It’s been an interesting year so far. I’ve spent most of it outdoors as expected, working on my forest school endeavours, and enjoying some trips out in my spare time.
My year of yes is going quite well too. I haven’t (to my knowledge), said no to anything unless it was unavoidable, but I still haven’t been on the crazy kind of adventures I’d hoped for. I’d fully anticipated that by saying yes to things, I’d end up doing a lot more crazy things. However, it seems it does also rely on being asked the right questions! Come on universe. Make it happen!
I have however said a big YES to the some great opportunities that have come my way so far this year. I’ve said yes to a new job working with the YMCA to help deliver their youth projects, and I’ve said yes to the chance to assist in delivering training for level 2 and 3 forest school trainees. Considering I was only in their shoes a little over a year ago, I consider it a huge privilege to be asked to assist, and I’m truly grateful for both of these fantastic opportunities be part of something bigger than myself.
Of course I’m still keeping my eyes out for yes moments, and for all the little beautiful moments along my journey. Here are some of my favourites from the year so far.
Assisting with forest school training. Tea and book reading in the park. Visiting Malham Cove and the Limestone Pavements. Robin Hoods Bay. Biking over the River Calder. Biking the Longdendale Trail. Biking the Dearne Valley Trail. Visiting Mallyan Spout.
In case any of you were wondering… Yes! There WAS a microadventure in February, and here it is. It was a quick adventure this time around, with a some of the crew from the January adventure and a few new faces along for the ride.
We stuck to our tried and tested method of pub grub followed by a walk and a camp, and it worked well this time. Despite a shocking weather forecast, the night was relatively clear, but cold. I guess that’s what you get in February! Nevertheless, the walk soon warmed us up, and by the time we reached our intended camping spot we were ready to get settled in for the night. Figuring we were in for a chilly night ahead, we set up a low group shelter facing in to the wind, and I reckon it turned out to be a good call. Once we managed to hunker down, I think we were all happy enough. There was surprisingly little chatter from any of us. We had a brew, and sleep soon followed. The picture above is the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes in the morning. Perhaps not the very best view in the world, but a hell of a lot better than an alarm clock I can tell you. The best part of this scene however was the river flowing just outside the tree line. I’ve always been a water person. I think maybe it’s my element. It brings me immense happiness to be around water, and great peace to hear it, so to wake up on this crisp sunny morning, with the river flowing by was bliss. The perfect antidote to modern life.
It was at around this point, shortly after waking up that my phone battery died. It turns out the iPhone 5 is notorious for shutting down in cold temperatures, and mine is no exception. Thank you Apple. That’s two microadventures that I’ve been unable to properly document. Lesson learned.
We followed the night with a lazy pack up and a fantastic early morning walk over the moors and back to civilisation and a cooked breakfast. You’ll have to take my word for it, it was spectacular…
Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the next adventure. We’ve planned a bigger trip this time. We’re off to Edale for an entire weekend, with a couple of decent days of walking planned too boot. Watch this space!
Do you ever get those recurring signs from the universe that you should be doing something? You’ll keep seeing the same word or maybe the same pictures pop up all over the place. Carl Jung called it ‘synchronicity’, and explained these instances as ‘meaningful coincidences’. I’m sure you’ll all know what I’m talking about. Well it’s been happening to me, and I think the universe is trying to tell me to say yes more.
Over and over again I keep being drawn to the word yes. It’ll just appear out of nowhere. Bold as brass, and usually when I’m wondering if I should be doing something adventurous or not. Since new years it’s been popping up all over the place.
Most recently I’ve happened upon Dave Cornthwaites “Say Yes More” campaign, which seems like a really fabulous thing. I also recently re-discovered an old favourite book of mine in the shape of ‘Yes Man‘ by Danny Wallace. I finished re-reading it last week, and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. I guess this time, it meant something to me.
