Share their thoughts about our field trips

Throughout this year, we’ve been fortunate to take numerous field trips into nature.  Before the first day of class last fall, we hiked into Saint Mary’s Wilderness, enjoyed creek crossings, and swimming holes added to the refreshing fun.  Also in the fall, we hiked along the Rapidan River with delight!

As we come upon these last few days of school, it would be impossible to forget our adventures of this past month. We established the last four Wednesdays of school this year as outing days into forestlands.  The first week of May we hiked a route in the Shenandoah National Park to the spring head of the Rapidan River. We spent three days last week camping at Sherando Lake, hiking up to the overlook rock, swimming, and spending time building campfires, and exploring the deserted park. This past Wednesday we hiked three short trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fallingwater Cascades Trail was beautiful, with an easy drop to the water, but not as fun hiking up and out. Next week we plan to return to the Shenandoah.

Open air high school students

Share their thoughts about our religion study and photography:

On November 30, we started our Religious Studies class. We learned about Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. As a source, we predominantly used Living Religions – the Third and Sixth Editions. I genuinely did not believe that you would be able to find a more straightforward and fact filled, yet easy to understand resource like these books. Before this class, I had never even heard of Zoroastrianism, but the book broke it all down piece by piece in a perfectly coherent way. 

I can safely say that this class was my favorite class I have ever taken. This has led to another great opportunity: I began a mentorship with Sandy Bisdee, an Earth Guide who previously worked at The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World. Each day when we turned toward this study, I was very alert and excited to get to reading, writing and preparing for my final presentation, which we gave on January 29. I chose Buddhism. I have always had a respect for it, and I am very grateful for this opportunity to get to learn about it in more depth. In fact, Sandy, my mentor, arranged for me the opportunity to interview a Zen Buddhist priest in North Carolina. Learning about religion is one amazing thing, but getting to talk with and ask questions of someone who practices the religion you are interested in is something much more.

After this project, I feel more consciously open minded, I feel I have gained more self-control, and my capacity for compassion has intensified. It has helped me recognize, despite my past assumptions, that there are only some bad religious people, but religion itself can be a helpful and healing tool.  

– Luci



On October 21, 2020 we had a guest presenter, local photographer, Silvana Varriale.  She came to the farm to talk with us about photography. She showed us photos from her trip to India, talked about cameras and how they work, and showed us diagrams to explain shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. The following four weeks we met over zoom on Friday afternoons to show, discuss, and hear feedback on our own photos. We would each say a little something about our favorite shots and then everyone could comment or ask questions about them (i.e. what time of day they were taken, or where the focus point was meant to be). We put together slideshows of ten to fifteen photos every week to share. 

In November and December I walked around the farm every day taking hundreds of photos, it was amazing being able to capture trees losing their leaves, and then the next week they were completely bare. In mid-December I began having individual weekly meetings with Silvana to discuss my photos, progress, and growing curiosities in the photography realm. I’ve become fascinated with the functionality of cameras, their history, and reading about famous women photographers through time. I’ve acquired a few books on the subject, and most recently, a digital camera. Learning from Silvana, her experience, travels, and wonderful advice, has sent me flying into an incredible new hobby. I am so grateful for her mentorship and guidance and I thoroughly enjoy every time we talk about photography. 

– Maezie


a salvaged story


Slated for demolition, gutted throughout, a 1920 one-story farmhouse was originally part of the Nortonsville complex. It had changed hands several times and sat above Simmons Gap for many years atop a hand built stone wall at a bend in the road.  It was most recently one man’s motorcycle repair shop- but that was only evident in the few parts and pieces scattered about when I walked through a month ago.  The family had no luck finding anyone willing to dismantle and reuse it.  To Amber & Tim Jones, the owners, it was something they didn’t want the local fire department using as practice.  Others had told them there was nothing valuable to save.  But these full dimension pine rafters, studs, and purlins had been held together with diagonal sheathing- some 14’ long and 10” wide.  It was as if the building had been intentionally preserved: wrapped up for decades in two layers of siding and 3-5 layers of roofing material.

Peeling back all that took many hands and we found that the wood was protected for all these years.  On two Saturdays a band of 14 volunteers ranging in age from 16-50 pried, pulled, sheered, slammed and laughed as we dropped the roof system, chased out the rats, lowered the trusses, relocated the snakes, pushed over the walls, and discovered an old stone-lined well inside the house. While we we not able to salvage and repurpose the entire structure, we did manage to load out over four tons of wood.  Almost completely bug and rot free, in what others had resigned to the scrap pile, our crew uncovered a resource worthy of reclamation.

