The road up to the farm house was blocked due to a repairs on the old stone wall so we gathered by the little stream at the bottom of the road. It’s a great little stream babbling its way through the green field. Rohan spotted a big fat frog there last week. We kept busy hoping for a repeat performance. Kadek and I had our work cut out for us making sure nobody stepped into the stream. Soaking wet feet at the top of the morning is a real kill joy for everybody. One day last spring Lucas experienced two full changes of clothes before the morning was out! No time for that today, we had places to go and people to see!
Today was the perfect day to go to a special place in the woods I call the secret place. You get there via a hardly noticable path leading from a point where the road curves round rather sharply. We seldom walk down this road as it does not lead back into the woods but rather empties out onto the busy road through Esslingen. I didn’t find the secret place, rather my colleague Tanja did early last summer among the thickening lush vegetation.
I’ve been waiting for the right moment to take the kids to the secret place. Today seemed like a good opportunity. It was relatively dry and we had a smaller than usual group as some children had left early for vacation.
The secret place is not for beginners. The hill down from the road is steep and requires thoughtful navigation preferably with a sturdy rope. There is a stream at the bottom and the banks are steep and peppered with decaying tree trunks and large stone outcroppings offering physical challenges and fertile ground for fantasy play. The forest canopy is dense and provides good shelter from the sun and rain. It is a beautifully contained world unto itself. Last years crop of kids had some of their most rough-and-tumble adventures there and Robin even found a bone. That was a thrill for all.
On that same morning, Lara and Jana sat quietly on the hillside under a little tree painting their fingernails pink. The rest of the morning was spent with hands poised out in front air drying their shiny nails. I don’t know how they managed to get back up the hill. Tanja and I laughed and considered channelling our inner forest goddess by showing up in full make-up and hair, and maybe even a dress!
This year’s group is much different. I was quickly reminded that I needed to lose my preconceived notions about this place and let it be whatever it was going to before these children — which was decidedly not secret. Holding on to the rope we chugged our way into the woods. With Esmee calling out “Woo Woo!” I had to explain more than once that that being the caboose is every bit as cool as being the engine.
After a long slow train ride we reached the not-so-terribly-secret-after-all place. The spring has been late this year and the foliage is just beginning to pop so the entrance was hardly hidden as it has been in previous years. Never mind. With our rope, we rappelled down the bank one by one. Or in some cases, slid down on our bottoms. Lucas took charge at the spare rope at the bottom barking instructions to the others. We then settled in for a much deserved snack time. Rohan made himself comfortable in a special spot under a tree and looked like a real mountain climber with his gear hanging from the tree above.
With tummies full, the real adventure began. The kids met the landscape of the creek with an unexpected confidence and aplomb. Millie declared herself queen sitting on the throne while Dani negotiated for a place. Would he marry into the monarchy or over throw it? I wondered.
Kadek and a few of the the kids were way ahead of me, as I lagged behind concentrating on helping someone with their buckles and snaps. They had ventured further than I thought we would. The kids were fine. it was the shoes we worried about! Not everybody had rubber boots on. I looked at my phone for the time. 11:15. The day was temperate and we’d be back at the farm within the hour. “Will the parents be angry?” Kadek asked as Diego stood ankle deep in creek water. “No, they know that this is a big part of what we do and they are on board.” We had reached the point of no return.
Suddenly everybody was in the stream and wanting to cross. to the other side.
Some carefully plotted their course so that they could step from stone to stone,
and held out their arms and asked for help.
Some needed just a steadying hand to guide them.
Still another labored quietly yet tirelessly on her own with one false start after another.
And then there were those who crossed confidently, alone or with others.
Trusting themselves and their rubber boots or lack thereof.
And they seemed the happiest of all.