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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Nurturing Passion for Nature: A Conversation with Two Coyotes Wilderness School Executive Director Justin Pegnataro

May 05, 2015 11:12PM

Founded in 2000 by Justin Pegnataro, Two Coyotes Wilderness School is a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing healthy children through building self-awareness, community and connecting people to nature. The organization allows children’s passions to guide the process of learning wilderness survival, wildlife tracking and naturalist skills through games, stories, fun and sensory exploration.

Q: How did you become so passionate about nature, ecology and ecotherapy?

If anyone is to thank for my nature connection it is my mother. When I was a baby, my mother buried my umbilical cord in the soil. To this day, I still claim it was her loving act that connected me to the soils of Connecticut. I grew up in Woodbridge playing in the maple and hickory forests and swamps behind my house.

As I became a teen, I had a major decision to make: I could go to college and go the same route all my friends were going or I could try and find something more. After a late night conversation with a friend, I decided to become a treasure hunter. I started to practice wilderness survival skills to enable me to travel anywhere in the world. During my studies, I moved into the forest for six months, living in a wigwam and falling in love with nature. I also realized that I had found my treasure: a deep passion for connecting people to nature and to their deepest purpose. That’s when I decided to enroll in college and study biology and anthropology to prepare me to share my gift with the world.

Q: Why did you create Two Coyotes Wilderness School?

Two Coyotes is about helping to open people to a deep connection to the earth and to their core gifts and purpose. It is about connecting people to a community filled with love and that supports its youth. A place that honors elders and appreciates the wisdom and experiences they have to share with youth. A place where gratitude is an integral component of life; where the world and people are seen as sacred and beautiful.

At first glance, many folks see us as an environmental education organization or similar to the kind of education a nature center provides. And, while those kinds of education are immensely important, our approach is very different. We believe nature is like a mirror for us to look deeply into our self. In one way, she is able to hold and support us in unconditional love, giving us the solid ground to be ourselves fully and the courage to blossom. At other times, nature can help to initiate us into deeper understanding of who we are and what our unique power and gifts are. Our programs help our students to explore the inner and outer wilderness to find their gifts and ultimately bring them to their community. The side effect is that they also happen to learn their frog calls, how to light fires by rubbing sticks together, and know the natural world like their best friend.

Q: What needs to happen to bring more people back to awareness of the natural world in their individual lives?

Nature is a funny thing that we love when we are in it but when we are inside make excuses not to go outside and experience. We forget how amazing it is and how fundamental to our happiness and survival. I think nature has a way of pushing the edges of our comfort zone. It can also be something that gets pushed to the side as our busy schedules don’t have time for it. Coming back to nature is a lot about prioritizing it. We need to relearn and remember how vital it is for our health and experience. The joy of mud between our toes and the smell of wildflowers are sensations that awaken something deep inside us; something we knew instinctively as children but maybe forgot as we grew older.

Q: What would you most like to see change?

I wait for the day that wilderness programs are as ubiquitous as playing on a sports team in the lives of children. With the advent of screens and how busy families are with activities, nature can be an afterthought. I wait for the day that our culture prioritizes the value of nature’s connection in our lives and lifestyle.

Q: What do you most want Natural Awakenings readers to know about Two Coyotes Wilderness School?

We have an exciting array of camp experiences and other nature programs for the whole family, including making fire without matches, scout tracking, a wild edible plant hike, storytelling, nature games, live music, food, nature arts and drumming. Come check us out, get involved and become part of the community.

To learn more about Two Coyotes Wilderness School’s year-round programs and summer camps, visit TwoCoyotes.org. See ad, page 8.