Wild Art: Exploring Local History

I had the great fortune of exploring some of our local natural and historical sites with some 8-13-year-olds this week. Our home was previously logged and explored for mining, so there are artifacts from this time scattered all over the second-growth forests, here. We had six hours to explore, some useful and rugged gear, and enough food and warm drinks to keep us nourished.

The first stop was the lower Mt. Gardner mine adit. There are four such adits on the western side of Mt. Gardner, and this one is the most accessible, so it's where we began our day. Apparently the Bonanza adit was after gold, but obviously they gave up before getting very far. The entrance to the adit is full of a very deep and long puddle, which makes a great home for frogs and salamanders, both of which we managed to catch a glimpse of, as we entered the dark. Just a little further in we found a harvester (photo), and two pairs of giant mating crickets!

Eventually the rock floor emerged from the puddle, and we explored both forks of the adit with our flashlights. We found some interesting numbers spray-painted on the walls, and wondered about their meaning, and we found both ends of the tunnel had old broken chairs and wet fabric dumped in them. There were also used tea-light candles stashed all over the place, the remains of a cardboard beer box, and some other bits of garbage. The kids decided that people like to hang out in the mines, or possibly store their belongings there so nobody takes them.

Then we turned off our lights. This was a big achievement for those kids who had required two attempts to enter the mine in the first place, but they chose to stay and challenge themselves to brave the dark - and they did it! With the lights out at the end of the mine, it's so dark that we can't see our own hands in front of our faces. We can't tell the difference between eyes closed and eyes open. And when we're quiet we hear every movement of our bodies inside the rock mountain.

But when we sing? Well that's amazing. We began just testing out single sounds and single notes and ended by singing the Hard Rock Miner, together, before returning to the light. Being enrobed in the reverberating sound is an experience you'd have to try out yourself to imagine.

Then we headed into the forest!

This part of the forest is richly carpeted with moss, making it feel not just welcoming but also very peaceful and enchanting. Somebody who obviously feels the same way has built a stone circle in this area, and we found it a perfect spot for an earth meditation.

Earth meditation is something I like to do with people as a way of connecting with the environment we're exploring. We begin by stretching and relaxing into the ground, then closing our eyes and calmly observing what we feel and hear. Of interest is not just what we observe, but what about it. Where does the sound appear to come from? Is it near or far? Is it moving - where? What are the different feelings in and around our bodies? How are those feelings different from each other?

Then we open our eyes, and this is what we see. Well... of course it's a lot richer than this photo can illustrate. We look at the texture of the bark closer to us, and the difference between the needles up close and those that are farther away.

We compare the colour of the sky directly above with the colour of the sky all around the edges of our view. We look at small details and we look at the big picture. This photo can't do it justice, because really it looks circular, like a dome. Sometimes we see raindrops or bits of debris falling towards us and can observe perspective in real time. When we're finished observing and talking about what we discover, we simply get up and move on.

Near the stone circle is a fort that a previous group of kids began building a few months ago, so this group continued it. They also built secret caches for treasures they were finding, and began a large game of invasion and reconstruction between what turned out to be two distinct fort areas. Weapons such as this spear and hammer (right) were built and traded, and various forms of defense were invented as well. One that was new to me was a system of defensive lasers that could only be turned off by singing a very precise series of notes. If the "password" was sung correctly, the lasers would turn off; if not, the singer would encounter booby traps.

As the game evolved, it necessitated a couple of brief conversations about comfort levels for attacks, and the time needed to develop and repair, between attacks. Eventually this game petered out, and we went down the mountain in search of the old steam donkey.

During lunch time I was informed that all of these kids have learned the song Donkey Riding in school, but that all of them thought it was about a donkey (animal). Of course it's not, and we of the pacific rainforests are accustomed to finding the remains of steam donkeys in our wilderness, so we had a great opportunity to talk about that song! When you're "stowing timber on the deck" you're certainly not riding on a small equine, but rather a great honking steam-powered engine!!

Riding on a donkey!

A few meters away from this main boiler, we found the rusty old top of the donkey, as well as some old cable, and other metal parts. Eventually, over the rest of the day, we found many stumps with spring-board notches cut into them, and also one with spikes in it. We wondered whether perhaps that was close to the spar tree, as we also found a huge pulley, there. If you're interested to see all this gear in action, here is some old silent footage of Vancouver Island logging. Watch for the man cutting and preparing the spar tree, then installing the giant pulley, then you will see a clip of the loggers "riding the donkey" (this is what they're talking about in the song!), and finally you see them start to use it:

Of course all this excitement wouldn't be nearly enough. There is a great creek running through the area we were in, and it had to be explored! This creek offers a mini canyon, as well as a great tumbling section of rounded rocks and precarious logs for climbing on. We had many near-soakings and a couple of near boot-fillings.

The day wrapped up with a great game of witch's potions, cache-building, dam-building and water play.

We came out of the woods completely exhausted, but all having made discoveries that were unexpected, inspiring and engaging. I have no idea what parts of this day will stick in the hearts and minds of the kids I shared it with, but for me, it will be yet another day where I opened myself to experience and came home rich. What a perfect day!