She replied with enthusiasm and even invited me to her place for dinner. She told me that I could accompany the group on Friday to the urban canyon where they've been spending time lately.
"What's an urban canyon?" I asked.
"San Diego is full of them - it's built around canyons," Patti replied.
Before the children came, I met the teachers. Then the children arrived one by one, backpacks ready, sunhats on.
Together, we walked down to the clearing to find this friendly face:
Everyone scattered, picking up a treasure and coming to sit in a circle on the blanket. We each showed our gifts and put them into the special woven Kumeyaay basket. I looked around as the basket was passed - taking in this very different forest setting - with prickly pear cactus, palm trees, eucalyptus, and chaparral shrubs. The land was very dry. There were paths leading down to a valley, with trees and shrubs lining each side of the canyon. A tiny hummingbird perched in a nearby tree, its squeaks letting us know that we were in its territory.
We listened to Miss Libby tell a story about rain (it had rained the night before - a rare gift here in a 3 year period of drought), then the children negotiated a plan for the day:
1. go through the tunnel
3. have lunch
4. see our parents!
We were ready. We set out into the urban canyon forest. On the way, we stopped to look at some sap on a eucalyptus tree.
"That tree's not native," one boy told me.
"What does native mean?" I asked.
"Means it belongs here from a long time ago," he answered.
We set up camp for a time of exploring and creating. Lots of things took place during this time: negotiating, digging, identifying plants, tasting plants, running, painting with watercolours and sticks, working with clay, drilling, identifying scat, listening for nearby birds, dressing up as princesses, building sandcastles, making a red carpet runway to welcome royalty, and hiding in the shrubby bushes.
Along the path, the children showed me fennel plants. They picked some seeds - high enough where coyote pee wouldn't affect them.
"Taste it! Try it!" they encouraged me.
I reached out to pluck some.
"You have to ask the plant first," one boy cautioned, a little anxiously.
My hand froze in mid-air, my eyes automatically looked down. I paused.
"It said yes," he told me.
So I took some and ate the yummy-spicy seeds.
They showed me other plants too, and encouraged me to smell them: black sagebrush, scrub oak, California sagebrush, primrose flowers, and others I can't remember. :)
In the 4 hours that I spent with these children, the Kumeyaay people were mentioned many times. This practice - of asking the plant first - comes from honouring the traditions of these people who lived on this land long ago. It made me think more about how we can incorporate wisdom from the Six Nations people who used to live on the land we use in our area of Canada - this is something we want to do.
They gave the children the freedom to explore, but were always within sight. If any child got a bit too far away, they used the "owl call" to make everyone freeze like mice. This kept the children within a safe boundary even as they explored multiple sites.
Patti and I discovered that not only do we share a love of connecting children to nature, but also a love of chocolate! Over cinnamon masala hot cocoa, coffee, and a sea salt-caramel-lavender cupcake (not pictured here - already devoured) we shared ideas and inspirations, questions, contacts, and resources. It was a fruitful day, and I'm so thankful for Patti's hospitality. I returned truly inspired and excited to put new ideas into practice.
Thank you, Patti and At Home in Nature for a wonderful experience!