By Ms. Marla Witcher, 6th Grade Teacher.
The sixth grade class took an incredible trip to Mount Shasta, California during the last few days of September. This time together in nature provided such an important educational opportunity for all of us, truly educating our head, heart and hands.
The visionary founder, Tim Corcoran, and the staff of Headwaters Outdoor School are dedicated to sharing their love and appreciation of nature with students of all ages. These naturalists have educated themselves from direct experience and observations of nature as well as academic study of the natural phenomena of earth. The whole experience was a learning to tend the earth, care for ourselves, and care for each other and our community.
We spent our first night hiking to a hillside using only the reflected light of the half moon to light our way. We listened carefully to the sound of gushing water. Just ahead was a spring flowing from the mountain side. After quenching our thirst from these fresh waters, we continued up the hill to peer at the silhouette of Mount Shasta, which was due east.
We began our first astronomy lesson as we gazed into the open sky to see the Milky Way and the constellations of Cassiopeia and Cygnus.
Carefully scrambling down the hillside, we discovered the importance of slowing down and being quiet so as to hear the leader more clearly and perhaps catch a flicker of reflected light from a friend’s clothing to find our way back to camp.
The second day was dedicated to the sweat lodge. Becoming of age, the sixth graders were offered the opportunity to experience the sacred space of the sweat lodge.
We had helped close the lodge last year by putting away the blankets covering this sacred lodging. This year, we humbly entered the lodge, which in Native American traditions represents the womb of our Mother Earth. We sang songs of welcome and gratitude as hot stones were doused with mountain waters. This space was completely dark except for the occasional fiery flickers of the angelica herb as it was sprinkled onto the hot stones.
The heat and the darkness offered many opportunities to face our fear of the unknown. There were many moments we doubted ourselves. Do we have what it takes? Where is our courage? Can we face our challenges? With encouragement from our elders and our peers we found what it takes to sit with ourselves. We discovered that surrendering with song and prayer will reveal the courage we need to persevere. We all made it through the entire sweat.
We began each morning with a dip into the fresh mountain pools, then sat by the camp fire that the students eventually started themselves. We spent hours crafting beauty from the nature around us. We sculpted soapstone, made musical flutes from cane, and shakers from gords. We played in the woods. Some of us even made our own shelters we slept in for 3 of the 4 nights we were there.
Wednesday we traveled to Castle Lake, where we hiked to the ridge top. It was from the mountain top that we had our introduction to geology.
Sitting amongst igneous rock and peering at the view of three different volcanoes, we heard how these volcanoes are different from the volcanoes of Hawaii. This view that has been captured by so many artists with its wave after wave of mountain crests inspired us as well. After experiencing the hardest of granite rock we traveled to Lake Shasta to explore the Shasta Lake Caverns. Here we climbed 800 feet inside a cave that was dripping with stalagmites and stalactites. These rocks were still growing, and were very damp from the water seeping through the limestone.
These class trips are incredibly illuminating. We all unplug from our various screens and busy schedules. We slow down, quietly sit by a creek for an hour listening only to the moving waters and the sounds of the forest. After a couple of days of this quiet stillness we relax.