The Fire Keepers were busy keeping fire and shapeshifting into wild animals last Wednesday at Whatcom Falls Park!
After a morning spent playing Animal Form Games (activities built around playful imitation of animals for physical development, energy release, empathy, and imagination), the Fire Keepers heard the tale of how Norman Powell (founding elder of Wilderness Awareness School) got his nature name:
Norman was born of British ancestry but spent his childhood running barefoot through the plains of Kenya with the young warriors of the neighboring Akamba tribe. From his boyhood friend, Endaka, Norman learned how to track, hunt, and live close to the Earth. After a series of synchronicities and close encounters with a leopard, Norman was given the nature name Ingwe, which translates to “Leopard” in Zulu and other African languages. Norman spent the rest of his days moving silently through the forests like a leopard and seeking wisdom from this incredibly stealth wild cat . .
After story, the Fire Keepers were given a 15 minute fire challenge. They were challenged to work together as a group to build a solid and sustainable fire structure without any help from Pat or me. They had to harvest their own materials and decide on how to establish the structure. Once they had a structure going, it was time for us to see if the fire would light up and sustain itself. Pat and I almost handed them the flint and steel striker, but instead we opted to get a friction fire coal. Pat and I each worked on getting a coal with our bow-drill kits, working in tandem with a few kids. It was awesome! All the hard work and effort eventually gave us a big beautiful coal, which was placed into the tinder bundle (that the Fire Keepers had made) and then blown into fire. The fire structure was full of dry materials so it lit up quite nicely. Success!
Once the fire was going, the Fire Keepers added some larger pieces of wood so that we could get some nice coals going, over which they would fire-harden the “digger-boppers” that they had carved last week. Fire-hardening is the process of removing moisture from wood by slowly and lightly charring it over a fire, as a means of making the wood more durable. We spent a good amount of time fire-hardening, then we painted up our faces with charcoal!
Another highlight of our day on Wednesday was Nature Names! Each Fire Keeper got a chance to pick a nature name from an assortment of animal pictures that were turned over so they couldn’t see them. Then, rather than revealing the animal picture right away, each Fire Keeper played a guessing game to try to figure out which animal they had picked. It was awesome to see how well the animals truly suit each kid, even though they were chosen randomly!
The idea behind having a “Nature Name” is to connect more deeply with a particular animal and to open up to whatever that animal has to teach you. Nature names establish a platform for deeper observation and journaling. Some people say that we pick our nature names randomly out of a hat, other people say that the name picks us! We challenge each student to “become” their own animal, much like how Ingwe "became" the Leopard.
After we chose our nature names, we played an epic game of Rabid Badger, then spent a bit of time looking through field guides and journaling about our animals. We’ll be sure to do more exploration of our nature names over the next few weeks!