You can go traipsing through any of Orange County’s regional parks and not realize how much you’re missing.
The dirt paths that are carved into the hillsides guide you through an oasis, but also wind you right past edible plants, energy-cleansing foliage, and a network of animals communicating your presence.
Chris Morasky doesn’t miss these things, and he has made it his life’s work to not only connect with nature in a way most of us are oblivious to, but also to teach these skills to children with the goal of awareness and increased connection to everything and everyone around them.
Morasky teaches his “Ancient Pathways” classes in the heart of our bustling concrete jungle, right in the pockets of native land we find nestled in suburbia. They range in price and activities, with our 5-week session of 4-hour classes happening in O’Neill Regional Park. My child chose this class to learn more details about the natural environments in her hometown, but maybe yours would want to learn how to build shelter in the woods.
Either way, Morasky has the kids practicing to make a fire by rubbing sticks together before he leads us into the park. But, not before checking how we walk. Yes, how we walk. Because one of the rules of connecting to nature, says Morasky, is to tread lightly, to balance your weight evenly across your foot so that you can feel everything beneath you.
Though the class is for kids, it’s really a fantastic learning experience for the parents as well, whom Morasky welcomes to stay. He shows us that what we think is a holly bush isn’t a holly bush at all, but a toyon, and that the berries are completely edible. He identifies stinging nettle – a green superfood that flourishes in the area – when and how to harvest it, remove the barbs, and eat it. He explains that the frenzied pile of feathers on the ground once belonged to a mourning dove, and that it was snatched up by a female Cooper’s hawk, which plucks the feathers out before feeding the dove to her young. That woody and fragrant brush lining so many of Southern California’s trails is California sagebrush, which was used by native people to cleanse away unwanted and negative energies – a practice still used today. And who knew the leaves of the yucca plant can be used as a soap, and then twisted to make rope?
All this in just the first class. Class two, we use knives. M