October 23, 2007
Unstructured time in nature, baby
Above the wooden "No Swimming" sign, a bright red sign warns: "Violators subject to $100 fine. And/Or 15 days in Jail." That sign has been there, at the side of Pretty Colour Lake for as long as I can remember. We've always treated it as a joke.
Imagine three criminals exchanging stories in the prison dining hall.
"Whadda you in for?"
"Assault and robbery."
"Me? I went swimming in Pretty Colour Lake."
I'd told my students about the sign, but I think most of them thought I was teasing. When we arrived at the lakes, they kept saying, "The sign! It's really there!"
We'd come, simply, to leave the city behind to spend "unstructured time in nature." After reading Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, a book which talks about how children nowadays suffer from what he calls "nature-deficit disorder," my students kept saying, "We need some unstructured time in nature! The book says so." So I signed up for one of our buses and brought my students on a fall day to one of my favourite places.
We hiked back to the second lake, Round Lake, a small glacial lake with incredible green-blue water. Some of the students wandered off to explore the trails, climb trees, or sit quietly with their journals. Another group sat near the edge of the water, chatting lazily and looking out over the lake. Formed by a glacier, this small deep lake is surrounded by hills that rise sharply from the trails. We were the only humans in this little valley of hardwoods and cedar trees.
Of course, my students found the clear water of the lake, on this unseasonably warm fall day, impossible to resist. The threat of a prison sentence did not deter them. They stripped off what clothes they could, the guys getting down to boxer shorts and the women to t-shirts or sports bras. The water gets deep immediately, so they had only to step off the shore to plunge in over their heads. Other students climbed the cedar trees that hang over the edge to leap more dramatically into the cold water.
Not everyone went swimming. RedCurlyHair and LovelyVoice sat on a rock in the sun, sketching. One student had brought her camera to snap photos of the illegal activities. TallGuy demonstrated his prowess at skipping stones. CameraGirl set down her camera to fashion a boat out of twigs and leaves, a sailboat that actually did float across the water. FromElsewhere, who was playing in the water at the edge, picked up a hunk of smooth clay, and the students began rubbing the clay on their faces, their hands, their arms. We were talking quietly, in hushed voices as if we were in church, and rubbing the clay onto skin was a strange ritual somehow in keeping with the changing leaves, the sound of geese overhead, and the soft autumn air.
Eventually, it was time to walk back to the buses. Storm clouds had rolled in, and rain came crashing down. Half of my students were already wet, and no one seemed to mind. By the time we got to the parking lot, big puddles had formed, and we splashed through them gleefully. Everyone was laughing and talking as we piled onto the bus, some clutching handfuls of wild grapes. SparklyEyes said to me, as she walked soggily past, "This was so wonderful. It's like all the stress of the semester just melted away."
One of my students climbing out to leap into the lake.
Posted by jo(e)