Calendula, Calendula …!

Awhile back, after I told a story and we explored movement as if we were Calendula following the sun, the Wise Child kids and the older kids (age 6) from the Heartstone children’s program collected Calendula flowers into a pair of jars. We poured olive oil over the flowers, added a few more, and then closed up the jars. At the same time, we gathered some Calendula seed and started our own plants, something of an experiment as it is fall. Still, as we found, Calendula sprouts readily and is eager to grow, no matter what time of year if given a little warmth, water, and sun.

Calendula Oil and Planting Seeds
Calendula Seed Planting

I then went on to put the jars of calendula in oil in the windows of my passive solar bermed home. Despite the fact that it was fall in the Pacific Northwest (thus, lots of cloudy days), we got enough sun to make some fabulous infused oil. Yes, I stirred the jars most days, and wiped out the moisture from inside the lids to prevent spoilage.

Last week we made a healing salve with our Calendula oil. The kids had a great time squeezing all the oil from the cheesecloth we used to strain the oil. Then we melted the beeswax (the kids took turns stirring it) and added the oil plus some drops of lavender essential oil. All this we poured into 2 oz containers. The kids then had fun putting on labels I’d made for the underside of the container (detailing the salve ingredients) and making labels of their own.

[I intend to create a full lesson plan on Calendula at some point, including details for making the oil and salve, as well as the story I told. Please comment if I don’t get to this quickly enough!]

The kids were engrossed in this project from start to finish! And I’ve heard from parents how their child has been using their salve for various bumps and cuts. Yay–not for the bumps and bangs, but that the kids are reaching for the salve. I think making one’s own herbal medicine is very empowering for kids!

Here are a couple of photos from other Wise Child adventures:

Evening Primrose in an improvised pot

One day,the kids and I gathered a few “volunteers” (Evening Primrose and Calendula that had clearly self-sown) from the herb garden to take home. We improvised pots from Mullein leaves, with soil from the garden.

Plants in Mullein leaf pots

Finally, here is a photo of our music session in the forest, when we drummed with corn- and other stalks (found on the farm), improvising rhythms, and providing rhythm for such songs as “Land Of The Silver Birch” and “The Canoe Song” (which make for a fun medley)

Nature Drumming

So much fun!

Gravestone Rubbings

Early last week our newly formed homeschool group headed out to the local cemetery to create gravestone rubbings in honor of this threshold time of year and the upcoming Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

It’s been pouring rain, so I wasn’t sure how long we’d want to be out there. Some of the kids are comfortable in any kind of Pacific Northwest weather (it seems to me!), and some are not. Amazingly we all found ourselves captivated by our activity–exploring the cemetery and making rubbings of the gravestones, using crayons on Rite-in-the-Rain paper (waterproof paper!).

Rowan (Mountain Ash) berries on a gravestone
A child makes a gravestone rubbing
A sweet offering at one gravestone -- a stone that says LOVE
Gravestone rubbings with beeswax block crayons

So why did we choose this activity? Isn’t the idea of doing gravestone rubbings kinda … morbid? Perhaps disrespectful?

Years ago our family began doing gravestone rubbings when celebrating the earth festivals with other families. Here, at the time when many traditions say the veil between the worlds and between the living and the dead are thin, and when (as in Day of the Dead) the ancestors, and our loved ones who are passed are celebrated, honored, spoken to, it feels right (to me) to do something like this with children. My experience is that they love it, and that they are fascinated by this very tangible expression of time, and people who have lived and died before they were born, or died more recently. We didn’t find gravestones marking anyone we knew, yet we all felt the connection. I suppose because these were people who lived in and died on our island, in our community.

And the leaves falling from the trees, and the gray clouds thick, and the mist in the air. This deep autumn nature speaks to me of change, time’s passage. It signals to me to look at death, and to remember those who have passed on, the gifts of my ancestors. We told stories in the cemetery, and we wondered at the people who are remembered here.

Some of the children made rubbings of the designs on the stones–birds, roses, a violin. Of images that meant something to them personally, or of names the same as their own. We ended up with some lovely layerings of such things.

One way that children can meet with the truth of death, of passage in a way that is gentle yet filled with mystery is indeed to visit a cemetery, whether you know anyone there or not. Exploring the gravestones, searching for the oldest you can find, or the oldest lived person, or the youngest (always sad), or … there are as many ways to venture into something like this as there are people on the earth.

Entering The Garden

We’ve just completed our second week of the Wise Child Learning Program. We’re delighted and grateful to have the organic medicinal garden of Sister Sage Herbs as one area where we work, learn, and play!

I like to start sessions (when they take place in fine weather) with what I call a “greenfire”. Basically, it’s a circle created by the kids (and/or adults when present!) and myself with stones or sticks, leaves or flowers, etc. or all of the above! from the natural world. The “greenfire” serves as our imaginative and centering fire during our time in that place.

Here is our first greenfire:

Our first "greenfire"

We’ve taken time beginning to get acquainted with the herbs in the garden. I was delighted to discover one of my favorite herbs in abundance, Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.).

Evening Primrose - one of my favorite herbs!

During our first week, we compared and contrasted plant “lookalikes”. Here are Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla, grown in the garden) and Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea, a common wild chamomile on the dirt roads nearby.

Chamomile (growing) and Pineapple Weed (in her hand)

We have each chosen a new plant friend to get to know deeply this year, and whose area we will give extra-special care (weeding, etc.!)

I chose this one–or perhaps I might say, it chose me! Every time I walk even a little close to it, I find my clothes and hair coated in in its “cockleburrs”, its seed-heads with their stiff hairs and hooked ends.

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)- sometimes called "Cockleburr" or "Sticklewort" with good reason!

