When we go to the woods, we look for stuff. We look for treasures in a landscape that is a treasure all on its own. There are the tiniest mushrooms, the layered rainbow curves of piled-up lichen, and really, really good branches. There are scattered dried leaves of oaks and tulip poplars along with an occasional sycamore or even a rare, drifted-in apollonia, its size making it the most precious of all. There is dirt, including scraped together tree pulp or the racoon-processed bits of forest food displayed proudly on the tops of fallen trees. The best dirt though is the soft red dirt that lines the valley hills of Sligo creek. This dirt has been revealed in the upheaved root system of the fallen tree. The children are constantly on the lookout for these treasures.
And you know what happens next -- dig here!
Since we are in an urban setting, the forest is also filled with discarded bottles, cans, and boards. Bits of worn glass and nails are special treasures. Last week though, we found so much good stuff. The rain and windstorms on Monday, pushed and pulled things to the surface. And that, all by itself, is a thing of wonder. Many of these children have been coming to the Blue House site for months -- how can there be more to find? And yet, every time there is more to find!
They found an almost disintegrated toolbelt. Once the children dug and tugged it loose, they found a rusted shut box cutter and a pry bar in its pockets. Win! They kept digging because wouldn't you? It was a hammer they were after! A child found a red necklace with a macrame cross. Surely there is jewelry lining the forest floor! A parent found a set of zip ties and those were put right on the blue house since we keep losing the strings and bits of rope that hold it down to the children's various projects. I dragged two evergreen wreaths down the hill and into the woods from the curb. Of course! You will need those! And then the real treasure! A brand new skateboard!
Where there's a hill, there's a way. The morning class started the track, clearing the leaves and sticks. By the afternoon, the track had become flying fast!
Later I told my husband about the skateboard and he instantly remembered the ravine in back of a neighbor's house when he was young. Mark and his neighbor friend, created a track for racing their matchbox cars down the ravine. They worked the track until it was smooth as glass, cut into the ravine so that the cars could not jump the track.
Having made some excellent matchbox tracks myself, we were both easily transported back in time to those experiences of clearing pebbles and roots, brushing the dust until it becomes powdery silt, and knowing that the rain would create a clay-like consistency to its surface, optimal for hammering with the edge of the hand into a perfect curved track. Then, because we are adults, we talked about how constructing those tracks brought us into direct contact with problem-solving within an ever evolving and challenging context of nature which would hold our attention for days and weeks. We talked about the trial and error experimentation that naturally happened as we worked on the tracks. He talked about the collaborative skills needed to work with his friend towards a common goal. I was an alone-player, but as anyone who likes to play alone knows, there is a collaboration with the Earth which holds its own value.
I think of all these direct experiences with play as rivulets. This independent (and collaborative) study which at the time, were all in the NOW, leave lovely interconnected bits of information that build future context and relationships. We work, we live, we talk, we share, we build ideas and things and all these are directly related to these moments of discovery. Experimentation with controlling time and space match perfectly with the roaring freedom of flying down a hill.