While the subject of drought didn’t come up on our walk today, the widespread drought conditions offered some context for the dry and denuded landscape that we wandered through on our first wintery walk.
Rugged up in our winter coats, our small group of 10 children and 3 adults had ventured outside to get to know the surrounds of the preschool a little more closely.
The exposed earth was mostly covered in low tufts of dry grass and bark, with patches that had been reduced to soft yellow dust. Occasionally, in some low shady areas, green glints of moss were visible; a sign that this diverse lakeside environment was still holding moisture in places.
The children seemed to want to connect to the place through earth. Many stopped to reach down and feel the softness of dust underfoot. Some stomped through dirt to break down the harder clumps, stepping back to see if the clump had broken down and at the same time witnessing the imprint of their own shoes in the dry earth. As they squashed the clumps, one explained: ‘it becomes dirt’. A couple of the children stayed with these dirt patches for a long time. Scratching at the ground and letting the earth run through their fingers. One called us back to show what would happen when he slowly released the crushed dirt from a standing height – a mini dust storm ensued.
As the children were digging around the edges of the dusty holes, some wondered how the holes were made – ‘by a human, a bunny rabbit or maybe a fox’ some suggested. Others thought the holes might be home to ‘mouses or something with sharp teeth, like crocodiles.’
Some children noticed the presence of clear, sharp shadows across the grass: ‘Look, the shadows are following us’. They started to run and move around, pointing at their shadows as they did so.
One child looked up and pointed to something in the distance – ‘Look, look, that one is coming from the tree’, recognising that other objects cast shadows too. Another child saw a shadow flittering across the ground – I think that was a bee, she said, because I can hear a buzzing sound. Some children also knew that shadows might not always be around, with one explaining ‘at night time there is no shadows’. When the children stopped to look at their shadows, two of them also noticed that other things fell under their shadow – pointing to a small discarded cocoon shell lying on the ground, they said ‘look, now it’s in my shadow, I’m making it all dark’.
As the children ran with the shadows, they seemed to engage in a complex exchange with sun, plants, animals, earth, light and dark – moving in ways that revealed their own fleeting entanglements in a shifting series of effects and relations. The sun might be helping to cast the length and depth of a shadow, but the children were in turn playing with the sunlight, by shaping and changing the shadows that were cast. Using their bodies and the sunlight, the children also brought changes to the spaces inhabited by other small creatures, while at the same time showing awareness that this was not something they could make happen all the time, but that was connected also to the circumstances of light, time and place.
Despite the cool temperature, the sunshine was bright. This made it easy to find spiders (or the remains of spiders) and the children spent some time seeking out the spider skeletons that were made translucent by richness of the shining winter sun.
By the end of our walk, one child declared that they needed to go back inside as their head was ‘hot’. Another agreed, saying yes, my head is getting ‘sweaty’. Looking puzzled, another child said ‘I’ve got a hat on so my head is not getting hot’. This conversation captured some of the confusion we all felt about how to best dress for this sunny winter’s day as shown by our motley mix of headgear that ranged from bare heads, to woollen beanies, to hoodies and sun hats.