Erica Wheeler is an award-winning songwriter and a sense-of-place speaker, educator and advocate. She went to school to become a wildlife biologist due to her love of nature and the desire to conserve and preserve it. After graduating she started to pursue her interest in music, as it was something that she was always told she was good at doing, and it was a path that allowed her to be creative.
While on her musical adventures, she began to notice that many of the natural places that she loved so much and felt connected to would be gone the next time she toured through. She wondered how people could better connect to the space around them so that they would be less likely to use and abuse it. This began her journey into her sense-of-place work. She now works with individuals, groups and organizations whose personal passion and/or professional work involves connecting people and place.
As Erica points out, “Feeling a sense-of-place and belonging is something that is deeply needed in our fast paced, mobile, transitory world today. It’s something you might be yearning for without even knowing what to call it. I call it soulfully connecting to place.” Erica’s work is very soulful – from her music to the programs that she offers to parks, conservation organizations and educators alike – you can clearly see that she is doing something that she loves and is pouring her heart into it.
Listen below to learn more about Erica’s Chapter Be story…
PODCAST POINTS TO REFERENCE
[04:24] “I just found that learning about the ecosystems and the web of nature helped me make a lot more sense of my life.”
[7:54] Are we in a crisis as a people in regard to connecting to our space? Erica believes that our connection just needs to be evoked, and that it can be restored and remembered.
[08:52] Erica’s program – “Check Your Earth Mail”
[13:00] Why do we hold certain spaces dear? There are archetypal landscapes that people hold onto depending on what they need in their lives.
[16:08] Erica believes that we need to plan our land use in a way that makes people feel good.
[16:53] Our heart is our 6th sense – how do we make sure to tap into that sense and listen to it?
[20:45] “We can be reminders of that to each other – that the dominate news story of the day isn’t the only news story of the day.” How Erica makes sure to create boundaries around how much she watches and thinks about the heartbreaking news stories of right now.
[22:35] What is the difference between working with adults vs. children? It’s all about rekindling the spark in adults!
[28:58] Erica talks about some of the struggles she has encountered in the process of creating her own path in life.
[32:41] Advice on how to keep the balance in one’s life. Hint: be sure to exercise!
[35:37] To make her business sustainable, Erica makes sure to align her work with bigger entities and create partnerships.
CHAPTER BE QUESTIONNAIRE…
What’s your favorite quote, story or fact to tell at a dinner or cocktail party?
My favorite quote is by author, poet and farmer Wendell Berry “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” It sums up my philosophy and my work—that making sense of our exterior world helps us make sense of our life our interior world, and visa versa.
One of my favorite stories to tell to illustrate self/place connection is a time I was working, and took a school group out on the Mississippi river. These kids lived near the river, but had never been on the river before. We left the city of La Crosse, WI behind, and crossing the “working river” with the barges and boat, and came around a corner to a slough. It was like another world. A world Lewis and Clark might have seen 200 years ago.
It was green and full of life—we saw and eagles nest, a beaver lodge and a great blue heron take off. We talked about this was a home for a lot of living things. I do a practice with people (of all ages) that helps them tap into their senses, and then I ask them what the feel, in their heart (the 6th sense). On this one trip was a boy who you could tell was the shy one, maybe the teased one. I listened to the others respond first, “I feel happy,” “I feel calm,” “I feel free.” And then this boy whipped his head around and said, “I feel like I belong.” THAT is the reason I do the work I do. It’s not that the city or the big river is better or worse than any place. It’s the idea that people can come to have a relationship places, including nature, as well as other settings. I offer this practice in all kind of settings—inner cites too, and the result is the same: real connections to places, no matter where you are.
Worst work experience?
I once got a job telemarketing for a company that sold subscriptions for frozen beef delivered to the home. I was told that if someone responded that they were vegetarian I was to ask, “Don’t you eat beef sometimes?” I made no sales.
What is your definition of success?
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
How do you tap into your creative energies – especially when you are feeling drained?
Nature: I am always doing an inventory in my minds eye about what I see in nature. It sounds like this “there are the trees, look at the variation in the bark. It reminds me of the subtle colors of the Barred Owl I saw last week. Look at the color of the sky. It’s so sure and blue.” So just seeing and sensing nature, no matter where I am is number one.
Other Creatives: Reading or listening to writings by a “soul sister or brother” someone who also has a nature/self/soul/Spirit connection, or sees in a similar way, that inspires me, gives me confidence in my own voice/way of seeing and helps feel less alone.
Artist Dates: Going on artist adventures, like Julia Cameron suggests in “The Artist’s Way” So that might mean a museum trip or just browsing in a interesting, different kind of store or having tea in a cozy spot with a dear friend for conversation and connection.
What does “to be” mean to you?
My newsletter is called “Being Here.” It’s all about ways to connect to places, all kinds of places, all kinds of connections. There’s are many ways to “be here” It’s different than tuning life out, separating ourselves from the world around us. It’s about relating to places, people and even things.
My philosophy is that it’s our disconnect, our tuning out, our separation from the world around us, that has caused so much hurt and damage to environments, people and cultures around the globe. So exploring how connected or not to what in all around us, and inside us, it’s a practice or awareness, and then making sense of what you see, think, feel, experience. Sometimes the only sense that can be made is to see it, acknowledge it, breath through it, take it in or let it go.
I think all the meditation and spiritual practices teach some form of that. I personally had trouble meditating for the longest time. I just have the kind of mind that likes to figure things out, all the time. To just think of nothing, or even just notice my thoughts, was not relaxing to me. I just thought it wasn’t my thing.
One practitioner who made the most sense to me is a woman named Kaylynn Two Trees, who took you into that sort of practice through the trees, saying simply, “the trees are breathing, you are breathing, the trees are breathing you, you are breathing the trees.” I can do that one. Breathing like that gets you here, and then you can “be here.” Be present.
How do you spend your time when you are procrastinating?
Worry and stress. Cleaning and organizing and “getting ready.” Eating treat foods. Scrolling the Internet for “research.” I’m always trying to be productive and always have so much to do. I’m trying to get better at giving myself downtime that is nourishing to body/mind/soul and give myself realistic processes for the work I have to get done. Or using it to look at what’s going on. Is my procrastination resistance? A lack of planning? Or a needed break?
I was procrastinating sending you this questionnaire b/c I wanted to think about the answers, and talk about it with someone to figure out what I wanted to say. After that, I had to book time with myself to do it! There’s usually steps I need to figure out to get something done.
Ideal READING LIST – books, websites, blogs, podcasts, magazines, etc. that you would want on your Swiss Family Robinson deserted island?
- Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams
- A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
- Buffalo Woman Comes Singing by Brooke Medicine Eagle
- Where the Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg
- The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abrams
- Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico, A Sense of Place by Lynes, Poling-Kempes and Turner
Favorite song with “be” in the title?
Let it Be by the Beatles … Does everyone say that?
LINKS & RESOURCES…
- Erica Wheeler website
- Harlan County, USA
- House as a Mirror of Self by Clare Cooper Marcus
- The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson
- Iron Horse Music Hall
- Chief Seattle’s speech
- Erica’s E-book: Seven Soulful Ways to Connect to Place
- To Deep Water, from “Good Summer Rain” by Erica Wheeler
Images via Erica Wheeler and Chapter Be
Thank you again for doing this interview and all the hard work you put into this project. It’s really wonderful! xo Erica
Thank you, Erica, for sharing your story and being so open about your experiences. Delighted to have you as a part of Chapter Be!