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  • Sally-Ann Anderson

Fire Season (year round) at Forest School in New Mexico

SOL mini-story & PSA: Drench your campfires & come back & do it again! (And again!)

We arrived yesterday prior to session to find two lovely young men from the Netherlands camping just outside our classroom boundary (it's a legal "dispersed camping" area within the national forest). They had a morning fire going to take the chill off & after some greetings & polite conversation I alerted them to the fact that we were under a Red Flag Warning & technically, they weren't supposed to be having a campfire. I spoke to how common wildfires are to the area (blessings to those in the Ruidoso, NM area currently being evacuated) & asked them to drench it to be sure it was out before leaving. They assured me they would.

These visitors were welcoming & kind so once the children arrived, we oriented them to this strange occurrence (of campers being set up in our site) & then met them. We listened to their language that sounded so different from ours, learned about all the windmills, canals, & tulips in their country, & told them (unsolicited) a thing or two about fire safety. They left within the hour & my intuition told me that even though the fire looked to be snuffed out, we had better take a closer look, so we gathered our Treeschoolers, grabbed a shovel & extra water bottle, & headed over.

Well, it took just one turn of the spade to see that it was still alive & smoldering barely below the surface! We took the opportunity to teach our Treeschoolers about the fact that the vast majority of forest fires start due to human error, how we are currently under a Red Flag Warning (& what that means), how the recent active winds could easily reignite a fire like this, & how to truly stamp a fire out to be sure it is dead. They expressed some disappointment at the fact that the campers "didn't show care to the forest" & wondered whether they "just didn't know" (they are from a country with lots of water). We poured & stirred & listened for sizzling hiss sounds & watched the steam & felt the piping hot rocks in the fire ring through our mittens & gloves. And.....the fire embers still glowed beneath a thin layer of ash. I told the Treeschoolers that I thought we needed more water to put this thing out & asked them where we could get more. They immediately thought of the large water jug we bring each week for mud kitchen. We got the jug & then poured & stirred & watched & listened some more, eventually snuffing it out with an army of Treeschoolers depositing little handfuls of collected dirt all over it. We then set an alarm for an hour later & did it all on repeat, again.

This is a prime example of how the forest/nature often delivers learning opportunities for us that are unexpected & delightful & in this way, we come to know the forest herself as another teacher. In this instance, the situation really allowed our Treeschoolers to think through all our teachings & experiences of risk vs. hazard (this was clearly a hazard), as well as our SOL rule-of-care. They quickly worked together to show their care for the forest by putting the fire out & no one complained about the lack of mud kitchen water for the rest of the day. (And... I feel pretty good about the stewardship skills these Treeschoolers are learning & know many will become the fierce future earth guardians needed as we move into the future).

~Miss Sally & the Wednesday Woodpeckers

*I wish I could have documented the entire experience, but I was busy co-experiencing it alongside our Treeschoolers in the moment.

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