Well the long and the short of all these yes signs is that I’m giving in. I’m saying yes to saying yes. I’m becoming a yes man! Obviously I’m not going to stab someone, or jump out of an aeroplane without a parachute, but I’m saying yes to invites, to new experiences, to all those little opportunities that can pass us by if we let them. I’ll wager that some of the best moments of your life were unexpected right? I’ll also bet they were the direct result of a yes that could easily have been a no. I’m fairly certain that saying yes has the power to make all our lives better if we give it a shot, and I’d sooner take a chance on a yes than miss out through a no.
So that’s my mission for 2016. No resolutions or fancy promises for me, just a conscious effort to say yes more. By the way, I really fancy going to this years ‘Yestival‘. You’re all up for that, yes?!
January microadventure number two was a spur of the moment thing. A knee jerk reaction to a week stuck indoors. We didn’t really make much of a plan this time around, but following the tried and tested methods of pub + food + bivvy = microadventure, saw us up a hill and in a patch of woodland that’s always been calling me from the folds of the map.
After a good filling meal we left the pub at around 10pm, and found the bridleway that would take us to our woodland for the night. Navigating through brambles and mud, crossing streams by moonlight and eventually reaching a likely looking site under the boughs of an oak tree, we settled in to our bivvies for the night. The near full moon spotlighting our camping spot, and silhouetting the trees swaying in the breeze. We fell asleep watching the clouds scud across the face of the moon.
The dawn light brought with it the noisy chattering of a rookery close to our camp spot. As the sun rose slowly higher, so did the chattering until at around 7:30am, as if by some secret signal, hundreds of rooks simultaneously took flight, filling the sky with noise and excitement, whirling all around us in ever increasing circles before eventually disappearing towards the horizon, followed lazily by a murder of crows.
With that, it was time to go. Throwing everything back in to our backpacks, we traced our way back towards the village, and onwards towards home and a warm shower.
January Microadventure no.1 came after a long wait and with much excitement. Having spent a long time waiting to find a group of people crazy enough to brave the January weather, I finally found them right under my nose. My forest school friends of course!
This was the first time any of my forest friends had been on a microadventure, so we decided to play it as safe as possible considering the time of year, and stay close to home. To make it as luxurious as possible, we decided a few drinks and some hot food in a local pub might be in order. It turned out to be a great idea. I reckon it’ll catch on!
Anyway, come 10.30ish we’d finally built up the necessary amount of courage/craziness to go and climb a hill in the wind, rain, cold, and pitch blackness of a night on the Yorkshire moors. So off we went.
Having already decided vaguely where we’d like to stay, we hit the hill and went in the general direction of our site. Visibility was minimal and the terrain would have been testing even in broad daylight, but somehow we ended up more or less where we’d intended after a lot of ups and downs, and a great deal of laughter. There were a few trips, bumps, and squelchy wellies, but that’s surely part of the fun!
We each set about setting up our camp. Jo and Helen set up a tarp to share, I set up a hammock and tarp, and Darren shared a tarp with his dog Tilly. I can tell you, setting up for an uncertain night on a wet and windy hilltop is not as easy as it might be.
For me, the best part of adventures like this are the times shared with others. Sitting and drinking tepid tea from a shared flask on that hillside was a fantastic experience. Each of us happy and a little nervous about the night ahead. Each of us for our own reasons, but it’s only when you test the limits of your comfort zone like this that you learn anything about yourself. Sharing that experience with friends only makes it richer.
The night itself was very windy with sporadic rain. Sleep was equally sporadic for me. I heard the ladies giggling like schoolgirls well in to the early hours. At around 3am the wind got under my tarp and ripped all six heavy duty pegs out of the ground. So there I was, unceremoniously dangling in the rain. It’s funny actually, but under normal circumstances I’d have been a tad cheesed off at this point. I’m not normally known for my patience. It may have been the temporary lapse of sanity that sent me up this hill in the first place, or it may have been the night outdoors working it’s magic, but getting out of a warm sleeping bag to fix the tarp wasn’t at all unpleasant. Despite the wind and rain and all, I was glad to be there. I smiled. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
Soon enough, morning came. For the first time we were able to see our surroundings, and how beautiful they were! Before our eyes, the valley opened up to reveal a clear, icy, Spring fed river flowing down a valley towards a reservoir on our right. In the distance, the hilltops were dusted with snow. The air was fresh and clean, the bracken crisp under foot.
