Erica Wheeler: inspiring connections between people and place

November 2015/ November Twilight + Cranberries +  Youth Leadership Video!

November 2015 November Twilight  Cranberries  nbspYouth Leadership Video
I've been thinking about the rich colors of the season this month, and about my family and our Thanksgiving traditions. Below I'm going to wax poetic, then nostalgic, and share a video created with some awesome youth I've been working with. Enjoy!

November: The Later Twilight

"October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight." Henry David Thoreau, from Autumnal Tints, Atlantic Monthly, 1862.

Henry starts this article by saying "Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there." He goes on to describe with poetic beauty the colors, scents and scenes of the season.

What I love here is how he comes to "know" a place through his senses. His essay infuses factual information about nature with personal story, feeling and experience. I love this because it shows how just trying to make sense of what we see, and to describe it, helps us see more. And doing that can help us feel more rooted and connected to places no matter where we are. This is a habit we can cultivate anywhere.

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Cranberry Red

This November, I've been thinking about the rich colors of the season. And about my family and Thanksgiving traditions. Which brings me to cranberries.

Wikipedia says that in "James Rosier's book The Land of Virginia (1605) there is an account of Europeans coming ashore and being met with Native Americans bearing bark cups full of cranberries." (So unfriendly.)

It also says "The name cranberry derives from "craneberry", first named by early European settlers in America who felt the expanding flower, stem, calyx, and petals resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane." (Trying to make sense of what we see by describing it always brings up interesting, creative analogies.)

My mother made a famous cranberry sauce. She is turning 86 this month and lives in a nursing home now, but until just two years ago she lived independently at home and always loved to cook. She had a lot of famous recipes, and four years ago I asked her to start writing them down and emailing them to me.

She sent them with little stories attached. And then sent me more. And more. Until she had sent me 200 recipes.  I put all these together into a book and called it "The Beautiful Table" because we always loved to set the table just right.  It includes all her comments, and a whole section of Jewish favorites. It's really a treasure to have it, especially whenever the holidays come. Here's a favorite. Super simple. Not too sweet.


Cook on stove top.
This is the cranberry sauce that we always serve with the Thanksgiving Turkey.  Really a "family" recipe.

1 12 ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 can mandarin oranges (see next ingredient)
1 can mandarin orange juice + water to equal 1 cup
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mix together mandarin orange juice from the can of mandarin oranges, and water and bring to a boil.  Add the sugar and boil until all the sugar has dissolved.  Add the cranberries and boil until the berries have popped.  Remove from the heat and stir in the mandarin oranges and the walnuts to make a lovely relish accompaniment to the turkey and stuffing.  Refrigerate if there is any left and it will keep for a week or longer.

It is absolutely delicious.

Try this: Your Story

Heritage and Food: Ask your family members for their favorite recipes, and urge them to include comments about them if they can. Assemble into a book for a gift that everyone will appreciate!

See more: Try and describe something in nature or describe an unfamiliar historic object just to see what kinds of images and analogies come up with when you try to make sense of it.

Youth Leadership Programs

There's a big push right now for the National Park Service Centennial in 2016 and they have developed a  "Find Your Park" campaign, which generously encompasses finding your park anywhere, not just a national park. I am interested in what people discover when they find their park.

For me parks, natural and historic, urban or wild are places to learn and explore both externally and internally. When I work with people, I teach a sense of place process which helps them learn about a place, and themselves at the same time.

Working with some awesome youth and the fabulous Nora Priest, we made a video following some of the process I am talking about, helping them find their stories of connection to a place. (Just so you know, the video is a pilot project and it's meant to be youth centered and youth made. It's not intended to be scripted or slick. I'm sharing it with you guys becasue I'd love to hear what you think!) Please share with anyone you know who might be interested in connecting youth to parks!

More about my Youth Leadership Programs here

New Bedford YLA Find Your Park
from Nora Priest on Vimeo.

Learn more about this NPS project HERE

About Erica

Erica Wheeler is the creator of "The Soulful Stewardship Method" and "The Language of Place" programs, which inspire people to discover and share their personal sense of place connections. She is a TEDx speaker and an award-winning songwriter who has performed nationally and worked with National Parks, State Parks, Historic Sites and Conservation Organizations across the country, offering professional development trainings, seminars and keynotes. Her latest CD "Good Summer Rain" was sponsored in part by the Trust for Public Land, and was the winner of the 2008 NAI Media Award for "Best Interpretive Music."

Booking Info

To hire Erica for your next community event or for a keynote, training, workshop or academic seminar, write to


"In our environmental curriculum, where sensing and understanding the connections between academic disciplines are essential, we are always looking for ways to tie together course work. Erica's workshop and concert were exactly what our students needed. She helped them bring together all their ways of knowing, so they could better understand their relationship to place." Tim Farnham, Director of the Center for the Environment, Mount Holyoke College, MA

updated: 1 year ago