Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fire & Ice – day 1 (1/17/11)

(photo from 2010)

Today was a day too cold for cameras. It was a day too cold for most electronics, and most people, for that matter. Beginning at 8:30 am somewhere around 0-2 degrees Fahrenheit, and soaring around noon to somewhere close to 20 – I didn’t even bother to bring a camera. So, I sadly have no photos from this day as evidence that it was not too cold for a group of 6 and 7-year olds at Primitive Pursuits. So, below I present to you a couple snapshots of our day.


We started around a huge fire, meeting each other, learning names, talking about the unique adventures and mysteries that a snowy winter day could provide. With snow as our inspiration, we did a tracking game, learning a little about animal foot-patterns and the number of toes that correspond with some of the mammal and bird families


My group (or clan as we sometimes call ourselves) consisted of 8 children, all roughly six or seven. Using only our arms, legs, hands, and heads as tools, we started piling the powdery, grainy snow into a pile. Our goal was to make a pile large enough to hold someone inside. After pushing together piles, the students mastered techniques such as the human bulldozer, and worked together to make the mound larger and larger. The instructors explained that in this cold, you can’t just pack snow and make a snowball. But if you leave a mound like this to set for a while, it will harden and you can then tunnel into it to create a snow shelter. Sure enough, at the end of the afternoon, it was firm enough that several of the students worked on burrowing into it to create an entrance.


As we walked through the woods, a couple kids showed particular interest in the tracks made in the snow. One boy had even brought his own tracking book. He would look up his best guesses, and ask me questions to guess at the measurements. I in turn would ask him questions to get him thinking of other possibilities. He was so excited about finding out who his animal neighbors were – and later when I pointed out another familiar set and asked, “Hey Perrin, who’s this one?” he was proud to be able to show the mouse trail to his clan-mates.


We decided it would be a fun experiment to try to build our camp fire on ice, since the day’s theme was called “Fire & Ice.” We explored a swampy area around the hemlock woods, and the kids settled on a spot that had cool patches of smooth black ice, and a nice hemlock tree with broken-off branches that was perfect for hanging our backpacks. Together we made small log benches to sit on up off the ice, and built our fire together, learning safe ways to add wood to the fire, how to respect fire, and how to choose dry firewood.


After lunch, we played a game where the kids were squirrels, seeking out their last winter food cache. However, the Great-Horned Owl in the woods was about, hungry from building up her nest and preparing to incubate her eggs. As the squirrels searched for their food, the Owl could either tag them, or be distracted if presented with a really nice “wispy,” - a thin, fine twig (perfect for starting a match fire, if collected in a bundle). This game led to lots of running, hiding, and chatter – and eventually to a cache of hot cocoa, which we cooked on our fire.


In the afternoon, we met up with the other clan to play an epic game – a favorite Primitive Pursuits tradition. This one involved building up two fires and then protecting them from the opposing team trying to throw snow at the fire.


Here is one last snapshot I want to leave with you - and it is also what I carry away from my day with the most joy. One Primitive Pursuits routine is to take some time each day to feel thankful. Today we closed our day to mittens clapping to our “thank you” song, where anyone is invited to say a word of what they are thankful for from the day. Our collected words of thanks were: snow, fire, ice, games, sticks, trees, hickory nuts - to name just a few. Usually once this song begins, it starts a gratitude avalanche, and we need to stop just because somewhere (just beyond the woods) there are parents ready to pick up their kids, and probably wondering if they survived the coldest day of the year.


So I close here with my last thank you – to all you parents for supporting us in the work that we do, for taking the time to pack extra socks and mittens (we used them!)and for giving us this great blessing of being out there with your children.