Monday, August 17, 2015

Protecting Ourselves

We're lucky to have several large trees in our outdoor classroom, mostly cedars, providing shade in the summer and rain cover in the winter. A couple years back, our landlords needed to remove one of them, leaving us with a stump up at one end of the concrete slide. If you pressed me to guess what kind of tree it was, I would guess it was a type of hawthorn.

At one time, I'd imagined "doing something" with the stump, like making it into a throne or sculpture of some sort, but it's been a year or more since I've thought about it. As children were arriving last Thursday, I was monkeying around with the cast iron water pump, which has been acting like it might be ready for a new set of leather fittings, when I backed into some foliage and felt a sharp prick to my forearm. The stump, as stumps do, had been sending out dozens of root suckers, a process that had apparently been happening for some time, since some of them as big around as my thumb and a good eight feet long. And along those stems were long, sharp thorns.

Kids have been playing up there for months, maybe years, now without complaint. In fact the thorny branches had mingled with the lilac branches creating a tunnel through which the children ducked as a backdoor access to the top of the concrete slide.

I said to the nearest kid, "Hey, check out these thorns."

Soon I had a half dozen children crowded around to take a look. Some of them cautiously and intentionally pricked their fingers, scientists confirming an hypothesis. 

Oliver, a five-year-old, said, "We need to protect the little kids."

His twin brother, Mateo said, "I'll get the caution cones." He was joined by several other kids and soon we had a circle of orange cones around the dangerous thorns that had not, to my knowledge, done anything to anyone other than me. Of course, for all I know, children have been getting poked for months, shaken it off as one of the prices of their play, then moved on without comment.

Alexis thought we should remove them, "We could break them off." As the team of "big kids" doubled down on their security measures by standing just outside the cones warning off any "little kids" who happened by, she carefully took hold of the nearest sucker, found a long thorn and carefully broke it off. She had brought me a rose from her family's garden the previous week, so she knew her way around thorns.

I said, "That will take a long time."

Oliver agreed, "Teacher Tom, you should cut all the branches off."

The only tools we have around the place for pruning are saws, so I asked, "Would a saw work?"

The kids agreed a saw would do the trick, so as I went to the tool shed, the big kids stayed behind to caution little kids. My idea was to collect the severed suckers in a pile and to then properly dispose of them, but the kids had other ideas, thinking they would make a good bad guy trap. As Mateo explained it, "The bad guys will come in and get poked and then leave."

They were so incredibly careful as they picked up those thorny suckers, pinching them between their fingers, seeking out just the right place to grip them. Soon there were a half dozen big kids walking around, gingerly holding their branches, moving as if they were almost afraid to move lest they hurt themselves or others. They took this business seriously. A few of them couldn't handle the pressure and returned their branches to me, but others, being careful not to stand too close to one another, discussed the best location for their bad guy trap, finally settling on the top of the stump, which by now had been cleared of thorny suckers.

They stood back looking at their trap. I asked, "Don't you need some bait?" We've had lots of discussions about bait over the course of the last year.

Wyatt said, "The best bait for bad guys is money."

"Does anyone have any money?"

Some of them had some at home, but our pockets were empty. They stood looking at their trap for awhile, then Alexis said, "Teacher Tom, you should probably just throw the pokey branches away," and her friends agreed, so I did.

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Unknown said...

They were so incredibly careful as they picked up those thorny suckers, pinching them between their fingers, seeking out just the right place to grip them.

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Anonymous said...

So profound and beautiful. Just what I needed in this moment. Thank you.