Friday, August 20, 2010

"All children, except one, grow up."

On Monday, the first day of camp, Rebecca's mom pulled me aside.  "Rebecca has mild autism," she told me.  "She has been to Red Butte camps before and loves them, but I wanted to let you know she may need to hear things more than once."  I noticed this week that Rebecca--a tall, slim 4th grader with shoulder length brown hair--was often in her own place.  She had a good time with whatever we did, but didn't talk with the other kids much and was happy on her own.

This afternoon all fifteen of us found a shady place the courtyard.  I brought pipe cleaners, pony beads, string, and jingle bells and watched in amazement as the kids turned them into incredible creations.  Anklets, bracelets, rings appeared instantly.  Headbands, pipe cleaner scissors, and baseball cap decorations evolved later.  For forty-five minutes the kids didn't want to move, even to go and eat.  They were mesmerized by the beads and their own creativity.  They sat on the ground in tight circles searching the bowls for the right colour choices.  I sat on a bench watching them work and preventing fights over the few precious glow-in-the-dark beads.  I watched the blue sky behind the red foothills.

Rebecca finished after only a few minutes.  She made a pipe cleaner bracelet strung with sparkling beads and one jingle bell.  She stepped out of the shade and into the sun and smiled as the beads caught the light.  She skipped and giggled as the bell tinkled.  She jumped, leaped, and twirled in her green summer skirt.  She swirled her arms above her head and down--always watching her bracelet in the light.  She laughed out loud as the small bell jingled with her jumps.  She danced free and without form.  Her eyes and face were open, happy, and enraptured by the miracle of beads and bells moving in the sunlight.  Her happiness was simple and pure.  Rebecca was everything that childhood embodies.  I wanted so much to join her!  But this dance was hers, not mine.  She filled the courtyard with her dancing until the others finally finished their projects.

"You must have been warned against 
letting the golden hours slip by; 
but some of them are golden only 
because we let them slip by." 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Why, if I picked a day to fly, this would be it!"

The barn swallows fledged today.  They built the entire nest--a small mud cup above the boys' bathroom door in the Children's Garden at Red Butte--in less than twenty-four hours.  One day it was just a small blob of mud and the next day it was complete.  Usually I think of natural processes as being very lengthy.  How long for a stream to carve the slim, twisting slot canyon or a glacier to carve the u-shaped valley?  But nature moves quickly as well.  Summer still reigns, but already all over the Garden seeds are growing.  Some are fruit, like pears.  Others, like the service berries, have already gone to the birds.  The oak trees have miniature acorns and the milkweed has fluffy pods under each leaf.  And only a month or so ago a pair of barn swallows built a nest.  I saw the female sit on it each day as I used the bathroom and hundreds of the children I teach discovered it and eagerly led me by the hand to see their discovery.

I've been watching another nest as well.  The Cooper's Hawks rebuilt last year's nest and this time they were successful in raising two chicks.  For the past few weeks, while the parents were hunting, its' two occupants frequently peeked over the edges.  I stood underneath the nest and high above me one would stand with his white baby feathers.  He stood silhouetted in the sunlight.  I was always the first to end the staring contest.  Mom or Dad sometimes sat nearby on a branch.  Recently, when I come by no chick peers down at me.  But today while walking across the Wildflower Meadow four hawks flew across to land in the trees at the edge.  Four hawks with the characteristic banded tails of the Cooper's Hawk.

Meanwhile, the barn swallows hatched and grew.  Nakedness was replaced by feathers and the nest became more and more crowded.  This morning they seemed to be standing on top of one another.  The parents flew constantly to and from with food.

About midmorning I noticed an unusual number of swallows zipping and diving high above the Children's Garden.  I checked the nest and only one bird remained--not ready to go.  But every other swallow in the Garden celebrated the day of flight as the new birds flew acrobatics all afternoon.  I wished to be one of them!  I rushed a boy to the bathroom for an emergency trip this afternoon (he didn't make it all the way) and while he used the bathroom I watched the last bird .  It stood at the edge of the nest stretching its wings, but not ready to test them.  Other swallows flew in to chirp at the last chick, but still it didn't go.  I wanted to be there when it flew.  After all, what could be more magical than a bird's first flight?  At last I left the nest to go to other places in the Garden.  But when checking it this evening the mud nest was empty and quiet, as was the air above the Garden.  What a wonderful day for flight!  Clear sky, strong sunlight, and a wind blowing up the mountain.