"Making Tracks" by Sally-Wren Stevens, SOL Founder & Director
One late February day I ventured out into the Cibola National Forest to check in on the magic that is ever-present as our weekly sessions unfold. There had been considerable wintery weather in the East Mountains the weeks before, necessitating program closures, so the Tall Pines group I was visiting hadn’t been out in that “new” snow yet. I arrived to find all kinds of interesting activity taking place all at once: a group of children were very in-their-bodies while they used their large muscles to collaboratively roll massive snowballs that essentially grew as large as (or larger than) themselves, another group worked together to build a female snow person, complete with pine skirt & twig necklace, some giggled as they discovered what it is to posthole (& how it is sort of fun, but also exhausting, if you need to walk a long distance across a snow field), & still others were off doing different things in or with the snow in other areas within the designated forest classroom.
As I stood & just observed this for a moment- marveling about how in a forest school classroom dozens of things can be happening simultaneously in a way that I have never seen occur in a “regular” classroom throughout my decades “in the system”– something, or actually, someone, caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I turned to find one of our Tall Pines children, a young, artistically creative girl who likes to spend a lot of time in solitary play, doing something very interesting in the snow. Her body was very, very small, still, & close to the ground, she held her hands behind her back, & she was leaning forward, face-first, into the snow, over & over again. I immediately thought, “Hmmmm? I wonder what she is doing?” & crept in for a closer look.
As I neared, I realized she was creating a pattern of sorts in the snow, with her tongue! I quietly alerted Teacher Dana, sharing with her what I was observing & she unobtrusively joined her on the ground, saying, “I am curious what you are doing with your tongue. Can you show me or tell me more about it?” This young girl immediately replied that she was making tracks. Teacher Dana then followed her lead & made some of her own tongue tracks, while there was some brief conversation around the animal tracks that had been spotted before, out in the forest (about a week or so later, this same group of children discovered fresh bear tracks, in fact!).
Teacher Dana’s attention was soon pulled elsewhere, but I was able to find an animal track guide & offer it to this child. She was very keen to consult it & when I checked in on her several minutes later before leaving, she had copied many of the tracks from the guide, making tracks of her own, in her own unique way, into the snow. Her tracks at this point were numerous enough that they couldn’t go unnoticed, so I asked her if she had a plan & how she was feeling as she left her tracks. She simply replied, “well, I want the forest animals to know that we are here, too, & we love them”.
There was something deep, reverent, & magical in her response…something that spoke to the concept of reciprocity in nature. Our children are often closer than we are as adults to remembering that we are nature & observing this child interact with the forest environment in this way, on this day, reminded me of this truth. It felt like her desire to make tracks for the forest animals was a thanks-giving of sorts that she was sharing back to the forest. It also confirmed for me that making our own tracks – in whatever way is unique to who we are – is as valuable as discovering tracks as we learn & play at forest school.
As we near the Equinox & all the new beginnings that the spring season brings, it also had me reflecting on the numerous metaphorical meanings of track-making & the ways in which I am currently “making tracks” in my own life. And it got me wondering, dear reader, in what ways do you hope to make tracks this spring & summer in your own life?
Sally-Wren for ~soulful outdoor learning~
Here is an awesome link that addresses the Science of animal tracking & how it can be a fantastic learning experience for children: Animal tracking science lessons: What kids can learn from tracks & clues (parentingscience.com)