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Evergreen Syrup, Hive Wars, and Fire Lighting

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This morning, we gathered in the crisp fall air, moving our bodies with a song, expressing thankfulness for the gifts all around us in our everyday lives, and greeting one another wholeheartedly. We played some fun games, too! During our Opening Circle, we saw a group of six Canada geese cruising in from some far-off place, wings arced downward and dropping quickly in altitude over the pond. Sure enough, these migrants were there to welcome us when we entered the forest. "Where are they headed?" we wondered. 

After another game to warm our bodies and awaken our senses, we settled in for snack and an orientation to our adventure for the day. Theresa charged us with the task of locating evergreen trees on the land and gathering a basketful of needles to brew a strong tea (or decoction) in order to make a medicinal syrup to ward off the winter coughs and colds. Each student will go home with their own evergreen syrup when we are done. 

Along the way, each of the two groups explored, played, and collected mystery items in a paper bag to be used later in a sensory challenge for the other group. We identified some distinguishing features of the white pine and hemlock trees that we encountered and looked out in the distance for telltale green treetops standing out in contrast to the leafless deciduous trees. We gathered the needles kindly and thanked the tree. Students were excited to be able to identify this same tree on the walk back. Several students gathered large twisted bittersweet vine staffs (and hopefully did the trees a service in ridding them of this nuisance). A small group had fun dislodging a boulder from a steep hill and ecstatically cheering on its rapid descent down the hill!

Upon returning to camp, students spent time using their bow drill kits—getting a lot of smoke, too! Other students had a thorough orientation to the nuances of fire-lighting with their ferro rods. They were given time to practice lighting their cattail or milkweed fluff bundles, catching the ephemeral flame on a thin peeled piece of birch bark. When everyone had spent some good "dirt time" (our phrase for practice, practice, practice) we lit the fire together and got the decoction simmering—one pot for syrup, and the other for our own enjoyment today.

After a nice lunch and a fun activity where each team put their hand inside the other team’s bag of nature mysteries trying to guess what was inside, we began a big game of teamwork, strategy, and quickness of foot! Max presented this new game called Hive Wars—a bit like Capture the Flag, but honeybee themed. The "flag" was the queen bee, moving freely about and guarded closely! Each team ventured into enemy hive territory to try to capture the queen. It was a very evenly matched game. One team finally triumphed, just in time for us to get a cupful of white pine/Eastern hemlock tea and debrief the day’s events before heading out.

—Josh and the FOREST staff