Grass Roots
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Roots         Trunk



I am taking time out of the woods, ensconced in a Cistercian Abbey in Ireland with the intention to do this particular piece of ‘head’ work and another on ‘Seasonal Practice’. I arrive ready to battle with books and words. My friend on the path, Father Michael, pulls on my brakes of eagerness: ‘Rest for the first day’, no practical indication as to what I should do on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th days but I accept his wisdom and ‘rest’.

In my resting day I wander to the Abbey’s pond, past a gentle flowing stream that talks wisdom if you’re prepared to listen. Reaching the pond two swans greet me with a kind and gentle encounter and a reachable swan feather. I thank them for the gift. I wander along the tree front of the pond and find myself resting for some time at the foot of a tree, silvery upper branches; delicate thin dead lower branches, roots shaping a bowl that I place a handful of hawthorn berries in. I sit and breathe and rest. In the resting my mind begins to explore the tree, the resources around the tree, the tangle of the brambles, the dead branches, dry grass and cleaver. Within 30 minutes I’ve made a noticeable difference to the surround of the tree trunk; a whimsical den is appearing with lattice work, bramble weaving, small areas of woven sticks, and larger area of weaving to create a canopy. This is a product of faerie delight and child like joy, not a shelter – implying a structure that can shield from wind and rain. I’m bemused by my lack of substantial ceiling . . . but that frosty, clear night as I lie in my whimsy and watch the stars so far away all becomes truly clear, this is a creation to connect with the elements and Nature, not to be protected from them. A flock of tits came flying past my first day there, eagerly landing on branches looking for sustenance, a blue tit 50cm above my head, still and busy both at the same time. My hawthorn berries left in the bowl are gone the following day; the only evidence of their presence one single nibbled and cleaned berry stone.

I return to my whimsical den each morn and eve, an hour a piece at least. My days are punctuated by Abbey prayers, an hour out walking, reading that is paced and panic free, and when I turn to write the words flow with ease, and are completed in such a short time that life appears simply to be a joyful mystery.

I reflect on the children in the Secret Garden; the ease with which they play, explore, create and wonder and I realise that all I did on my resting day was take myself back to the magic of being a child and wove this through all my days. I know that the hours of creation at the tree have opened up connection with the source of inspiration that is held in my head, hands and heart and that the results of this labour are words written easily. I hope that they are as easily understood. . .

The trunk of the tree offers us a view of its strength and tenacity to survive; can be viewed as a microcosm of the world, the bark rich in its species uniqueness. In its infancy the tree trunk forms as if compelled to reach the skies and stars, branches bursting forth to create the shape and provide nourishment to the growth and fruits and seeds to the universe. The roots move deep into the ground to support, the trunk is the visible strength.

The trunk, our visible strength at the Secret Garden, comes from our ‘caring adults’, a term that’s recently emerged after much musing on what to call the employees that work in the woods: staff . . practitioner. . facilitator? None of these rang as a true description of the important role carried by the adult. Neither did they aid in picking apart what are the actual strengths that we’re looking for in an applicant for the Secret Garden, and how do we train and support them to become visibly stronger in this role.

As an innovative and pioneering nursery that’s been operating for over 2 years in a clearly different way from many other nurseries we’ve arrived at a place of understanding of what is required of any established or new adult in the woods. From this we recognise the need to develop a training programme in order to support, extend and develop the role of the adult so the strength of our ‘trunk’ is reliably consistent – this we see as the creative challenge for our next year of growth.

The caring adult is in a position of immense responsibility; to care for the children in a way that ensures not one child comes to any physical or emotional harm whilst in the woods and yet also allows for the development of creative, confident, resilient beings.

We believe that the caring adult has to have the ability to:

  • offer spacious support in play and in routine activities,
  • develop compassionate listening and attention whether close to or far away from the child,
  • engage with all children with an understanding of the need for the child to be free of adult driven perceptions, yet
  • be consistent in maintaining the boundaries of constructive, creative, co-operative play.

There are a number of attributes that we see as being important for each adult to have that will support this ability to provide the above conditions for the children:

  • an awareness of the necessity and commitment to develop the practice of mindfulness; which leads to a still, quiet yet fully present carer, able to connect with both children and colleagues from a place of clear awareness
  • a commitment to finding their own sense of inspiration and creativity within Nature ; able to initiate creativity for themselves so that they ‘sparkle’ when in the woods and are able to mirror and extend the child’s delight.
  • open to awareness of the change in the children in Nature and being open and aware for change to occur in themselves o have a positive attitude to the weather at every point of the day; being particularly mindful of the calamity of mimicking weather forecasters attitudes to our very changeable weather system, the true beauty of any weather is its impermanence!

We caring adults also need to have an awareness of how to care for ourselves and one another; being able to reflect these awareness’s, reflections and evaluations of ourselves and our colleagues in the same manner as we do for the children: with optimism, mindful compassion and spacious awareness. Our connection with Nature which is always deepening helps us step up to this expectation of one another and hopefully is witnessed in our conduct by parents and children alike.