Sunday, August 28, 2016

Nerstrand Big Woods

Last night was our first annual Red Cottage Montessori camping trip. I planned it last spring in a heady admiration and love for both the schools and the families that are a part of RCM, not realizing what a toll the training would take this summer. I nearly cancelled it in the whirl that has been moving into a new classroom space and the pressure of organizing formal albums and whatnot, but then I thought: no, your original intentions were good. Your heart still wants this--go.

And I'm so grateful that I did, even if it was drizzly and I've only been clouded by mosquitoes so thick a few other times in my life and even if I didn't make flouncy plans (that isn't terribly Montessori anyway, making in-depth plans in lieu of seeing what the flow of the interests happen to be), because I had the opportunity to spend time with a small cluster of families that are incredibly lovely and watch what happens when a pack of children gathers together and glories in the outdoors. (Oh, but how muddy!)

Also: I'm still fully swooning over my botany lessons from the summer, so I got to gaze at all sorts of little leaf structures, all googly-eyed and ready to share that pleasure with said pack of children and more.

And let's not forget the clever flower of the plant, nor the growth that fascinates the whole of me: the mushroom (the lichen, the moss).

We've been to Nerstrand Big Woods before. It's just about an hour away from home, making it the perfect distance for a quick away-in-the-wild. We took Maya when she was just a year-and-a-half old, her only other camping trip thus far, and Finn's first ever, much to my chagrin.

I started an annual camping trip with some of our friends who went to school with my husband--I'd schedule it on the first weekend after school let out in June, the very first year I taught high school being the very first trip, because I was in dire need of a change of scenery. It seems sweet that I now hope to make a new annual camping trip just before the school year begins, a way to herald in the coming of our year-keeping, a way of bringing-together the extended Montessori family. It seems right.

The gem-feature of Big Woods is its Hidden Falls, which reminded both Ryan and myself of Willy Wonka's mythic chocolate falls, though we both kept mum about it, not wanting to mar the children's impression (with Roald Dahl? Silly us, as it would have been wonderment upon wonderment! When we went a few years ago, we went in June, and the water ran clear).

It's hard to believe it, but that first-ever camping trip my husband and I took together was about nine or ten years ago, which means that our Penelope (above) was just a year old and Zephyr (our black lab mix) was just a pup. And I remember him bursting from his long lead and into a field and the panic I felt! Little did we know how absolutely loyal to my husband that dog already was--he wouldn't have wandered far. Now, we could unclip both of their leashes and they'd stay put. Sometimes, some of the kids would "walk" the dogs along the paths, though I got a bit jumpy when we approached the falls, worried about other dogs. When our friend Lexi was walking Penny, Pen decided to hop into the stream that fed into the falls--so I wasn't too far off in worry, though it was a short hop and Pen decided to just kind of shimmy around a bit rather than take advantage and romp. I don't blame her for being incapable of resisting the water--those mosquitoes were fierce.

Another absolute natural love of mine: the paths insects make on wood. Swoon.

For snacks: plenty of roasted, fire-puffed marshmallows, and for dinner, I hunkered down and held brats over the campfire on forks. I don't tend to eat meat, but there are a few moments when it seems part of the culture of the moment--in Maine, I certainly partook in seafood, and while camping, you must have that sizzling, encased meat on a stick. We are Midwesterners, after all.

I want to write: I have never seen my children so dirty, but that would be an absolute lie. The two of them can get brown with muck and dirty, head to toe, in instants, and in near any situation. Give Finn a few moments with a marker, and he'll have colored himself silly, or painted himself with cream cheese or peanut butter or mashed potatoes. There's no reason to stay clean when you're camping--it, in fact, likely keeps away some of those pesky insects.

Sadly, several of the children had tastier blood than others, and Finn and Annika woke up looking as if the pox had visited our tent-site, and another girl who left earlier in the evening had one of her eyes swell near-shut from them. I'm sensitive as well--sometimes they harden up and I wonder if some bone were about to protrude--but if I could just gather up all those little biters and stomp them out (or have them just feast on me; I can take it! This is the protective mama in me!--Hear me roar, all of that), I would. Fortunately, Finn and Annika didn't seem much bothered by it, which is some relief.

And there was so much fog at night that our breath showed. We thought it was curious--our breath only clouds when it's sub-freezing, but we were puffing it out like foul dragons. Was it the fog? It's complicated.

There were only two families--ours and another's--that stayed the night, though we had an absolutely lovely time. The trio of kids were incredibly sweet together--the two girls crowded up on Anna's camp chair and perched like birds, begging for scarier and scarier stories.

In the morning, they each took a side of Maya's natural journal and drew birds. I'm glad I brought my colors along. I had planned to do so to start my observation journal, something I'll have my own elementary students do by drawing or writing daily (or near-daily) some observation about the day, helping train the eye and the brain to reflect and focus, and though the girls didn't draw anything they actually saw in the wild, they drew what flutters about in their imagination, and for Maya, it's flamingoes upon flamingoes (and for Annika, in this particular instance, a swan).

(By the way, that spider above? An orbweaver that spent the night on our tent. We know it was there all night because Ryan took a photograph of it before going to bed to show me this enormous yellow creature--and there it was again, ready for a second shoot. I've found myself substantially less arachnophobic now that I have children and was able to pop it into a collapsable cup and put it onto a leaf a ways away without one shiver. Gold star!)

Finn found a stunning brown rock that he was pleased as punch to give to me. It's for you, Mama! Why yes, of course, how very lovely, my darling! Don't tell, but I did bring that little specimen home. It's a treasure when presented so thrillingly by a three-year-old.

I brought both lenses along but only used the macro the whole while. I love the way it can shift perspective. That little mushroom was smaller than my son's pinky nail, but I could bustle right up to it and let it be featured in prominence with a little held breath and quick fingerwork.

Yes, mosquitoes, yes drizzle. Yes to soggy campsites. Yes to socks so brown with the muck they had to be given the toss. Yes to enough bacon grease to fill a juice container. Yes to little green burrs. Yes to hair greased with bug spray.

Yes to snuggling with the husband whose shirt smelled of pine and campfire. Yes to sleeping four-to-a-mattress with the dogs wedged against us. Yes to colored pencils and blue-tinged clouds and the twinkle of coals at the end of the night. Yes to finding pockets of fungus and goldenrod tipping in the breeze. Yes to family narratives being shared (and the good news of a new sibling on the way for one of the children!). Yes to new year's anticipation.

Yes to next summer, when I hope we'll be able to do this again.