For some time, camp was quiet. I think in our own ways we were all just appreciating the moment, being thankful for the view, the circumstances that had brought us there, and the friends we’d shared the experience with.
Packing up later than planned, we took the scenic route back to the pub, and enjoyed breakfast by the warmth of their coal fire. I think the girl behind the bar there seemed struck with equal parts envy and pity. I suppose that is the standard reaction when a group of bedraggled, grinning weirdos walk in to your pub at 9am in the morning. She must have thought we were crazy, and I can’t say that I blame her.
Apologies dear readers for my absence of late. I really must do better. However, I’m planning on making a few slight changes around here for 2016.
This blog will continue to include my forest school escapades, but I’m broadening my remit to include other outdoorsy adventures and microadventures. 2016 is my year of ‘Say Yes More’. Which is exactly what it sounds like. Say yes to opportunity, to friends, to adventure, and yes yes yes to life! It’s going well so far.
Another Tuesday has been and gone, and that can mean only one thing…. Another afternoon out in the woods with the lads with the behavioural issues. Honestly, I think I need to come up with some other way of referencing these guys. Saying that they have behavioural issues seems less and less relevant as the weeks go on. Perhaps it’s me getting used to them, but I don’t think that’s the case. If you were to drop me in to this group tomorrow without telling me anything of their backgrounds, I really don’t think I’d rush to any conclusions about their behaviour. The more weeks that go by, the better they seem to be. Sure they’re teenage lads out in the woods and they’re not little angels, but they’re doing really well.
This week we started off as always by getting a fire going before the lads turned up, and they were munching down burgers in short order once they arrived. It might seem a little odd to start a session with food, but I think with this group it’s actually a great way of bringing them all together and separating the pre-forest day from their afternoon in the woods. It has the obvious benefits of keeping everyone fairly quiet for a little while, and lifting the mood of the group before they get stuck in to the session. Weeks ago we had originally attempted to do something with them before they ate, but inevitably they wanted to get back to eat. Afterwards there was little time left to do anything. By eating first, it leaves a the majority of the session unbroken, and allows things to flow more naturally. A simple idea, but a good one.
It’s almost a tradition now that the chaps get the hammocks out, and one I’m happy for them to instigate. When I first started with this group, the section of the site they were using was exposed to the elements with no tree cover. On my suggestion we’ve moved to a different part of the site in the last few weeks, and it’s actually since then that the guys have started to make big leaps of progress. I’m not going to argue that this is the only thing that’s changed, but I certainly think it’s a contributing factor. I put a hammock up the first week we moved, and it’s been a massive hit ever since. Anyone who’s ever spent time in a hammock can probably tell you why. So, I guess it’s important to always be looking at your site and using the most appropriate area for the group/weather/activity. Like all things in life, you shouldn’t necessarily do a thing the same way, just because it’s always been done that way. Take a look around you, and decide what’s best for yourself.
After lunch, and some acrobatic hammock-ing, some of the lads wanted to have another go at lighting their own fires. After their successes last week, I think they wanted to prove to themselves that they could do it again. I have been thinking about these sessions as the weeks have gone on, and I’ve mulled over the possibility that some of the things we do could seem a little repetitive. If you’ve been reading these blogs regularly, I’m sure you’ll have noticed a pattern emerging! However, I think it’s important to separate what my feelings would be in this situation, from the feelings these guys have about their time here. After years of doing this kind of stuff for my own enjoyment, hammocking and fire lighting could be a little bit old hat, but for these guys it’s all new and exciting. They only get one chance to do this each week, and I’m starting to get the impression that they’ve been looking forward to doing so. Repeating things like this is their way of claiming their time here as their own. It’s their way of enjoying the space, and it’s their way of becoming more secure in the environment. When you look at it like this, there’s nothing ‘old hat’ about it.
