Cardinals are part of me 

amuse and amaze me 

I look for their beauty on dull winter days

a glimpse of smooth red


nesting in stillness

sharing birdsong in spring 

winds carry whistles and trill in flight 

a renaissance of perennial, love, and devotion

in mating time 

Discussion of themes 

The long winter that we experience in Southern Ontario in Canada breeds yearning for the warmth as we move from darkness into light. Spring renewal reminds us to be present and listen to the transition of nature into new life and the awakening of earthly creatures after a long winter sleep. We are moving away from isolation. The thunder that returns in April wakes up the sleeping animals as birds return to build their nests. We embrace ground zero for new life as we question what engaging with spring teaches us in times of isolation? Sharing our perceptions of the liveliness of new buds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and all of the variety of birds that we get to experience keeps the darkness at bay. Throughout COVID 19, the wildlife outside our windows kept us connected to the cycles that are alive as the seasons delineate in extreme ways – as we experience the moon and sun, rise and fall of the flow of water, and thawing of frozen land above burrows. 

Final Thoughts 

Our arts-based research approach brings the natural environment into focus as we pay closer attention to the cycles of life. The land calls to us in early spring, before the flowers come. The rain mixes a brew of mud and detritus, conceiving a recipe for new life. We proceed from the ugliness with a leap of faith. It is a curriculum of transition and transformation. If we learn to pay attention, the land teaches us about cycles of hope and dependability. The land guides us to accept the fallow time, to wallow in darkness, to embrace patience, to anticipate radical awakening.  


1 Gosselin, Jade Gosselin, anya Gwynn, Lauren Hill, Derek Newman-Still, Karleen Pendleton Jiménez, Camille Prince, Camille, Lisa Trefzger Clarke, & Kelly Young, Kelly, “Improv Walk: Nature is a Part of Me.” The Canadian Theatre Review CTR, in press. 

2 Michelle McDonald. “Teachers’ Interactions with the Outdoors in Winter” (PhD diss., Trent University). Trent University Library & Archives, in press. 

3 Sara Ahmed, “Happy Objects,” in Affect Theory Reader, eds. Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010)

Featured image: Kelly’s Cardinals taken by Kelly Young

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Kelly Young and Karleen Pendleton Jiménez are writers and Professors in the School of Education at Trent University. They are founding members of the Trent Arts Research Group (TARG).

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