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In Which We Hear from Grandmother Spider and Make Our First Fire


It was a glorious October day with the Woolly Bears! After morning circle, we headed out to our campsite. We were all a little chilly still, though the sun and blue skies were as warming as the colorful, leaf-littered forest was inviting. Along the way, we found something: a basket in the middle of the trail! Inside was a note, and some other natural items: cattail seeds, feathers, and jute. The note was from Grandmother Spider, and explained that the objects were gifts—tokens of her appreciation for how kind we've all been treating both each other and the land. There was one catch: We had to tell a story about her.

Around our campfire, we ate our snacks and wondered about this Grandmother Spider, and also talked about spiders and how neat they are. Julie told a fantastic story about how Spider captured a piece of the sun and brought it down to earth to make fire. Since we were still all a little cold, and we had just learned about fire and received cattail-seed fluff for fire tinder, we all headed uphill for a firewood gathering wander.

We ventured to a beautiful hemlock tree, directly uphill from our campsite near the pond. Along the way we found many logs to balance on, birch bark, centipede-like insects clinging onto trees, and different-sized sticks for firewood. We talked about the progression of stick sizes necessary to make a nice fire: As the fire grows, it needs more food, similar to a human. At first small sticks (baby food), then slightly bigger (kid food), then big stuff (adult food).

We discovered a fire pit and birch tree benches near the hemlock tree, and gathered together to discuss a brewing plan of action to trick Old Man Coyote. The memories of some returning Woolly Bears were stirred upon seeing the hemlock tree; they remembered seeing Old Man Coyote sleeping underneath the hemlock and taking back a bag of nuts he had stolen from us. It was decided that we should trick him back for that one, and after some brainstorming we realized the best way to trick a trickster would be to enlist the help of another trickster—Grandmother Spider!

The enchanting landscape around the sole hemlock tree in this patch of the forest drew the children right in. We explored many downed trees, hid among the striped maple saplings, and showed our friends how fun it was to jump and climb. It was getting late, so we headed back downhill to get the fire ready. Many children began breaking up the cattail seeds and creating small tinder bundles with the fluff, onto which they flicked sparks from flint and steel. Others helped split wood carefully with a hatchet. It was great getting all of our hands involved with the work, and before long we had a warm, blazing fire! We reveled in the warmth of our first fire as a group, and ate lunch around it, telling more stories.

We completed our day by moving our bodies and initiating play as it emerged within our group. The agility and joy that the children exude in the forest is a constant reminder of how good it does indeed feel to be in the forest and explore with our senses. During this free play, many of us roasted apples over the fire coals. Near the edge of the pond, someone spotted a large bird flying over us and landed close by. It was a Great Blue Heron, and we all observed quietly for a few minutes as it stalked some lunch. It was a fantastic up-close-and-personal animal sighting!

After a full, satisfying day, we had one more surprise! A book titled Anansi, with a note inside it, was found in the orchard. It was Grandmother Spider letting us know that she would be happy to help us trick that Old Man Coyote, and we would be sure to see her next week!

—Dan, Julie, and Eden