Eighteen Upper School students and five chaperones set out at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, January 20, to embark on Buckley’s first-ever field trip to Palm Springs, where they would learn about and experience the interconnection of plants, animals (including humans!), and the elements.
Each of the seven stops provided a perspective on our often complicated connection to nature. In Palm Springs, where the desert presents such a stark contrast between life (water) and struggle (heat, dryness), and between sustainable, indigenous practices and contemporary consumerist culture, these themes are ever-present and ripe for exploration.
In a reflection after the trip, senior Sarah S. shared that she was fascinated by the people she encountered during the trip and how she was able to learn from their life experiences. Senior Madison K. said that she loved spending an entire day without her phone and Addison K., also a senior, added that disconnecting from her phone made her actually look at the sun to have an idea of the time.
Students who participated in the trip are also enrolled in one of four Upper School classes: Tipping Points, which covers the scientific impacts of climate change; How to Save the Planet, which explores the geopolitical conversation around climate justice; Philosophy & Ethics, which addresses existential questions around human presence in the world; and AP Environmental Science, an upper-level survey class written by the College Board. The trip was the brainchild of Philosophy & Ethics teacher Olivier Dalle, who developed the itinerary after discovering the many spiritual and ecological points of interest that Palm Springs has to offer.
Seven stops in this whirlwind day included:
1. Palm Springs Visitor Center
, located in a former gas station and designed by Swiss-born architect Albert Frey. Dubbed the father of “desert modernism,” Frey was known for his designs that honored and reflected the desert landscape.
2. Moorten Botanical Garden
: Students walked the garden’s nature trail featuring more than 3,000 varieties of desert plants and peeked inside the “cactarium,” a greenhouse with even more varieties of desert plants. They also learned about the history of the garden from Clark Moorten, whose father founded it in 1938 and whose family still runs it today.
3. Lunch at Chef Tanya’s Kitchen
. Tanya spoke to students over lunch about her childhood in Palm Springs and how she, inspired by her love of nature and animals, opened the first location of what would be the first vegan restaurant chain in the U.S., in 1990. Students devoured an array of sandwiches and salads made with Chef Tanya’s signature seitan and tempeh.
4. Mesquite Golf Course, now part of Oswit Land Trust
. This golf course was recently purchased and donated to a land trust so that it can be returned to its natural state. Recently, a large and vocal group of residents has petitioned against the use of land for golf courses, and this has become a formidable political entity in the Palm Springs area.
5. Silent retreat in the Indian Canyons
. Notebooks in hand, students hiked down into the palm-filled oasis of Tahquitz Canyon, on the reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. They spent an hour in silent reflection – some wandered the trails while others sat by the river where they sketched and meditated.
6. Palm Spring Museum
and the Frey House II
. In addition to housing several important works of contemporary and modern art – and the exhibit “Light+Change” by artist Philip K. Smith III – the museum includes the Frey House II, a short drive into the San Jacinto mountains to one of the original “tiny homes,” designed by Albert Frey (see: Palm Springs Visitors Center, above), intended to respect and “blend in” to its natural surroundings. For example, the living room is designed around a boulder protruding from the hillside.
7. The Elemental: A Contemporary Center for the Arts
. Students had the opportunity to experience the exhibit, The Gaia Hypothesis: Earth/Fire/Water/Air. Looking at vintage art pieces along with new ones created specifically for the exhibit, students learned about, wrote down, and shared their perceptions about the way the elements and humans are connected, as well as their impact on one another.
“We have an urgent, essential need to reconnect with nature,” says Dalle, echoing interim science department chair Anat Fernandes, who reminded students before they set off on their journey, “Nature is your best teacher.”