There’s another benefit to repetition in these sessions, and that is that it allows the lads to experiment with their learning. By taking something they’ve previously learned and playing with it, it helps to reinforce the knowledge and build on it further. It becomes a life lesson, rather than just an exercise in remembering something. Take the lads above as an example… They’d obviously raided the school toilets before they arrived here, as they had a pile of tissue paper to try to light. We don’t use toilet paper to light fires where I come from, but they wanted to give it a go, so give it a go they did. Only by allowing them the freedom to experiment this way did they discover that it’s isn’t the best tinder around. They also (re)learned once they’d burned all their tissue, the importance of collecting something else to KEEP the fire going. It was great to watch though, and we were able to revisit what we’d discussed last week. We talked further about why some of their fires were successful and others weren’t, we talked about the fire triangle, which materials burned well, and why some fires are so smokey (see photo). I think the most important part of this particular little exercise was just asking them what they thought. Why did THEY think something worked or failed. I never once gave them the answers, I only ever facilitate them making these discoveries for themselves. I think perhaps that is an important distinction between forest school and regular school. Particularly for this group. I think it was fitting that they had a smoked marshmallow as a reward for their perseverance.
After our fire-lighting and marshmallow experiments, some of the lads decided they wanted to go on an epic walk and they wanted me to go with them. That’s actually happening more and more, and it’s nice to feel like the guys are accepting me. I’m becoming the ‘responsible’ adult of choice around the place 🙂 I think it’s because I’m a big fan of letting them discover the forest on their own terms. So long as they’re safe, I don’t really ever tell them they can’t do something. I guess they’re not especially used to that.
Anyway, a-walking we went….
We managed to find a pretty cool natural den amongst the tangled roots of a holly bush, and the little stream ran right by it. The sunlight came dappling through the branches and the place seemed pretty magical. I don’t think I was the only one to appreciate it either. The rest of the lads were brought over to investigate, and pretty quickly I ended up with all of the group to watch over. Obviously at that point they wanted to separate, so I’m left with a decision to make about where I go and with who. I really think perhaps one of the five other adults on site should have dragged themselves away from the fire, but hey… It’s a lesson learned.
The great thing about coming here every week, and having some of the same lads every week is that I’m starting to appreciate their personalities. One of the group who came on our epic walk is probably seen as difficult. He’s always the one we seem to get warned about, but as the weeks have gone on he seems to have calmed down and he’s becoming more independent. He’s becoming more responsible with it, but I think he’s the type of guy who likes his own company and he does have a tendency to wander off on his own. He doesn’t have much patience for waiting for other people. He’s definitely starting to appreciate the woods more, but he wants to do it at his own pace. To some degree that’s happening with every member of the group. As they become more comfortable with their surroundings, they’re becoming more comfortable with each other. They get along much better now than they ever did, but this new-found comfort brings with it a desire to push their individual boundaries. As a group they’re getting closer, but as individuals they’re becoming more diverse. As individuals they’re getting easier to handle, but as a group they’re getting harder to manage. Something to think about for future sessions.
