Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Big Skookum Adventure

Our kids love Minecraft, much to my constant annoyance, and they also love surprises. Sooo... we concocted a little (OK - EPIC) surprise for them. I've been spending a couple of hours a week, on average, since December, creating a "quest" in their Minecraft world. They like the idea because it gets me involved in their life, so they carefully stayed away from the area I was working in these whole long months I spent working on it. They had no idea how fabulous this quest was...

I'm proud of myself, so here's a little montage of some of the quest:

The quest led through all kinds of places, a sunken city, a secret squid cult, a dog island with vet and doggie spa, a love triangle, a swampy maze and a human board game. And in most places there seemed to be odd references to a place called Skookumchuck? Or was that Skooky Chunk? Kookum's Chunky? It depended who you talked to...

But eventually they came to a place called A Dream Come True Cottage, where they found a cake on the table (rather similar to our usual cake: nut cake with cream and berries), a hot tub, and... a little guide book to Skookumchuck Narrows.

Then out behind the cottage was a trail to "Skookumchuck Narrows", where boats were available to hurl themselves down the flow. At the end was a little dock on a small island, with final instructions asking the finder to pack various things in their real backpack, turn off Minecraft and get ready to go. Waiting in the kids' real-world backpacks was some information Markus had printed about the real-world Dream Come True Cottage we had rented, and the real-world Skookumchuck Narrows.


Bag packing.

We brought the book we're currently reading as a family...

...and sailed over to the Sunshine Coast in the early evening.

The words Skookum and Chuck come from a local trade-language (Chinook). Skookum means 'great', and chuck is pretty much the sea (I always thought it was waves). So the Skookumchuck Narrows is the narrow passage where the tides hurry through from the Jervis Inlet to the Sechelt Inlet and back again. This isn't the time of year for the 9ft waves, but it was pretty skookum anyway.

The hour-long walk out through the mossy forest is beautiful already.

And then the actual narrows is a lovely place to sit and watch the (aquatic) world go by. There was some sealife to photograph, so the kids did:

...barnacles feeding in the tidal wash.

On the way back up the trail we experienced a great crashing hailstorm that sounded like a waterfall hitting a tin ocean. Markus says hail stings your head if you don't have any hair to protect you!

Rhiannon enjoys geocaching, and we found this one outside the historic graveyard in Gibsons.

It's chilly up there, and once the weather took a turn for rainier times, we treated ourselves to a cup of tea, stopped to find a geocache, and went home to our own dear little house and warm woodstove.

Now I get to take a little break from Minecrafting. (Maybe for a couple of years or indefinitely!!) But the work (and my steep learning curve) was so worth it to see the kids' pleasure and excitement. I guess it mattered to them that I met them in their space on their terms. But mostly it was just great to get away, hike around, have some silly fun, and remember our bond as a family.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Wild Clay Harvesting and Separating

Recently one of my teen groups took an interest in harvesting wild clay, and decided to try refining it.

When we dig up the clay, it's not only quite crumbly, but also full of rocks, dirt, forest detritus and sand.

So over a period of a few weeks, these teens processed some of our local clay into a lovely smooth sculpting medium, and I thought I'd share the simple method they used.

We have easily-accessible clay all over our island, appearing in creeks and gullies, and dumped in shiny blue mountains when we excavate for wells and the like. This clay came from a very small creek. The group found mostly green clay, with a few pockets of a gorgeous pale blue-grey clay that was quite pure already. They used spoons, stones, a trowel and shovels to scrape their harvest from just above the water level, and found various benefits to each. It seems that the best way to collect the clay is to scrape it gently, dragging the side of a spoon, rock, or shovel along as you might drag your hand across bed linens to smooth them. The reason for this is that any digging into the clay removes chunks of crumbly clay that are quite difficult to grind or squish into a smooth lump. Scraping not only pushes water into the top layer, but pulls off such a small wet layer at a time that the resulting clay is much softer and doesn't require grinding or squishing to render it moldable.

Much of what the group collected was in fact crumbling and needed grinding, so once they had nearly half a bucket full, they used hands, a potato masher, and a shovel to grind it up until it was a nice heavy sludge. Some rocks and twigs were already coming out of it, and they removed those right away.

Then they left the clay slop in the bucket, undisturbed, where it settled out. After a week, we returned to find the rocks settled to the bottom, the sandiest clay above that, the smoother clay slip above that, and the water on top. At this point the group poured the water off the top, and the cleanest slip (about forty or fifty pounds worth) they poured into an old pillow case and hung up over the creek to settle again, and dry.

When we returned after another week, the clay hadn't dried as much as we hoped it would in the pillow case, but had settled nicely again, a layer of heavy sandy clay on the bottom, smooth sloppy clay in the middle, and slip on top. We easily scooped the best quality clay from the top of that in the bag and divided it among us.

Most of the group chose to use their sloppy clay to paint with, but some of us brought some home, where it will dry a little more (on a cloth-covered board) until it's a good working consistency.

Although this activity was, as usual, conceived by the group, I delighted in facilitating, and in seeing so many positive learning outcomes of the process. Most obviously, group working skills were developed, but so too were skills of problem-solving, improvisation, and process development. Working hands-on promotes a deeper understanding of the nature of this ecosystem, its constituents, and its changeability. When you separate out the layers of the forest floor you become familiar with it in a way that is deeper than mere description and images can convey. History, ecology, and engineering are integrated. And of course, when you're doing this exploratively, you are engaged through the process of genuine discovery. This activity was also a great opportunity to change a material that we regularly walk over without concern through a process of very simple refinement into a material that many people purchase in plastic bags. I think this not only strengthens our connection to wilderness, but also to our own ingenuity. Together these are part of what makes us human.

Tools for Improvisational Play

Sometimes I bring tools into the wilderness for play. Sometimes the tools are conventional, like a shovel and buckets for harvesting clay, but sometimes they're strange. And invariably, it seems that the strangest tools bring out the most creativity!

Yesterday, during a free-range exploration that ended up in a creek with a wonderful sandbar, I offered the following:
  • a whisk
  • a pillowcase
  • a tin can (opened in such a way that it had no sharp edges)
  • a steak knife
  • string
The whisk, knife and string, despite being initially the most enticing tools, were actually abandoned in the first few minutes. Using mostly the pillowcase and tin can, along with whatever they found in the wild, the group of six pre-teens worked collaboratively to conceive and create a very functional bridge over moving water, and to separate the sandbar into two islands.

The sandbar cleft was hard work, and they improvised fantastically, using the pillowcase (with various combinations of sand, mud and water) as a bucket, battering ram, and scraper-shovel. The can was useful for digging, prying, scooping, and throwing water.

The bridge-building was very challenging, since the flow of the creek washed out most of the sand, mud, and wood they threw in. But after much experimentation, the group succeeded in securing a large rotten log with sticks, so that the water could easily flow underneath while not disturbing the positioning of the log. They stabilized both ends of the log using bark, mud, sticks, and pillowcase-fulls of sand. After many crossings, the bridge became increasingly stable, and the kids were mightily proud of their work.