Hike in the Woods
Reflections on My Research Journey
Driving to my Destination
The starting destination for my thesis was finding the right thesis supervisor. After hearing Professor Kull’s story of his wilderness solitude research I felt inspired to do storytelling research. I wasn’t sure what story I wanted to tell but I knew that it needed to come from within me and not from someone telling me what to write about. I ruminated on what I felt called to express and sought out mentors to talk to about my ideas. One such mentor was Hilary. We took a walk one day and afterwards I wrote the following notes in my journal...
  1.  listen to where my creativity is and how it wants to be expressed
  2.  it’s o.k. to finish with questions and to expand the boundaries of what it’s supposed to look like
  3.  being in nature needs to be a part of the thesis - that is where the voice of expression is found in me
  4.  I am free - free of shoulds, shouldn’ts, judgments
  5.  scared - bound by chains - only I can put chains around myself - can break free
  6.  trust, faith, open, loving
  7.  can’t see what it’s going to look like
  8.  pay attention - don’t discount, judge
  9.  my mind wants to save the world - I want to set myself free
Soon thereafter, I was guided to Professor Carl Leggo and I knew right away I wanted him to be my supervisor. I sat with that knowing for a few months before I asked him, to be sure, because I knew what an important decision it was. The essence of what was calling me to do has not changed...it just changed form over time.
Walking to the Trailhead
Starting my research project was like abandoning everything I knew about academics and forging along a dirt road into unknown territory. My guide, Carl, encouraged me NOT to think about the proposal or how I was taught to do research, rather he asked that I attend to what is calling me. I had just moved to Terrace and I wanted to describe my experience of this place. I was not sure how I would do this without consulting textbooks, doing interviews, or researching what others have discovered about this place. I would need to find my own voice.
Returning to my Car
Venturing off on the Trail
While hiking the Hai Lake trail the other day I thought of using a hiking analogy to tell of my experience crafting an arts based research project. For me, it was crucial that a good deal of my research, in the field of Environmental Education and Communication, be gathered from being outside, in the environment. I spent many hours exploring the landscape - what I most love to do. This project emerged as a natural unfolding alongside my relocation to Terrace, British Columbia. If I were still living in Vancouver, my research project would have been entirely different. Roger Rosenblatt, in the following quote, eloquently describes what the process was like for me:
"The best in art and life comes from a center - something urgent and powerful - an ideal or emotion that insists on its being. From that insistence a shape emerges and creates its structure out of passion. If you begin with a structure, you have to make up the passion. And that’s very hard to do" (Lehrer & Rosenblatt, 1998).
Experiences Along the Trail
Discoveries Along the Way
As I was collecting my data I realized that
my research needed to include visual
media. Taking pictures became an integral
part of my research. As time passed and I
became more attuned to the smells, sights
and sounds in the world around me, I
realized that I needed to include audio and
video recordings in my work. I began to
see how the research was leading me in
exciting and creative ways and I began to
trust the process a bit more each day.
As I collected data in the forms of poetry, pictures
ruminations, video, audio, and quotations, the
structure of how I was going to hold and present this
work emerged. I realized that using Web based media
would allow me to create collages of my journey, with all
the different mediums, and I could create hyperlinks
connecting different themes. Although I needed some
structure - I organized my web pages chronologically by
seasons - I also wanted the reader to be able to wander
freely, go off the beaten path, and get lost, but know how
to get back. I felt tremendous relief as I began composing
and creating my work on iWeb. I found a way to present
my work that was authentic and true to me.
Going Home
Venturing out into the wild uncharted expanse of research was both exciting and scary. I could not see very far in front of me and the path was not well marked. I had to learn to trust in the process and know that it will guide me to where I need to go. I did not know where the path would lead me and what would be at the end of the trail...this felt, at times, terrifying.
I wandered and explored beautiful areas of Terrace and came home to write about my experiences. Oftentimes my writing would surprise me - it flowed out of me. I had moments when I felt so connected and enraptured by the magnificence of this place. Other times I felt lost and became paralyzed with fear...What could I possibly have to say about a place I know nothing about?  What if it doesn’t make sense? What if I have nothing to say? There were also times when I felt exposed and extremely vulnerable.
Like the completion of any good journey I feel tired and yet I am renewed and energized with creative hope.
I feel a terrific sense of accomplishment. I did something I was terrified of and I never dreamed it would be as beautiful as this.
“Rather than standing back and observing a place from a removed vantage point, embodied knowing requires getting messy with the spaces - living the spaces, celebrating embodied spaces, even in our writing/reading” (Hurren, 2000, p. 99).