The Grass Bit Me: Language through Experience
Every once in a while, something happens during our summer programs that really reminds us all at Farrington of the importance of the work that we do. On Friday, a couple of staff took the 5 and 6 year olds from the Cambridge Community Center on a hike. I joined them on the start of their hike, and it was clear they needed a little pick-me-up to get them into the hike. I suggested they start the group off by foraging for the delicious wild blackberries that are ripe throughout early August near the garden.
As a group, we talked about going slow while harvesting berries so you get the berry, and not the thorn, and so you make sure you get only the ripe blackberries. They went off and started picking and eating as many ripe blackberries as they could find.
As we were gathering the group to move on with our hike, one staff member and camper were behind, picking their final blackberries. Then the camper started yelling, “The grass bit me! The grass bit me!” Her counselor came over to her to try to provide comfort but the girl was inconsolably crying. I knew that continuing the walk was not an option for her at that moment. I offered to walk her back to the building and give her an ice pack, asking that the counselor continue with the group.
When the howls of pain continued even as we moved away from the group, I knew it couldn’t just be itchy grass. I had her sit on a wooden stump and took a look at where she felt the pain. Lo and behold, the grass had not bitten her. She was the recipient of her first bee sting (well, wasp sting). She must have accidentally stepped on it while picking blackberries.
Ice packs soothe all wounds. Once I got her into a comfy chair in the office with an ice pack shaped like a bee, the cries subsided, and she began to chatter again. Occasionally, she would fidget in her chair and ask, “Are you going to make me go outside again?” I said, “No, you are welcome to stay in here while your group is walking. We will go outside to the picnic tables for lunch, though.” She calmed as she realized she wouldn’t have to go back in the woods.
As we sat in the office, I told her about the first time I was stung by a bee, and told her about the brave, adventurous club of people who had been stung by a bee. I told her she had earned the right to join the club, and asked if she would like to. She shook her head yes as her counselor came in to grab her for lunch. “Are you ready to come back outside?” She shook her head yes. After lunch, when the group took a small walk to gather materials to make their own nature masks, she joined right in.
Most of the time, what we do at Farrington is to try to provide the best positive experience in nature that we can for the campers that come out. Sometimes, however, what we do is provide campers a bit of language, a way of understanding their experience, so that they can continue to engage with nature even if something decidedly not positive happens.
What I hope is that the next time my friend goes blackberry picking, she keeps an eye out not only for the ripest of ripe blackberries and the thorns, but perhaps also the ground underneath the bush. No matter what, now she is part of the bee sting club, and that club has lifetime membership!