Out of the Darkness & Into the Light
It seems like every holiday and change of seasons is celebrated with even more enthusiasm in 2020. The passage of time is celebrated, not mourned or forgotten this year, as we all look forward to a new world. This year's Winter Solstice is no exception.
Even people who've never celebrated the Winter Solstice are embracing it's message of welcoming the light, and saying goodbye to the darkness of this awful year. There is further excitement as the rare "great conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn wows sky watchers all around the world. This is being seen by many as the "Christmas Star," returned after 800 years to remind us of the hope and light that is possible in the world.
My favorite Winter Solstice story revolves around the Deer Mother, who carries the light of the sun through the dark winter night in her antlers, bringing peace and hope. Before the story of Christmas existed, the Sami people followed the reindeer herds throughout northern Scandinavia and Russia. It was the female shamans who traveled by sleds pulled by reindeer throughout the area, and believe it or not, many wore red clothing with white fur trim. Sound familiar?
To my children, I talk about how reindeer have antlers, just like others in the deer family. But with reindeer, many of the females retain their antlers throughout winter to help protect themselves and obtain food, as they are usually pregnant during the winter. So we joke that Rudolph was really a girl!
This story makes me wonder what life was like thousands of years ago. It makes me wonder how the human race could go from honoring the feminine to building the patriarchy. How we could go from living as close knit communities to spreading out all over the globe to fend for ourselves. It connects me to my ancestors, and inspires me to keep moving forward. It rekindles hope and faith for a return to a more equitable, just and peaceful society for all living things.
Our school moved some of the classrooms to 100% outside learning due to rising COVID numbers this week, and yesterday was the first rainy day. As I watched the teachers stress levels get dangerously high, I contemplated my first year teaching outside. It was HARD. I lost my voice several times that first year because I found myself yelling over all the outdoor noises like traffic and lawnmowers. I craved the calm, slower energy of the indoor classroom. I struggled to set up and clean up materials outside. And the plethora of distractions was exhausting. So why was I doing it?
I moved to teaching outside because I enjoy less structure and more impromptu discoveries. Teaching inside I had every minute of the day planned. Outside, I planned a couple things, but really, I got to follow the children and follow the natural flows of nature. I felt healthier outside, mentally and physically. The book, "Last Child in the Woods" was just 10 years old at the time, and already a cornerstone of my foundation as a parent and educator. I knew that being outside was better for all of us.
As a parent, I watched my son grow up outside, curious, focused on things I didn't even notice. It was the image of him that I held in my mind yesterday. At five years old, with his rain boots and umbrella, splashing around in the mud and puddles with the biggest smile on his face. His giggles filled me with joy and ease. His pure energy, connected with himself and the earth, spread to me and to everything around him. This is what life is all about. He taught me to let my guard down and just play and be in the moment. Not think about getting the house wet & muddy, or about the extra laundry, or the need for a bath. It is this moment that I wish I could have conveyed to the teachers yesterday. The connection, the joy, the realization that there are more important things in life then what we had planned for the day.
I've learned to embrace and accept rainy days when teaching. Most of the kids LOVE it. It's just the adults around them that worry and fear the inconveniences of wet, muddy kids. Rainy days mean we all get to put aside our plans and just play for a little while. And boy, does it cause our cups to overflow if we let it happen.
Ms. Jennie is an outdoor educator in Austin, TX. She has a background in Montessori education, and strives to get families and kids out in nature to connect & wonder.