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The Nature Institute
20 May Hill Road
Ghent, New York 12075

Tel: (518) 672-0116
Fax: (518) 672-4270

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The Nature Institute.

Coming Alive to Nature:
Summer Courses at The Nature Institute

Forthcoming Course
“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.

2018 Summer Course at The Nature Institute

Let the Phenomena Speak!
Deepening our Relation to Life on Earth

June 24 – 28, 2018

“It seems as if the day was not wholly profane, in which
we have given heed to some natural object.”

    – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

“There is also drama in every bush, if you can see it.”
    – Aldo Leopold, 1948

The ecological footprint of humanity on our planet grows each day. It is an expression of what we physically take from the earth for our own needs and desires. There is little doubt that we are taking more than we can expect from the earth, and we are certainly taking more than we are giving.

Giving begins in our thoughts, attitudes, and values. Do we consciously give thought to our relation to the planet, do we try to let nature give voice to herself in our perceptions and ideas? Or do we, as children of our times and in a sleepwalking manner, treat the planet as a resource for us to exploit? Our “ecological thoughtprint” may not be quantifiable, but it is extremely important that we learn to tread softly and carefully in our inner relation to nature.

In this course we want to turn toward phenomena of the natural world with a questioning attitude of mind: Who are you? What do you have to tell us about yourself? And we ask ourselves: What do we need to do to make ourselves more malleable and open to the many voices of nature?

We will engage in careful observation, sensitive description, and qualitative characterizations of our experiences of natural phenomena. At the same time, we will explore how going out to the things themselves can help our ways of thinking and the ideas we form about nature become more alive.

This course is a contribution to sustainability education. It will be of interest to students of nature, educators, and any other individuals who are interested in exploring a scientific approach that emphasizes dialogue with, and not control over, the natural world. (We also have published a wealth of teaching resources for sustainability education, most available for free, which you can find here.)

Daily schedule:

The course begins at 9 am on Sunday, June 24, and ends at 4 pm on Thursday, June 28.

Mornings: 9 am to 12:30 pm, with a mid-morning break (snack provided)

Lunch: 12:30 to 2 pm

Afternoons: 2 pm to 5:30 pm, with a mid-afternoon break; snack provided

Evenings: On Sunday evening we will have a St. John’s Fire at the Institute to celebrate the beginning of summer. (This event is open to the public.) There are no other scheduled events in the evenings.

Course Staff:

Craig Holdrege, Ph.D., is co-founder of The Nature Institute and has worked as an educator since 1980.

Henrike Holdrege, M.S., is co-founder of The Nature Institute and has taught in its adult education programs since 2002.

Registration: deadline is June 1st. We have supplied forms for registering online and for downloading and printing out.

Tuition: $525. The fee includes materials, as well as morning and afternoon snacks.

We are pleased to offer some tuition reduction for those in need.: You can apply for general financial assistance online or by downloading the application form and printing it out.

You can also apply for a Waldorf Educators Scholarship, either online or by downloading the application form and printing it out.

Cancellation policy: If you cancel your registration more than two weeks prior to the beginning of the course, you will be refunded the course fee minus $50. If you cancel less than two weeks before the course begins, you will receive a refund of the course fee minus $100. There is no refund once the course has begun.

Miracles of Light and Color

July 9 – 14, 2015

In this course we will connect Goethean scientific practice (led by Henrike Holdrege) and artistic work (led by Jennifer Thomson). These activities will enhance each other, and together they can help us learn to see more and experience color ever more deeply.

In the mornings we will turn to color phenomena in nature through experiencing, observing, experimenting, contemplating and journaling. In this we will follow the scientific path that Goethe laid out in his Color Theory — a path we might call “model-free science”: the phenomena themselves, rather than preconceived concepts, will guide us in growing and deepening our feeling for and our awareness and understanding of color.

In the afternoons we will continue the work of observation and imagination through exercises in contraction/expansion, point/periphery, and the inner/outer language of colors. We will engage in light and dark sketching, try to capture color moods and gestures, and pursue studies of warm and cool colors. We will use water colors, with a focus on the process, not the result.

Daily schedule:
  • Morning activities from 9 am to 12:30 pm, with a mid-morning break (snack will be provided)
  • Lunch break from 12:30 pm to 2 pm
  • Afternoon activities from 2 pm to 5:30 pm, with a mid-afternoon break (snack provided) and closing of the day

The course begins on Thursday evening, July 9, at 7 pm and ends on Tuesday, July 14, at 4 pm.

On Sunday evening at 7:30 pm Jennifer Thomson will speak about her recent art work in a slide show (open to the public).

Tuition: $500 (less $30 if you register by May 1)
Tuition includes materials, as well as morning and afternoon snacks.

Registration deadline is June 15. Please download and complete the registration form.

We are pleased to offer some tuition reduction:

Scholarship for Waldorf Educators
General Tuition Assistance

Cancellation Policy: If you cancel your registration more than two weeks prior to the beginning of the course, you will be refunded the course fee minus $50. If you cancel less than two weeks before the course begins, you will receive a refund of the course fee minus $100. There is no refund once the course has begun.

Course Staff:

Henrike Holdrege is co-founder of The Nature Institute and has taught in its adult education programs since 2002. One of her research projects is visual experience and model-free optics, subjects she continues to teach to art students and others.

Jennifer Thomson is a visual artist and has been an art teacher for adults for many years. She offers painting courses and retreats at Sun Studio in Crestone, Colorado, where she lives. Visit her website at

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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