Lindsay Cray is an environmental enthusiast who has spent most of her life learning, working, and teaching in the environmental field. She and her husband, Nick Brown, are the co-founders of Earthworks Institute, a not-for-profit organization focused on improving the quality of life in the Greater Rochester area. Lindsay has been teaching wilderness survival skills in and around Rochester over the past year, including here at Rochester Brainery!
Lindsay's classes allow participants to learn concepts such as how to keep warm in the cold and snow (crucial to Western New York inhabitants), where to look for food, and tips to finding your way home. She has traveled all over the world and enjoys all of the beautiful natural aspects of the Earth. We wanted to learn more about her and the class so we got a hold of her to give us some more details!
What has made you so interested in being involved with the environment?
I have always been an advocate of the environment. I think a lot of it has to do with what it did for me as a child. As a child, I spent as much time as I could wandering around outdoors. My parents had to always call me so I would come back inside. My mom even had a special whistle she would use for dinner time because I would wake up and be gone before sunrise. Nature is where I felt safe and it’s what I felt I understood. It helped me discover my place in the world and who I was. In adolescence, there were always those times when you just wanted to be alone and not talk to anyone. A lot of kids disappear in their bedroom and blast loud music or read a book. For me, it was losing myself in the forest. Now that I am an adult I have learned that being in the forest was a safety net for a lot of other kids. As a research scientist and doing a lot of conservation work, I have found a lot of data that supports how we are primates. From the core of us and our DNA, we belong connected to nature. That’s why it feels so good to put our feet in the dirt or climb a tree. We are born to discover and that’s how we develop.
Where did the idea for the Earthworks Institute come from and how has it impacted Rochester since its creation?
The idea for the Earthworks Institute was actually born out of work my husband and I did out of California. We worked for a land trust for about a year and I was the education and volunteer director. My husband was the land steward and he managed about 15,000 acres of California land. I was involved with a lot of the local community, schools, clubs, environmental classes and we were working to preserve our land. There was a major educational component to our non-profit. I would have loved for that to last longer, but if you know anything about the central valley of California it is known as the most polluted place in the country. My husband started to have health problems so we chose to move back here to Rochester. While we were there we started a couple of programs, primarily one that worked with adjudicated youth. We got involved with people who worked with what I call an "eco-profession", basically anyone who has anything to do with working with nature. We all got together and offered services to adjudicated youth to get them exposed to the outdoors and learning new skills. This would teach them college inquiry readiness skills, but it had to do with the environment. Like I said before there is a real healing and wellness aspect to connecting with nature. This program flourished and is still going on. It was really hard to leave and when we came to Rochester we knew no one would hire us to do something like this. There was nothing stopping us from doing it ourselves though, so we started Earthworks Institute.
You’ve mentioned that you have traveled a lot, where was your favorite place and why?
It is so hard for me to say what my favorite place was. I lived in Puerto Rico for 6 years and living there for so long I got to know that island as if it were my own home. I learned the language and met people who I still consider to be my family. There are some of the most beautiful sites there that you would ever see, that’s one of the reasons why they call it the island of enchantment. You can go to plenty of other places across the world that have equally beautiful things to offer, but they’re different. I’ve been to Columbia and they have some of the nicest people you will ever meet. In Spain there is the culture and architecture. Italy has a lot of passion and Australia has adventure. The list goes on and there are just so many amazing places that are so different, but equally beautiful.
What do you enjoy most about teaching survival skills classes?
I love blowing people’s minds. I love seeing people go out there and try new things. By the end of the class people would be so excited about all the new things they had learned and what they’re able to do with that knowledge. I like opening people’s eyes and reconnecting them with nature. This allows people to step towards the edge of their comfort zone and move beyond it. When they come out the other side I want them to feel like they really accomplished something and allowing nature to be the vehicle for that to happen.
Can anyone learn the skills you teach or does it take a special type of person?
Anybody can learn these skills. I actually have a student from RIT who is interested in taking my course during the fall, but he has a disability where he is weaker on one side of the body than the other. He came out to a class the other day and was absolutely blown away and super excited about joining the course. So anyone can do it, there are no excuses. All you need is some willingness to try.
Can you give us a preview what people will be learning in your upcoming class?
What I teach is a level of understanding that you don’t get from reading a book or watching a survival show on TV. You begin to understand the forest for all of what it is. You look at the world not as just some abstract background, but you begin to see things that are useful for medicine, food, utilities, or whatever you need to survive and be happy. You just see things in a different way. When I walk into a forest and look at a specific tree, I know there are several uses for it. I can take it down the river by cutting it down and carving it out or I can also use it for a friction fire. It depends on what you’re looking at and what you need to use it for, but you eventually build up a reverence for nature. You learn that everything in nature has a much deeper purpose than what we have been taught to understand.
What is the number one thing you hope people will take from this class?
There’s no limit to what you can do.
Be sure to check out Lindsay’s upcoming class on June 11th over on our website and see if you’re interested. You are not going to want to miss this chance!