Rain Dances and Fairy Houses

Despite not getting a chance to interact much with the campers for the first couple of weeks, I was still able to take note of some techniques that seem to help develop ecological orientations while I waited for my turn. Many of these, particularly the following exercise, are actually examples of explanation plurality, invoking the magical and encouraging creativity to explain the mundane. Asking the interns to take a small intermission from our work, our instructor gathered both the young campers and interns in a circle to perform a rain dance. Placing some jade in the center of the circle and instructing us to take hands, he taught us the lyrics to a song he took from the writer, which is just one of her many hats, Starhawk, that went as follows (to the best of my memory):

“ Mother I feel you below my feet

Mother I feel your heart beat

Bring us the gift of rain so sweet

And when it falls down from the sky,

We will praise the feat“

,where Mother is in reference to ‘Mother Earth. ’ As our instructor explained the next day, the dance allows us to “fully appreciate the gift we are receiving” rather than attempt to demand rain by such methods as cloud seeding. The lyrics emphasize how rain is a ‘gift’ from another entity, rather than being a substance that falls from the sky and that humans somehow think they are entitled to. I personally think it also forces us to acknowledge how limited we are, as human beings, in controlling natural processes. In fact, there is very little we do control as we live our lives on this slightly tilted planet. While I think this connection between existentialist thought and ecological awareness is a rich subject area, it is a discussion better left for another time

The following day of the kid’s camp the instructor led a natural construction project with the children, taking a bundle of large tree branches he had collected to construct a “fairy house.” Hanging bindweed from the entrance as you would door beads and filling the gaps in the house with excess chives, the kids, and even some of the interns, were instantly attracted to it. This was a hands-on and explicit exercise in natural construction. The kids did little of the construction themselves, but at least from this experience they know it is possible, and can connect that adventurous, cool, feeling from being inside it with an endeavor that is ecologically minded. As our instructor said to us one morning, which he himself took from the leader of a seminar he attended, “the quantity of perceived options is a measure of health,” not only in an individual but in a society. The fact that the campers saw this project come to fruition before their eyes and now have knowledge, whether conscious or not, of the different ways to build a structure helps them not limit their habitat options to the steel and concrete jungles we have now.

As excited as I was to see the kids enjoy the project, I was also excited to see how this natural construction project paralleled our latest initiative of building the walls of our on-site kitchen. Our process is slightly more sophisticated, as we will be using a home-made mixture of red clay and cow manure, the latter adding adhesiveness through an enzymatic reaction as the mortar for the walls. Beyond that, the use of the bindweed was a perfect illustration of permaculture principles in action. Weed is a very binding term and immediately creates a false dichotomy between ‘good plants’ and ‘weeds’, the latter having many negative connotations associated with it, including harmful and worthless. However, as we learned in our initial discussions of permaculture, “the problem is the solution” and this idea of ‘weeds’ is heavily dependent on our perception, not only of the plant itself but the situation we are trying to deal with. Rather than just observe weeds growing in our gardens and jumping to the conclusion that it needs to be removed, it’s important to understand why they are growing in place of what we want to grow. Us interns have been encouraged to think of weeds in general as a ‘pioneer species,’ those plants that trail blaze a path for other species to take root as the first step in a long line of succession.

Then there is actually making use of what has been given to us, just like using the bindweed for decoration. The most well-known and common example, the dandelion flower, was brought to the New World, in part, because of its medicinal properties that were valued by those who came here. In fact, dandelions have many beneficial properties, contrary to the belief of suburbanites everywhere, and I am even told you can make a dandelion wine using the plant. The moral of the story? Don’t try to make lemonade out of dandelions; make wine instead.

Finally, much like I have done with these blog posts, the kids our instructed to end the day by reflecting on everything they did and learned. This was met with some resistance from a few of the kids, my guess being that it is because they interpreted it as a type of ‘assignment’ rather than a creative activity. The reluctant kids were then instructed to make their journals into a story, immediately shifting the paradigm from busywork to an exercise in creativity. Once again we have explanation duality at work as we appeal to an artistic sense instead of an intellectual one, which is only more important given this activity. Reflections not only help us retain knowledge but force us to think deeply and consider the many connections present in this world. There is a reason I am doing it here, after all.

I should note that the content in this post was written before I had my chance to lead a group of kids as part of a different camp, which occurred this past Friday. My initial intention was to combine these two posts — one my initial observations of the original kids camp and the following to be a record of my experience and to and my observation on its effectiveness. However, I felt the length of the post would become much too unruly and so I have decided to post the experience in the within the next following days.