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A Timeless Day in the Autumn Woods

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Every Friday, I'm reminded of so many simple things I have to be grateful for. First, in a structured way, during our morning circle together, and then throughout the day: warm wind, the way nature inspires all kinds of learning, joyful children pleased with little things, varied shades of color, last dandelions, pliable willow, fire-warmed plentiful food, clay, truly helpful students, and the privilege of working at a job that allows me to be outside, all day, meaningfully connecting with children I've known, or will know, for years over some things we all love: sticks, mud, rocks, tools, and movement.

Today was this kind of day, filled with timeless feeling, learning, and friendship. We opened and closed our day with energetic games, and in between our focus was cooking over a fire. To prepare, we split into groups. But not before we heard a great Irish legend about an arrogant knight humbled by spending time in the forest, told by Raven.

Max and Raven's group prepared their camp, as you would a kitchen, for a day of cooking. They learned the ins and outs of tarp setup: pole stabilizers, ridgelines, and knots. They cleaned out leaves and fallen branches, and carved cooking implements. When camp was ready, the kids chose a sit spot—now a relied-upon, centering routine—and then feasted!

Meanwhile, the Bobcats harvested willow and wove the branches into primitive waffle irons and multi-pronged skewering sticks, while chatting happily and supportively in the sunshine of Ashley Field. It was heartwarming to hear the kids encouraging each other as we worked.  

We loaded our arms with wood, kindled a fire, and began a feast of our own. We brought in bread dough, which we shaped into biscuits for the willow waffle irons and rolled into snakes for bread on a stick, paired with grilled cheeses, potatoes, and sausages. We had a lovely time sharing and cooking and joking around Camp Bobcat. 

Towards the end of our extended lunch, some kids found clay in the streambed bordering camp, and had the idea to make a pizza oven. After a brainstorming session, we got to work with digging sticks. We mixed clay, mud, and shredded cattail leaves—leftovers from our mats—to make our cob. We smushed it with our feet and balled it with our hands and smeared and smoothed it all over a bed of sticks, in the shape of a turtle, on a perfect sized and perfectly placed rock right next to our camp. Everyone pitched in wonderfully. Stay tuned for pizza day!

Simultaneously, the Pines were building a clay rocket stove of their own. How cool!

At our closing circle, we listened respectfully as each child shared something that they learned during the day: how to carve a point, how to make cob, how to build our own stove, how to weave willow, where to find clay, how to split small sticks with a knife, how to saw downed trees into firewood logs, ways to experiment with firing clay balls … Some things I imagine I may hear from the other group: how to put up a functional tarp, a new knot, where to find clay and effective ways to carry large amounts, how long a potato takes to cook in coals, cooking over flame vs. coals, the ways in which our senses expand while at our sit spots, and how easy it is to feel joy surrounded by friends in the natural world.

See you next week!

—Theresa, with Raven, Max, and Josh