To top off the afternoon, the group decided to investigate the ‘pond’ that we have on site. I use the word pond very loosely. It’s better described as a fetid bog of brown mess. It’s only inches deep, but in sections the sticky mud is well over welly boot height, as just about all members of the group took great pleasure in finding out. I think perhaps, as they were squelching up and down deeper in the mud, they were expecting me to tell them off. Maybe they were disappointed that I didn’t, but as I mentioned before, I like to let them make their own mistakes and discover things in their own way. As I stood and watched them stomping in the mud, I noticed one lad who was totally absorbed by the whole business of squelching. He spent a fair bit of time testing the sinking feeling, and the pull of the mud on his boots as he dragged his leg out. It occurred to me that this was perhaps the first time he’d ever been in mud like this, and I was pleased to see that he seemed to be enjoying himself in such a simple way. However I was even more pleased to realise that it was the end of the session, and cleaning these lads up was not my responsibility. It really is a pleasure to help these lads find their feet in the forest, it’s just a pity that they find them in four inches of stinking bog water 🙂
It’s a wonderful time of year right now and as the winter finally gives way to spring, the forest begins to colour with new life. I’m starting to notice more green leaves each week, as more and more species dare to poke their heads above ground and take their chance in the world. Taking a walk in the woods at this time of year affords you the pleasure of seeing the world come alive, but it’s also a great opportunity to see some of the fungi and ground dwelling species that will soon be covered with brambles and fern in the coming weeks. As I walked around the woods with the lads today, I chanced upon a few fungi which I will soon attempt to ID, along with shoots of new growth all around. Here are some photos. If anyone can help with identification of the fungi, I’d be most appreciative. I’ve taken a guess at some of them, and labelled things below. Take a look and see if you can help 🙂
On Saturday last week I had a little meet up with some of the guys that were on my initial training week, along with some lovely new faces who are also currently working through their level 3 portfolios. I think we had around 12 or 13 people come along, which was great!
The idea was to have a little bit of social time in the woods with like-minded people, and to practice some of the skills needed for assessment week. With that in mind, we had all sorts of fun with shelter building, fire lighting, knots, species ID, and whittling. We followed that with a trip to the pub, and later on to another pub for some food. All in all, it was a really nice day. So nice in fact, that I hardly took any photos! Anyway, I thought I’d share what I did take here.
Thanks to everyone who came. It was lovely to see my forest family again, and to meet some new ones. I’ll arrange another meetup soon 🙂
So it’s been another beautiful day out there in the woods today, and a fabulous session to boot. Once again we’ve played host to the lads from a local school, all of whom are taken out of mainstream schooling due to their challenging behaviour. They come out to the woods as a break from classroom learning, and even on a wet and windy day it seems to do them a world of good. On a lovely mild and sunny day like today it’s just brilliant for them!
We tend to get a different mixture of lads each week, with some of them coming fairly regularly and others just coming to a single session. This can make it hard to track any longer term progress they make, so all I can ever really comment on is how they seem at the beginning of the session compared to the end. On top of that, there’s usually some indication from the teachers who accompany them how they’ve been behaving in school that morning. Today we were told that one of the lads had been particularly challenging earlier in the day, and we were expecting the worst. More on that later.
When the group arrived they were certainly full of beans and some of the guys came bounding over, excited to get started. This in itself is unusual behaviour, as they’re normally quite reluctant to be doing anything at all until they relax a bit. However, today the sun was shining and the forest school gods were smiling down on us. The whole group seemed happy and keen to be cracking on. That being the case they ran straight over to the packed hammocks and went about the business of putting them up. This again is quite unusual, as they normally want us to do that for them. Today they did it all by themselves and were soon swinging away merrily.
Obviously, mere moments later the chaps were looking for their next challenge, and they decided that they wanted to try lighting their own fires. Great! Enthusiasm, and proactive behavior. I’ve not really seen much of that from this group before, so on we go. Some of the chaps wanted to work together, and others wanted to work alone. All were given the opportunity to light a fire with cotton wool, flint and steel, and whatever else they could find. You want to know something? They all succeeded with little or no help! All of them demonstrated some understanding of how to get a fire going and how to keep it going. They’d obviously seen either we practitioners or Bear Grylls doing it before, as there was a lot of ember blowing and poking with various degrees of success.
