The Animal Connection
Memories are the stored experiences of life’s lessons. The Cushing’s and their animals are experts in creating shared experiences with animals. “Last winter…I took out Akai, Kovu, Jezu and Khan. We were going to do the Blue trail and I told the boys this was an unconventional run because it was just us. Good thing I listened to my intuition, which told to me to grab the sled with both hands as I rounded the tight corners. There were so many moments I was about to tip and loose the team. I was so proud of the dogs, our teamwork and it was a perfect run!”, says Kirk Cushing, Earth Studies sled dog sports instructor.
Geoffrey and Jo Ellen Cushing founded the International School for Earth Studies with a simple dream to connect people to animals and the land. As the famous Indian Chief—Dan George so eloquently said “If you talk to the animals, they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk with them, you will not know them, and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears one destroys.” It is our belief that we must be of the mind-set that we need to be custodians of the land and protect the inhabitants for future generations to enjoy.
Protecting Our National Treasures
After a career as a Conservation Officer in western Alberta, Jo Ellen continued her passion for wildlife and conservation. In 1991 she established one of only a few provincially licensed wildlife rehabilitation centres for indigenous animals in Quebec. Students have the rare opportunity to engage with orphaned and injured animals. The Earth Studies campus is situated on 250 hectares and is a truly unique wilderness preserve. The school has a strong emphasis on outdoor recreation, communication and leadership skills.
The Cushing Family
Each one of the Cushing’s developed a passion for a niche in their family business and the natural world. The Eldest Son is a professional wilderness and fly fishing guide while the Second Eldest owns and operates a dog behaviour service in Houston, Texas. Both Cushing daughters are Certified Canadian Krav Maga (Israeli Self-defence) Instructors in Canada and both hold a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. They teach youth and adult classes/ workshops at their school and in Ottawa. They have also instructed women’s self-defence workshops for families of the Canadian military. The Cushings all work together as a team in offering a truly unique collective mix of programs to their students.
“There is something almost magical, that words cannot properly describe taking place here,” says Geoffrey, after finishing his evening swim with the six rescued juvenile geese. The sounds of urban society disappear and songs of animals here are harmoniously entwined with the pulse of the land – with the exception of the occasional squawk from the family’s African Grey Parrot, Koko.
Explore North America
When cabin fever sets in for urban gappers, the Cushings and their instructors take off for culturally rich and diverse centers like Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City. During the year the Cushings and their gap students embark on several extended field trips throughout North America. Provincial and national parks such as Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Yellowstone National Park and Crazy Horse National Monument in the United States, are a few destinations.
Winter is Coming
“Taking a break from academia to live in the woods, mush a dogsled team and gain perspective on my Higher Self caring for all animals sounded really good. Especially because I was so over high school, forcing myself to read one more textbook about conquering the frontier while dealing with teenage drama in the hallways. I needed a break from that life before I was ready for college!” says alumna, Molly Schriber. “I had done the horse thing growing up and I wanted something really different, so I was drawn to the sled dogs. Since then, it’s been quite the conversation starter in job interviews and influenced me to study the differences in leadership techniques between animal and human behaviour.”
Every student leaves Earth Studies with an innate sense of self, and being worldly. “Once you experience the Cushing’s ideal life with animals, it’s hard to leave. We all eventually come back again and again; we keep learning and adding to our memories.”
Geoffrey Cushing, Director of Operations
This article was written in partnership with The International School of Earth Studies