Honoring Nature, Gathering Seeds, Building Community

| By Kate Stockman |

At eight years old, Lena Ruark-Eastes had a beloved pet rabbit. “Creating herbal cakes for her was how I started working with herbs,” she smiles in memory. Lena is the founder and director of Earth Path Education Programs in Asheville/Candler. She is an inspiring, joyful woman overflowing with a love for sharing the blessings of nature with others. She is also passionate about building a culture that connects individuals to each other as well as to the Earth.

Lena Ruark-Eastes

Lena Ruark-Eastes

Growing up with Nature

Lena, 26, grew up in Louisville, KY, seeking wild spaces that nurtured and inspired her. For 300 years, her ancestors had lived closely connected to Kentucky land, farming and using herbal medicines. Following in her ancestor’s footsteps, Lena became an environmental activist, encouraging school gardens in elementary, middle and high schools, supporting the protection of eastern Kentucky mountains and leading her school’s recycling program. In high school she became active in social justice, starting a ‘Free the Children’ club at school, an international charity and youth empowerment movement founded in 1995 in Toronto. It’s mission – to free children and their families from poverty and exploitation worldwide. The club raised $21,000 to build a school, clean water projects, and create alternate income for women in Sierra Leone, one of the countries with the highest rate of child soldiers in the world.

“My heart was broken open when I learned about these children,” she recalls. “Free the Children is not only about empowering the children and their families; it was also about empowering myself to be a change-maker.”

At 18, Lena moved to the WNC mountains to attend UNCA. She continued to work with Free the Children as a regional coordinator, one of their few USA staff. Lena designed a major in ethno-ecology, an anthropology and ecology focus. Meanwhile, “in my explorations of the surrounding wilderness as an outdoor guide for UNCA, I fell in love with waterfalls and visited them almost every day my second year in college,” she recalls. Likewise, she continued running as a spiritual practice and became interested in permaculture, village building, and herbal medicine.

Nature1That summer, Lena took a trip to Bolivia to visit La Casa de Crianza (The House of Creation). “That was the first time I saw people resisting colonization of the mind and actively honoring and reclaiming their culture and seeds,” she recalls. “My friend and I felt inspired to start an urban farm and community house,” which she did as a sophomore at UNCA. “We grew food, raised chickens and bees, and saved seeds as well as honored Appalachian traditions. We became a hub for community connection, singing around fires, honoring our ancestors, grief tending, and celebrating.”

Lena offered her first Earth Path Education program in 2008 with Roots Camp, teaching plant lore and magic, urban farming, and primitive skills. She graduated from UNCA with a degree in cross cultural sustainability in 2010 and started bike touring and camping around the US. She moved to Hawaii and participated in a four-day vision quest. “I experienced my own rewilding, becoming clear enough to hear the plants, and the song of the earth. I learned that listening to Mother Earth is full of grace; if we dance on the earth, the energy and guidance flows up through us.”

When she moved to California, she had gained clarity that she was meant to be an earth guide and rites of passage facilitator, teaching about the Earth while the Earth teaches us. She lived at the Regenerative Design Institute, apprenticing on the permaculture farm. In her nine-month immersion program, she became interested in bird language and tracking and gained skills for cultural regeneration, practicing that art by asking, giving, and receiving forgiveness.

Lena with her Granny Nancy Ward

Lena with her Granny Nancy Ward

One of her most impacting experiences in California was working with a group of Silicon Valley youth. “It was amazing,” Lena says, her voice thick with emotion. “Here were some of America’s most privileged kids, yet they had never walked in a creek or in the woods. It put me in touch with the severity of what a trap technology can be. These kids could have anything they wanted, but they were robbed of a true connection with Nature, their parents, even themselves. It is a child’s passion to be connected to Nature. We know this at a very deep level; it’s in our DNA.”

She and her husband, Sam, returned to the Asheville area about 18 months ago. “It was such a beautiful gift,” she says. “Septimbor from Sacred Mountain Sanctuary called and said the land was asking for me and Growing Goddess, the Rites of Passage for young women, to be here. This is now the home for Earth Path Education,” she states proudly.

Rites of Passages

Lena had her first idea for Rites of Passage ceremonies for girls and young women in Hawaii. Now, she and her colleagues are offering a myriad of inter-connected programs that encourage self-empowerment. The entire series is a decade-long offering (from age 8 to 18) for embracing the blossoming of women and the cultivation of “what really sustains us and feeds everything: our own individual gifts,” Lena elaborates.

Nature Sisters is for 8-10 year old girls, who learn to connect with nature and foster supportive friendships using age-appropriate ways to grow a strong foundation for connection with intuition, voice, her own truth, and communication with peers and the natural world.

Growing Goddess, for girls ages 11-14, is a year round program to witness, celebrate, and support each girl as she crosses the threshold into womanhood, with earth-based rituals, elders, mentors, council, ancestral crafts, primitive skills, and her peers.

“Each summer we have a five-day Rites of Passage Ritual open to young women everywhere. We include a wilderness solo that allows the natural essence of each girl/young woman to emerge. They get the chance to tell their stories in a safe environment.” This year Growing Goddess will be held June 20-24 at Sacred Mountain Sanctuary.

Lena Ruark-Eastes

Lena Ruark-Eastes

After a young woman has completed her four year Growing Goddess journey, she can enter into a new phase of leadership in the Moon Mystics program for young woman leaders ages 15-18. “Here, we dive into service to community, earth skills, leadership, voice strengthening, world travel, and much more,” says Lena. The Moon Mystics learn how to mentor, guide, and support younger girls. It is such a richness to have the young women who have traveled with us join our organizational leadership team as mentors.”

“We also have an Auntie Elder Council,” explains Lena, “where village elders circle with the girls. It is a safe place to ask questions, healthy and nurturing to all.” First Moon Celebrations are individual events that offer a beautiful initiation to step confidently into womanhood, lovingly oriented by wise women of her community.

Lena is grateful to weave with the young men’s rites of passage Journeymen and this is the first year they will host their Rites of Passage also at Sacred Mountain Sanctuary.

Summer Camps

Earth Path Education is offering two Roots Summer Camp sessions:

• June 27 - July 1 at the Sacred Mountain Sanctuary near Asheville, NC
• July 25 - July 29 at Cherokee Park, Louisville, KY

Nature Sisters Summer Camp, held August 1-5th at the Sacred Mountain Sanctuary, offers opportunities for young girls 8-10 to play and connect with new friends and Mother Earth.

Something New for Women

Lena is excited about her new Women Rewilding program for adults. This earth skills and ceremonial arts immersion is being offered September 2016-August 2017.

For years Lena has been gathering seeds of plants, wisdom, and community from indigenous peoples and earth lovers from all walks of life. Traveling many circuitous roads, she has arrived back in Asheville. “I knew I was to grow old in these mountains. Now I’m home,” she says with a smile.

For more information on Earth Path Education’s programs, visit EarthPathEducation.com.

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