What was really nice to see in all this was the amount of determination displayed by every single one of the lads. They were NOT going to be beaten! But there was no frustration, no anger, no giving in. Each of them in their own way just knuckled down and got on with it. One lad in particular earned my respect as he’d decided to work alone and it took him a long long time to get his fire going. Much longer than the others. He tried and tried, thought about it, and tried again. That lad kept trying until he succeeded, and he deserves a pat on the back for his efforts.
Remember how we were expecting trouble with one of the guys earlier? Well… You’d never have known he’d been causing trouble earlier that day from his behaviour in the woods today. He was brilliant. Not content with just lighting a fire, he wanted to replicate something he’d seen on a Bear Grylls show. Ok, well… crack on then! So crack on he did. He spent most of the afternoon scouring the woods for the right materials to build a kind of cairn-like structure that turned out to be some kind of smoke signal. He constructed the structure, dug earth to funnel air in to the entrance, filled it with combustible materials, and had some success in lighting it. All the while keeping himself perfectly busy and entertained, with not a hint of challenging behaviour or anger. Absolutely spot on lad! Another pat on the back.
While all this was going on, we had another lad who’d decided he wanted to build a den in the woods. Again… this is unusual behaviour. I’d asked the teachers weeks ago if the kids would like to build dens and was told that they’d tried once with them and it had been a catastrophic failure. Apparently these lads don’t have the necessary attention span to build dens. Well, here’s a photo that says otherwise.
The keen-eyed amongst you will recognise part of that structure from my last session review. Indeed, the children on Saturday had already laid out the basic structure, but today our little engineer has extended, elevated, roofed, insulated, and consolidated! I think that’s pretty good going for a chap who doesn’t have the attention span to build a den.
I was told that this particular little lad always falls asleep in the van on the way home. Apparently he doesn’t get out much. Each day after getting home from school, he shuts himself away in his room until he’s picked up for school the next morning. I’m told that these few hours in the woods are the entirety of the time he spends outdoors. You know what… I can tell! This kid is clearly starved of contact with the outside world and he certainly did his best to make up for lost time today. He very clearly had a great time and he never stopped searching for bigger sticks and better materials. It was great to see him pottering around in his borrowed school wellies.
Meanwhile, back at base camp…..
So there we are… It just goes to show. You can’t write anyone off just because they failed once. You can’t even write anyone off if they ‘fail’ quite a lot of the time. It takes persistence to achieve anything, but when it comes to kids with challenging behaviour I think it takes even more persistence than usual. Failure is subjective anyway. Ray Mears might judge these fires and these dens to be a failure, but for these lads they were major successes. That’s not to belittle the lads either. They’re young and they’re only just beginning to grasp the fickle ways of fire and of nature. What they should be proud of is their persistence, and their ability to keep going in the face of immediate failure in a calm and constructive way. If you can do that in ANY situation, then you’ve turned a failure in to a success. An important lesson for any forest school practitioner to learn, and one these kids have taught me today in spectacular fashion.
Time for an aside? Yeah why not?! Read more below.
Does anyone else find themselves not wanting to leave the woods when they’ve finished their sessions? Everyone else always seems happy to pack up and ship out, but often I find myself hanging back. I think it’s important as practitioners that we allow ourselves time alone in the woods. To some degree, this is the reason we’re on this journey at all. As role models for the children who come to spend time here, it’s important that we never forget what magic the forest has to offer. It’s important that the forest doesn’t become just a work place.
So today, as everyone else drives away, I decide to make one last cup of tea for myself. As I sit alone looking out across green fields and bare trees, a stillness falls over the place and I slowly but surely tune back in to nature. Closing my eyes, a gentle breeze ebbs and flows all around me. The swirling of the trees stills my mind. Behind me is the low snap and crackle of the kelly kettle, and somewhere in the far distance I can hear the whoop and squeal of happy children playing. It’s amazing, but right here in this moment I have everything I need. Here in this moment, life is simple. Everything is as it should be, and in the silence of the forest I’m amazed how many birds are singing. I wonder if they’ve been singing the whole time, and I think surely they must have been. Nature is always there, if we listen.