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Coming Alive to Nature Courses at The Nature Institute

2019 Winter Course

“If we want to achieve a living understanding of nature, we must become as flexible and mobile as nature herself.”
    – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

course participants exploring a creek bed The poet and scientist Goethe developed a new approach to science that weds exact thinking and observation with qualitative and aesthetic sensibility. The Nature Institute is inspired by this approach, and in its Coming Alive to Nature courses it aims to open up this new way of seeing for others.

We often view science as a discipline that deals with the world in cool and distant objectivity, gaining understanding of the world through experiments and instruments that overcome human limitations. Goethe wrote provocatively that the human being is the “best and most exact scientific instrument.” He realized that in order to better fathom the wisdom and depths of the world, we need to transform ourselves and adapt our modes of inquiry to the phenomena we are considering.

Much today stands in the way of this approach. We form abstract concepts about the world that we take often to be more real than the things themselves. Filled with our own predilections, we attend to how the world actually appears and how we are interacting with it. And our life becomes increasingly mediated by instruments and devices, we lose faith in our sense experiences and in our ability to discern.

student sketching To counteract these habits of mind, The Nature Institute’s courses emphasize immediate experience and practice. Participants practice observation: observation of natural phenomena, observation of thought processes, and observation of how we form judgments about the world. And this observing always involves doing—getting out into nature and observing and drawing plants; painting elements of a landscape; drawing geometric forms that “track” a progression of thought. By weaving together reflection and observation, taking in and actively creating, science and art, we bring ourselves into inner movement, and transformation begins. Our own process of knowing becomes more transparent and nature shows herself from new sides. 

As a course participant has remarked, “It is such a gentle Aha! experience for me — a peeling away of a veil or film that has covered my eyes for years. It again gives me context and tools for seeing the familiar in a deeper and more penetrating way.”

To read other comments from course participants, click here.

We have been offering these courses since 2002, and they happen usually in the summer or winter. Each course focuses on a specific topic or theme, but all work with phenomenological, experience-based inquiry.

2019 Winter Course at The Nature Institute

The Nature of Animals and Developing Dynamic Thinking

February 17 – 21, 2019

students working on a skeletal puzzle

In light of deep concerns about human, animal, plant, and ecological health—which are all intertwined—the question arises: how can we learn to perceive and understand nature in a way that brings us closer to her living and dynamic qualities?

Goethean phenomenology strives, through practice, to intensify experience so that we can gain clearer and deeper insights. It is an approach that is always grounded in concrete human experience and can help us to interact with nature in more responsible ways.

Specific topics will include:

Mornings (9 am to 12:30 pm with break)

  • Exercises in flexible thinking through geometry
  • Mineral, plant, and animal: different ways of being-in-the world
  • Wild and domesticated animals
  • Animalness and humanness in evolution

Afternoons (2 pm to 5:30 pm with short break)

  • Clay modeling
  • Hands-on activities related to morning sessions
  • Observing farm animals (at neighboring Hawthorne Valley Farm)


  • Optional night sky observations if the sky is clear; otherwise free

The course begins on Sunday, February 17 at 9 am, and ends on Thursday, February 21, at 12:30 pm.

Course Staff:

Craig Holdrege is a biologist, educator, and the director of The Nature Institute.

Henrike Holdrege is a mathematician, biologist, educator, and co-founder of The Nature Institute.

Course Fee:

Sliding scale: $300 – $600
Fee includes materials, as well as morning and afternoon snacks.

Farmers and apprentices may apply to the Scholarship Fund of the Biodynamic Association for a scholarship; please go to

Financial Assistance:

Scholarships are available for biodynamic apprentices and farmers with financial need through the Biodynamic Scholarship Fund; please visit

for information and to apply.


Click here for a printable (PDF) version of the registration form that you can mail to us. Click here to fill out the registration form online.

Course Location:

The Nature Institute is located near the hamlet of Harlemville (town of Ghent), New York, and is nestled at the foot of the Taconic Hills. Our neighbors include the 400-acre biodynamic Hawthorne Valley Farm, the Hawthorne Valley School (a K-12 Waldorf school), and the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store. Click here for directions.

Lodging and Meals:

We can refer participants to local families who rent rooms ($30 to $50 per night). For a list of motels and bed & breakfasts, click here. We provide morning and afternoon snacks. Course participants will be responsible for all other meals. The Hawthorne Valley Farm Store has extensive organic food and deli selections and is within walking distance of The Nature Institute.


This course is offered in collaboration with Hawthorne Valley Farm (HVF) and the Biodynamic Association of North America. From Sunday, February 19 to Friday, February 24 the Farm is offering a course entitled “Attending to Animals in a Caring Economy: Working in Agriculture, with Each Other, and Our Inner Selves.” You will find further information here.

classroom scene

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