Lumber resources are limited and valuable. The rising prices of less quality materials are doing more than straining our wallets. The  production and transportation of ‘number 2 SPF’ and pressure treated posts is creating massive ecological chaos.  Forest habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity that we face.  Our hope and goal is that as much usable wood products that are already in use will continue to find new purposes, in new places, telling an old story of a time when preservation mattered.

– Robert

 Open Air high School Students

Share their thoughts about earth art and yoga:


Earth art has been done at Heartmoor for the past eight years, for child’s retreats, during summer camps, and independent day/weekend classes/workshops. Earth art is a movement that began in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it’s also known as landart, environmental art, and earthworks. It uses objects in the natural landscape to create site-specific structures, art-forms, and sculptures. 

During this past year of the Open Air School at Heartmoor, we’ve done earth art a handful of times, relating to different projects or simply as a way to relax and connect with nature. A few weeks ago we each created an earth art installation in a special place on the farm by using the natural materials we found in that particular area. I chose to work with not so pleasant objects, pinecones. I intended to create mine in the form of the word “respect” but instead chose to form a heart. 

I’ve done earth art for many years here at Heartmoor and every time I enjoy it for different reasons. Mostly, because it’s a calming way to be in nature, de-stress, do something active with your brain and keep your hands busy. Creating earth art installations has become an absolute favorite of mine for spending time outside. 

– Maezie 

We have yoga every morning that we are at the farm and that, for me, is always the best part of my days. At the beginning of the year, we started with yoga class outside on the back porch, but recently, we have been doing it indoors because of the cold weather. I drive an hour to get to Heartmoor all those three days a week, and I am not a morning person, trust me. Yoga, whether in the beginning I want to or not, I have never once regretted it. It is very helpful to me. It is my way of winding down and taking in the schedule and plans for the day ahead of me. I have participated in many different yoga classes over the past couple of years, but it wasn’t until this year that I noticed a change within myself from it. Personally, especially after living and feeling the effects it has on a teenager, I can safely say that this society’s adolescents would very much benefit from doing yoga on some sort of a routine basis. While it can easily feel like the world is crumbling around you, now-a-days in particular, all you can control is yourself; and the way you react to things, physically, verbally and emotionally. Yoga is a tool to exercise your decision making skills, intuition, compassion, stress management, the birth given connection each individual has to their mind and nature and acceptance as to where your mind and body’s limits stand that every deeply feeling person should take advantage of. Everyday I spend here on the farm, I feel a little more present; a little more connected; a little more surrounded, and that is because of yoga.   
– Luci 
From a high school student’s point of view, mornings can range from being just sort of difficult (waking up late – domino effect has you 10 to 15 minutes late to school) to Guinness World Record awful (waking up very late, not having time for breakfast, trying to get to school before your second class but turning up around lunch, missing lunch because you had to talk to the teachers of classes you missed, being late to your first afternoon class, not having done the homework… etc.).
At Heartmoor’s Open Air School we start everyday with a thirty to forty-five minute yoga practice as a way of immediately getting intouch with our bodies and how we are feeling that morning. We do yoga because it’s good for our bodies and our souls, it rejuvenates and wakes us up in the mornings. Yoga is a very good practice because its calming, its restorative, its invigorating, and there are so many types of yoga – one for every mood/feeling/difficulty, yoga helps reset our minds and is good for brain growth as it stimulates our physical body along with our mental awareness.
I love doing yoga because of how it makes me feel about myself. I feel more capable and much more intune with my body, what I need, and how I feel each morning. I love yoga because it’s freeing, not only in the way poses get strung together to create a class, but because yoga moves – it makes you move, and not just physically, yoga makes our brains move. I love our yoga practices because I feel like I’m doing something good for me, not just my physical body, but my mental framework – which relaxes and is recharged by the practice of yoga.
Yoga is an exceptionally easy way to unwind/reset/relax, to find your inner self/reconnect with your inner self, and recharge your body and mind. I believe everyone should try doing yoga once in their life, it’s simple to find classes or it’s just as easy to create your own series of poses to do on a regular basis. That seems to be the key – on a regular basis – anything done on a regular basis has a much stronger foundation to be built on further in the future.
Here at Open Air School, we love doing yoga, not only because of the way it makes us feel at the end of a class, but because we know we are doing something for ourselves that will help all of our being.


Heartmoor Family Life Enrichment Blog

To support and inspire parents creating a vibrant, nurturing home environment for children