In October I attended the annual conference of The European Institute for Outdoor Adventure and Experiential Education at the wonderful Metsäkartano wilderness centre near Rautavara in Eastern Finland. It was my first visit to the Taiga proper and the landscape and sense of remoteness made me feel invigorated and very much at home. Much of the flora and fauna are familiar from habitats in the UK but the diversity of ground flora under Birch and Spruce was stunning.
As with most conferences the social element of the programme was as important as the formal presentations. It was great to be at a conference that had Sauna timetabled each day and I did manage eventually to swim in the lake to cool down. It should be said that the EOE version of formal is pretty laid back. With a set of participants who are outdoor practitioners or academics, there was no chance of spending a whole day inside looking at screens so there were plenty of opportunities to explore the Forest. I spent a great afternoon with Huck who is a wilderness guide and activist – his session focussed on ethics and using time in the woods to reflect on our real needs, the impacts of our forest activities and our wider environmental impacts in our ‘everyday’ lives.
Another afternoon was spent visiting Tiilikka National Park. This was a bit of a yomp through stunning scenery (I think our guides still have plenty to learn about interpretation and guiding walks) and it would have been good to have more of a potter and a chance to look at the flora and landscape in more detail. Saying that we did pick a couple of punnets of cranberries in a bog which were made into jam for breakfast next morning.
I caught up with my good friend Rysek from the University of Silesia and had very stimulating conversations with others including Geoff Cooper about Forest School, IOL, centre closures and much else. Steve Bowles,Roger Duncan and John Quay sent my head spinning with Hermeneutics, Heidigger and local beer and Jess, Tanja and Josh sorted me out with the kit to sleep out under the stars on the first sub zero night of the season.
The conference is in the Lake district in 2012 and I’ll be doing my level best to get there and make a contribution if I can.