We’ve each created three-line poems inspired by our new plant friends. Look for a “Lesson Plan” in the near future about how to do this process!

We created poems about our new plant friends

An ongoing project this year is add to our “Weather Trees” — drawings we made today of a leafless tree. Each day we’ll color in a leaf to represent the weather. Today’s leaf was inspired by the morning fog that dispersed to sunshine.

Both in the garden and in other areas of the surrounding land are ripe raspberries. We can’t help but enjoy some!

Ripe Raspberries always beckon!

That’s just a snippet of our time in the garden, and of our day!

The Doorstep Of Autumn

I spent a lovely 1 1/2 hours with a grandparent and grandkids who I nature mentor. We started our day by tasting some rose petal honey that we’d started in late June. Mmm! Delicious! We imagine that spreading the honey (with the rose petals) on toast will make a delightful treat.

Wild Roses In Late June
Wild Roses In Late June
Making Rose Petal Honey

To make Rose Petal Honey: harvest petals from an area free of toxins of any kind. Layer the petals in a jar with honey. Be sure to entirely cover the petals with honey. Fill to the top, stir, and screw on the lid. It’s good to stir the petals every day or every few days. We left our petals in for about six weeks before tasting, though I know of folks who don’t wait more than a week. You don’t have to strain out the petals–just spread them on with the honey!

Note: Mountain Rose Herbs has a video on how to make herbal honey. They use Lavender in the video, but you can easily substitute rose petals.

After honey tasting, the kids ran outside to a special place in the woods where fairies leave notes. There they discovered a message and a lovely smooth heart stone that the fairies had found on the beach. Whenever the grandchildren visit their grandparents they find notes, gifts, and treasure hunts from the fairies!

Then out we went to the fire circle. We started a “greenfire” (this time made up of the yellow blooms of false dandelion, various grasses and leaves, and charred sticks). We settled in for a story.

I have been telling tales of two children who call themselves Bard Owl (spelling is correct) and Redcedar. Today Bard Owl and Redcedar’s grandmother told them about the maps she used to make of special places in forest and field, with notes about the magical adventures she had in those places. Bard Owl and Redcedar decide to map their special places. A nearby Douglas-fir tree wakes up enough to tell them about Songlines, a way of mapping your wandering into a place–also helpful for finding your way back out …. A Songline is like a series of stories and names that follow one another like beads on a string.

When the story finishes we head out into the woods with the intention of creating a songline, and then using the songline to help begin a map of the land.

Here is an abbreviated version of our songline!

Spiderweb crossing – where we crossed a footbridge and accidently broke through a spiderweb

Compost pile

Tree with eyes (where my older daughter helped clear some blackberry–we ended up discovering several trees in the area with eyes!)

Nettle field–lots of different kinds of deer scat here, of varying consistences. Some seeming fairly fresh, some as if they’d been there a day or two. A lot of speculation about why the scat was different from one another. Different food sources?

Bubbling brook

Blackberries all along the north edge of the land. Yum! Why so many blackberries here? What do they love about the light, soil, and moisture here? Who are their plant companions? Who (animal and plant) lives in their neighborhood?

The Fairy Place–full of huge skunk cabbage and another brook. We left some rose petal honey here for the fairies.

Apple Tree–an old tree with the tiniest apples, and with blackberries ripe interwoven in the branches. More enjoyment of blackberries!

Mountain-Ash (Sorbus scopulina) or Rowan Tree–just vibrant with orange-red berries, and also interwoven with blackberries. I just couldn’t get over the beauty of this tree!

A garter snake glided through the grasses, stitching in and out like a threaded needle.

Ah, a mystery animal gnawed an apple. Smooth rounded bites. From a deer? Probably not from a bird (the marks don’t resemble pecks) or a raccoon …

The sky was deep blue with scads of little clouds, the air, cool. It so feels like the beginning of autumn, just like that!

We headed back along on our songline …. We ended our time by dispersing our greenfire  and looking at maps children had drawn of the forest and field there seven years before. Many names for places are different. A few landmarks are different. What stories do these maps tell?

Time to create maps of our own!

Feast Your Eyes On The Colors Of Spring!

Hawthorn along the edges of our farm are full white-blossom. Horse chestnut trees are flowering in white-pink spires, individual blossoms resembling elephant heads. Scotch broom, in flares of bright yellow. The brilliant red of Crimson Clover shimmers in our plowed and tilled field, The purple spires of lupine beckon us along a path. And if you look very closely at the three foot high Nettles, you’ll see dangles of tiny pale-green flowers.

Spring is a marvelous time to notice the sweeps of color. With each passing week or two, the colors shift, spreads of whites or yellows or pinks or purples appear and disappear. One of the simplest things you can do with a child (and yourself) is to just notice the sweeps of color. The bright whites of one week (say, of Apple) may have shifted to the the creamier, layered whites of this week (Hawthorn, here). The lavender purples of Self-Heal are long gone, but the pink-purple of Red Clover is just beginning to emerge.

What colors can you find in the landscape — whether of your neighborhood or a park or a wild place?

Kids (and you!) may especially love looking for colors of the rainbow — red, yellow, orange, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Let’s not overlook pink, or the many whites!

If you can pick the flowers (and if there are plenty of blooms), you and your child could pick one representing each color, and place them in a rainbow or some other design.

You could look for the different colors of green. Here on our Pacific Northwest island we have an abundance of shades of green! If the Inuit (eskimo) have 35 words for different kinds of snow, can you and your child come up with names for all the different kinds of greens you see? Or come up with names for the many kinds of white blossoms, or of any other flower or plant nature that is in abundance around you. Make them silly or poetic or practical! Play!

Lupine (Lupinus) - photo by Jane Valencia