Winter Camp Reflections

posted in: Nature Immersion

As I sit by the fire, Clover asks “How do you make oatmeal?” I offer my tea pot, and she puts it in the coals then gathers snowballs for water. As she nudges it closer to the embers the snow quickly begins to melt. When the chunks of ice started to melt, she grabbed a stick and starts stirring. “See! They melt better when I push them closer.”

As the last ice chunks melt into smooth liquid water, Clover says “I think it’s almost ready for oatmeal.” She’s very excited about stirring the mixture “Look! I put little bits of snow in and when it melts fast I know the water is hot.” She continues adding snow to the water. I offer advice for building up the fire, where to place the pot, how to gather firewood that is dry and not living. Mostly, she doesn’t follow my advice.

This is the sort of thing that can irritate those of us who have been trained as teachers. Pressure of various kinds from our former teachers, administrators, fellow teachers, and from our own sense of self-worth, sometimes tell us that the children should and must listen, and if they don’t we have somehow failed. I wonder if this comes from a mindset where teaching is a performance, in order to disseminate knowledge and to produce the same performance in our students. An efficient, industrial, mass-produced model of knowledge. It can be quite effective, at producing public obedience and predictable conformities.

Instead of following my advice, Clover and Leah gathered wood, moved snow, moved embers, watched the fire, put more snow in the pot, heard the crows calling, watched the way different sticks burned, gathered more wood, listened to the tiny birds’ song, and secretly tried to distract me while I whispered to the kinglets overhead. They also discussed at length the project of boiling water, all the while using their own senses and learning in a collaborative, creative way. Such genius does not need teachers.

But it does need the right conditions in order to emerge. Preparing, guiding and nudging those conditions is part of what mentors in the Nature Immersion program offer.

As soon as I set foot on the snow, even before the sun had cleared the trees, I saw something thin and black in my path. We bent down to look and there were tiny stoneflies, half an inch long, two antennae, two tails, clear wings patterned with black, crawling upon the snow’s surface. Moments later someone got my attention and said, “I counted fifteen of them!”

The chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches arrived together through the bare low trees and bushes along the pond, giving their bright calls in tandem. Chickadees sang their spring songs in the early morning, around first light. Then, at midday they played and hopped in the shrubs right next to the folks who were building a snow fort in the sun. I love their energy this time of year. It reminds me spring is approaching.

At midday on our first day I heard a barred owl call, just once — “Who cooks for you?” — from the hillside beyond the pond. That night under the moon two of them were calling, and when I talked to my dad he remembered this season is when they begin their mating rituals. I’m feeling gratitude this winter camp for my parents, who helped lead me to the paths I follow now.

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