And Here We Are...

Sligo Creek overflowed its banks last night and then receded almost back into its regular course by morning. The evidence of the rushing water were only curves of silt, mud and a redistribution of debris alongs its banks.

During our forest trips this past year, the children wondered about the great heaved roots of trees along the banks of the creek. The muddy upturned roots created new climbing opportunities and the place the tree had once stood created a silty pool of flowing sand and muddy puddles. If the children had seen, for themselves, the creek following a rainstorm they would have more information to include in their musings.

The resting lion. Close enough to touch and certainly close enough to talk to.

The resting lion. Close enough to touch and certainly close enough to talk to.

The rain comes in great fits and starts here in the humid sub-tropical zone that is Washington DC and surrounding areas, especially through late Spring to the early Fall. Hurricanes, derechos, microbursts, these are the “big” weather patterns we get here. It doesn’t often drizzle or rain all day. Instead, we have torrential downpours which can last from minutes to a handful of hours, but not all day. After the rain, we go straight to steamy. The rain rushes in, overflowing the banks of the stream, soaking hair and clothes, and then recedes in steam, condensation, humidity, and quickly drying mud. Because of this, when I think of wearing a rain suit, I can only imagine that it would become a steam suit, holding in heat and moisture rather than repelling the bits of rain we would encounter. Cotton and wicking materials are more suited to our climate and weather patterns.

This crosswalk and its connected stop signs and yellow curb markings signal “pay attention” and “walk here” in the same way a jackrabbit will bolt across the desert at the first sign of a hawk or a human’s approach.

This crosswalk and its connected stop signs and yellow curb markings signal “pay attention” and “walk here” in the same way a jackrabbit will bolt across the desert at the first sign of a hawk or a human’s approach.

This is a fixture of our landscape. Its coloring, its marking tell us that there is water here. Not sewage. Water, specifically our drinking and bath water. This is our landscape and our trail signs. Would I place this above the way a tree will hold its moss on the shady side of its bark? No. It is about valuing what we have and learning how to read the signs.

This is a fixture of our landscape. Its coloring, its marking tell us that there is water here. Not sewage. Water, specifically our drinking and bath water. This is our landscape and our trail signs. Would I place this above the way a tree will hold its moss on the shady side of its bark? No. It is about valuing what we have and learning how to read the signs.

This is a post about “it is what it is.” As you can imagine, without personally experiencing the creek overflowing its banks young children may not make the connection between that and its impact (erosion, fallen trees, changing water course). They will see collected debris, but won’t necessarily make the connection that the debris deposits change depending on the creek’s water flow from torrent to trickle. So, “it is what it is” and although I could talk about it, I do not assume a contact-point for learning by telling them about the creek overflow. The stretch of creek we visit is often closed during these rainstorms because of flooding, so there is a chance that they will go years before seeing it flooded. And since our weather patterns are what they are, I do not expect rain gear from head to toe when we go outside, but it is nice to have a change of clothes if that is necessary.

Growing up we moved a lot. I was born in Utah, so I played in the desert herding tumbleweeds and trying to fry eggs on the sidewalk (cracked a lot of eggs). I have lived in different places in Germany. There, I enjoyed a city experience of green parks separated by buildings. Our favorite place to play were in construction sites and at Schloss Schwetzingen. We also lived in a farming village. Farmers lived in the village while their orchards, vineyards, and fields spread out around it. Our favorite place to play was the cemetery and to ride bikes as far and wide as we could muster. Utah’s desert smell of just rained on sage contrasted with the evergreen pine smell of the forests in Germany. Then our extended family is in Western Kentucky. If you have not walked barefoot through the silky mud of that part of Kentucky you have missed a real treat. Each of these places feature different terrain, weather patterns, and of course, social systems. The skies are all different colors. The very size of the sky and skyline changes in each! Even the air itself feels different and certainly, play patterns and pursuits are reflective of where we find ourselves.

With the homogenization that the internet shapes comes an idea that play, that nature, that even risk should look a certain way. This is simply not the case nor does it have value to broad brushstroke experiences between one place and then next. For instance, our snow here -mostly- is fleeting and the weather turns back to that humid state even in the Winter. Living in the Rheinland, we didn’t get that much snow and that made me miss Utah where we absolutely did. Tornadoes present one kind of sky while hurricanes another. Teachers and parents have to concern themselves with flora and fauna along with temperatures that vary wildly across the globe. You play with and around what is immediately THERE.

So it is that I began thinking about the “we don’t have that” or the despair in noticing the pieces or actions that are missing in what we have available compared with “out there.” Early childhood education is about context to be sure, so if I introduced “desert” and the things I know about playing there, the colors, the scents, the sand, rocks, and plants it would be so removed from the contexts of the children I teach that it would not make sense. Please know that we should all share our experiences, of course! Children inherit the histories of their elders through storytelling at every age. I am just saying that if I want the children to interact and know an environment and its ecosystem, I should step outside with them into the one that is directly theirs.

We begin our exploration with the very streets we live on. We study the colors of the paint along and on the roads. What do these tell us? What do the wires overhead signal? This messaging is just as valuable as the message sent by a bolting jack rabbit across the desert scrub. I do not despair that these children will lack the ability to read their environment or find their way because they absolutely will. I celebrate the fact that they can see the sheer wall of white granite of the East Wing of the National Art Gallery as much as I would if they were looking at the grand red-orange walls of a canyon. Yes, one is shaped by humans and the other by natural forces, but both have value and both belong in their context. I am saddened that our local stream is clotted by trash, but this is an important part of their own story to share with our children, because they are the future stewards of our watershed.

They will not need rain gear or big bits of Winter gear, for now at least. Global warming will change their landscape and weather patterns, but for now I don’t need to seek out extensive gear or supports. Nor do I have to worry that I have to go out and look for flora and fauna that do not exist in our environment. In other words, I do not need to recreate a forest, a desert, or a farm in miniature or in pieces in the classroom. The children’s histories, shared by parents, grandparents, friends and even myself can be enriched through stories of other places. The children’s direct experience with their environment with all its concrete, gravel, pipes, and wire, as well as its corridors of green has value and will support every kind of play and adventure. This is uniquely theirs and is just outside our very own door.