Today was our second day with Armatage Montessori's 5th Grade Classes. They leave tomorrow morning.
It is a big responsibility to be the "camp" that these young people get to go to. I remember in 6th grade my own class went to an environmental learning center. I looked forward to it for a long time, and while it was happening, events had a sort of magic to them. I was in awe of the counselors. Then afterwards there was a green place in my heart for that experience. I can still remember the thrill of the chase during our capture the flag game and the excitement of learning things about nature. I remember the anticipation of the bus ride and the musty smell of the bunkhouse. As a whole it might be one of the defining trips of my youth.
So we plan and execute these visits with reverence and respect for the possibility of such a key experience. Because I am here every day, most things don't seem especially magical. I have to look for the new and unique things in the environment for me to get that sense of awe. This week it was a meal of foraged fiddlehead ferns and morel mushrooms. I have also been in daily wonder at the amazing display of blossoms on our apple trees. When the wind blows, it seems like big puffy flakes of snow are falling. Only for really one day in the year can I experience the petal-snow, and not every year. For these students though, it must be sensory overload. Everything is new and exciting. Sheep shearing! Feeding llamas! Orienteering! Pond Study! Checking for Chicken Eggs! I Saw a Snake! Campfire! S'mores! Planting! Fire-starting! Scary Stories! Ticks! Worms! A Robin Sitting on a Nest! A Killdeer Sitting on a Nest! Basketball in the Barn! The Treehouse! Eating wild plants! Pippa! Sleeping in a tent! Spiders! Rain! Clean-up Crew! I don't know how they do it. It is one novel experience after another.
This week I led a planting activity with the Armatage students. I have been working on a story to go with planting the three sisters garden. I haven't got it quite right, but it is designed to instill a sense of connection between us and the first people to domesticate corn, beans and squash. It is thrilling to realize that plants produce living seeds, and those living seeds produce living plants, which produce living seeds, and it goes on and on in an unbroken chain of life that reaches from the bean seeds in my hands all the way back to the first people who collected wild bean seeds and deliberately planted them. I also like to to have the students imagine a time before those people started agriculture. According to current estimates, humans existed in our current species for over 200,000 years before we developed agriculture about 13,000 years ago. As we hold these bean seeds in our hands, I ask them to consider the implications of agriculture. The growth of towns and cities. The end of egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups. The beginning of what we know as culture. Then we go and plant something and get our hands dirty. We are truly connected through time and space with those first agriculturalists, as well as the hunter gatherers who came before them. It is good to remember this in a physical way.
My one regret with Armatage is that these students only come for one visit. Next year it will be a whole new group. I do hope that we have carved a green place in the hearts of many of these children.