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Ghent, New York 12075

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The Nature Institute.

Coming Alive to Nature:
Summer Courses at The Nature Institute

Recent Courses
Reading in the Book of Nature
Dynamic Embryology and Morphology
“The day is coming when a single carrot freshly observed will set off a revolution.”
    – Paul Cezanne

group photo of course attendees The poet and scientist Goethe developed a new approach to science involving a way of seeing that weds artistic sensibility with exact thinking and observation. The Nature Institute is inspired by Goethe's approach, and in its weeklong intensive summer courses aims to open up this new way of seeing to course participants.

We often view science as a discipline that deals with the world in cool and distant objectivity, gaining understanding of the world through experiments and instruments that overcome human limitations. Goethe wrote provocatively that the human being is the “best and most exact scientific instrument,” and he believed that science involves human development: “If we want to achieve a living understanding of nature, we must become as flexible and mobile as nature herself.” He saw that we can transform ourselves to ever better fathom the wisdom and depths of the world.

photo of two students examining flowers Much today stands in the way of this transformation. We form abstract concepts about the world that we take to be more real than the things themselves. Filled with our own predilections, we don't perceive carefully how the world actually appears and how we are interacting with it. And our experience is increasingly mediated by all sorts of instruments and gadgets, so we lose faith in our senses and in our ability to judge.

photo of students in the field To counteract these habits of mind, The Nature Institute's weeklong intensive summer courses emphasize immediate experience and practice. Participants practice observation: observation of natural phenomena, observation of thought processes, and observation of how we form judgments about the world. And this observing always involves doing-getting out into nature and observing and drawing plants; painting elements of a landscape; drawing geometric forms that “track” a progression of thought. By weaving together reflection and observation, taking in and actively creating, science and art, we bring ourselves into inner movement, and transformation begins. Our own process of knowing becomes more transparent and nature shows herself from new sides.

As one course participant has remarked, “It is such a gentle Aha! experience for me — a peeling away of a veil or film that has covered my eyes for years. It again gives me context and tools for seeing the familiar in a deeper and more penetrating way.”

To read other comments from summer course participants, click here.

2014 Summer Courses at The Nature Institute

Reading in the Book of Nature: Enlivening Observation and Thinking Through Plant Study

June 29 to July 5

When we read, we participate in meaning – the meaning that is inherent in the text. It is not enough to know word definitions and grammatical rules to read. Similarly, when we observe and strive to understand the natural world around us, it is not enough to know names and an array of characteristics. Rather we must try to see the relations between, say, parts of a plant and understand how a plant relates to its environment. What is a plant expressing through its unique way of being? Can we begin to fathom the deeper meanings that are present in the living world? This is no simple task, because it demands a new kind of relational knowing that moves from a clear understanding of details to a perception of processes and interconnections. In this course we want to take steps in learning to read in the book of nature through:

  • exercises in flexible thinking;
  • careful study of plants in the local surroundings;
  • clay modeling with a focus on metamorphosis.

Daily schedule:
  • Morning seminars from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • Lunch break from 12:30 pm to 2 pm
  • Afternoon activities from 2 pm to 5:30 pm

The course begins on Sunday, June 29, at 7:00 pm and ends on Saturday, July 5, at 1:00 pm with a potluck lunch.

Tuition: $560 (less $30 if you register by May 1)
Tuition includes materials, as well as morning and afternoon snacks.

Please download and complete a registration form by June 15.

We are pleased to offer tuition reduction:
Scholarship for Waldorf Educators
General Tuition Assistance
Course Staff:

Craig Holdrege is a biologist, educator, and the director of The Nature Institute.

Henrike Holdrege is a mathematician, biologist, and educator and works at The Nature Institute.

Patrick Stolfo is an artist and art teacher with many years of experience.

For course location, meals, and lodging please see below.

Dynamic Embryology and Morphology

July 31 to August 3

This course explores human prenatal development and how the shaping of the body (morphogenesis) expresses essential attributes of the development of the human being as a being of spirit and matter, of body and mind. The scientific method of phenomenology is used to open up a truly holistic understanding of the human being. By following the processes forming the human embryo, the course will shed light onto such themes as healthy development, the purpose and wisdom of the human form, and, indeed, the very meaning of human existence.

This course will be taught by Jaap van der Wal, PhD, MD. Jaap is a retired teacher of Anatomy and Embryology at the University of Maastricht, Holland, with a special focus on human embryology. He teaches courses around the world and presents his unique perspectives on human development in a lively way with great clarity. This course will be of special relevance for health professionals and educators, and will be of interest to everyone who wants to learn more about the remarkable nature of human development.

Many resources are available on Dr. van der Wal’s website.

Daily schedule:
  • Mornings: 9 am to 12:30 pm
  • Lunch break from 12:30 pm to 2 pm
  • Afternoons: 2 pm to 5:30 pm

The course begins on Thursday at 9 am at The Nature Institute and ends on Sunday at 1 pm.

Tuition: $350 (less $25 if you register by June 1)
Tuition includes morning and afternoon snacks.

Please download and complete a registration form by July 21.

Scholarships for Waldorf Educators are available.

Location of Courses:
The Nature Institute is located near the hamlet of Harlemville (town of Ghent), New York, and is nestled at the foot of the Taconic Hills. Our neighbors include the 400-acre biodynamic Hawthorne Valley Farm, the Hawthorne Valley School (a K-12 Waldorf school) and the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store. Walking trails wind through forests, wetland areas, and creeksides. Click here for directions.

Lodging and Meals:
We can refer participants to local families who rent rooms ($30 to $50 per night). Camping at nearby state parks is approximately $15 per night (see below). For a list of motels and bed & breakfasts, click here.

We provide morning and afternoon snacks. Course participants will be responsible for all other meals. The Hawthorne Valley Farm Store has extensive organic food and deli selections and is within walking distance of The Nature Institute.

For reservations and site information go to: or call the New York State Camping Reservation Service: Reserve America (800) 456-2267. Lake Taghkanic State Park (off the Taconic State Parkway) is the closest and most accessible campground to The Nature Institute. The Taconic State Park, Copake Falls Area is also nearby if the other one is full. Information for both campgrounds can be found on the above website.

To view brief summary information about earlier courses, see the past-event listing on our calendar page.

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