Some months ago, we began a wonderful relationship with a tree. An every-day ordinary fir tree growing in the darker part of our forest, along a path we often walk on our way to somewhere else. This particular tree was not especially noteworthy other than having a fair amount of sap dripping down its trunk. A wound perhaps? The kids understand sap as the blood of a tree, and this tree must surely have been injured at some time. When the older kindergarten kids discovered the sticky properties of this sap, they began decorating the tree with all manner of forest treasures: colourful leaves, delicate feathers, and flowers.
The younger kids came upon this wonderful tree in full regalia and marvelled. Before long, the tree became a special destination and member of our community. The children dubbed it the Zauberbaum or Magic Tree. Quite regularly a child will suggest a visit to the Zauberbaum. Sometimes to simply renew its decoration and often to leave offerings for faeries and Zwergs (gnomes and dwarfs). Other times, like today, a child has a very special idea in mind.
The forecast was heavy rain and I had planned for a morning of carefree rain dancing, umbrellas and all. As is often the case, Mother Nature had her own agenda. I think she must have changed her mind in answer to young Sukeyna’s request. Mother Nature listens first and best to the hearts of children, I am convinced.
Four-year old Sukeyna, had made a decision to give up her Nuggis (that’s a pacifier for you Americans, and a dummy for you Brits.) This is a big deal for some children as it marks the transition from little kid to big kid, and is a milestone that must be met before entering kindergarten. As early years educators, we take this moment very seriously. Sukeyna had made her own decision which she announced to her mother a week in advance. She would give her Nuggis to the Zauberbaum next week.
When we heard the news that morning, Tatjana and I, were delighted and honoured to facilitate this important rite of passage as was Mother Nature, for the forecasted heavy rain was suddenly nowhere in sight and the cool calm forest beckoned. Sukeyna had taken matters into her own hands. She was clearly ready for kindergarten. It was no coincidence that she seemed to have grown several centimetres in the course of a week!
Sukeyna had three Nuggis with her. Onto each she had tied a long piece of fine thread. It was decided that I would carry them in my pocket on the way to the Zauberbaum. Once there, we gathered round and and I explained to the children that today was a special day for Sukeyna and that we and the Zauberbaum were here to support her in giving up her Nuggis.
In preparation, I had gathered some special friends from the forest. I am searching for a word to describe these special friends. I certainly can’t call them “things.” And “items “or “objects” will also not do. Nor can I simply call them “symbols.” Yes, they are symbols but they are so much more. To call them anything less than “friends” or allies” would be to deny them their life force and our ability to enter into relationship with them. The Native Americans would simply call them “people” – rock-people, plant-people, flower-people, animal-people and so on. This day, these other-than-human people served as our allies and helpers. In both nature pedagogy and neb-humanism, we walk simultaneously in different worlds, everything real, everything symbolic, everything alive.
A lovely river stone served as the altar onto which many friends were welcomed and placed: a small collection of dandelion leaves, a couple of cuckoo flowers, for these are traditionally one of the fairies favourites, a handful of tender purple violets, a beautiful feather, a few walnut shells and an enormous Weinberg snail. We talked briefly about our different friends and the gifts and qualities that they offered today to Sukeyna and her little colleagues. So as not to go on too long and lose the children’s attention, we concentrate on three. Three is a magic number.
First there were Dandelion leaves. Naturally, as it is Spring! Dandelion gets its name from the French dents-de-lion, which translates into English as “lion’s tooth,” reflecting the jagged shape of the leaf. Likewise, in German we say Löwenzahn. Dandelion is a powerful ally. Ubiquitous and strong, the dandelion seems to grow everywhere, from well-fertilized fields, to the cracks in concrete sidewalks of the city and between the slats of a classic Swiss red bench!
Its roots are extremely deep and the dandelion flourishes against all odds. The nourishing flower is a beautiful bright circle shining yellow like the sun. It has a purity and symmetry, a reliability and a tenacity that we are wise to emulate. It is a very child-friendly flower and a perfect one with which to cultivate a relationship when you are 4-years-old.
“May you have the strength of the lion,” I say to each child as I offer up a tender leaf for each to sample. The dandelion leaves are delicious and some children enthusiastically request more, yet I ask them for patience. After our ceremony we will have ample opportunity to nibble away like hungry rabbits.
Yes, strength is a wonderful quality to cultivate, but let us temper it with the softer quality of beauty – strength and beauty compliment one another and belong together.
“May you walk in beauty,” I say to each child as I hand them a pretty little forest violet to taste. Violets spring up close to the forest floor when Spring itself has really sprung. Their form and leaves are delicate and asymmetrical yet their color is rich and deep. As we walk through the young green forest among the violets on a bright day, after a long winter, we truly feel that we are walking in beauty. These edible little beauties have a subtle sweet taste the children find delightful.
Next we receive the gifts of the generous Weinberg snail. Although this snail is actually edible when properly prepared, we wouldn’t dream of eating this endangered species! Snails are among the first “friends” a child makes in the forest. Children are fascinated by these responsive slow-moving creatures who carry their homes on their backs and travel along on their tummies leaving a glistening trail behind them. The Weinberg, like a true friend is a protected species.”May you have many friends,” is our wish and the snail’s gift to Sukeyna.
It is now time for Sukeyna to tie her Nuggis on the Magic Tree. She chooses which Nuggi goes first and where she will tie it. I help her get started as the thread is very fine. Sukeyna pulls on both ends of the thread to secure the final knot. We repeat this will all three Nuggis. Three is a magic number.
Sukeyna beams with pride. Next the whole group joins hands and we sing “Love Sukeyna” in our finest voices. Congratulations are offered and photos are taken before the children run off to play in the nearby stream.
After a while, Sukeyna returns to the Magic Tree for one last look at her Nuggis and one last suck. “Goodbye Nuggis, have fun!” she calls as she merrily takes her leave and joins the other children. Sukeyna knows that everything is alive.
Surely all the peoples of the forest must be pleased… even the Nuggi-people.