Category Archives: dens

The Village

It is only accessible by foot after a short trek through elders, balsam firs and scrub brush. Then it’s there before you, almost camouflage. The stream skirting the space runs fast now with winter melt and frequent rains. The water rattles over the rocks and whispers under the footbridge of fallen trees.

DSC03139The Weaponry with original siding

It’s here that the boys are building The Village. It started with two found pieces of siding. Nestled in the branches and leaning against trees, they become walls. Scavenging is now a favourite activity. New items have a structural, or decorative use and some become part of the weaponry. The Weaponry is one of The Village’s three rooms. It’s the place where tools are made. Note the garbage can lid shield and a bucket for sharpened spears.

Next to The Weaponry is The Lodge. It seems to be more about relaxation, less about imaginary warfare. A scraggly Christmas wreath made of woven synthetic wired fabric greets visitors at the main entrance. Just over the threshold there is a tattered old deck chair cushion faded yet serviceable. It’s a good place to grab a seat as it acts as a barrier to the wet, spongy ground.

DSC03153A makeshift chair offers an inviting spot to rest

The Lodge has a great view too, a vista of the water rushing past. It’s so close you can dip and dangle your fingers. This is a place of found objects – branches of trees, old crumbling logs, rocks, plastic pails, real estate signs, curved handles from shovels, a broken radio, a hubcap, siding and yes, a wreath. But check out the view of the water.

Across from The Weaponry and The Lodge is The Lumbershop. Here we see a few old logs standing on end. We’re told they are the raw material for tools. We’re on a 3G tour with our lad Noah showing myself and my papa all the sights. To Noah’s chagrin, his two young sisters and one of their friends are tagging along. He is not keen on either of them knowing the location.

DSC03159The Lumbershop

Noah stumbled across the location for The Village during one of the countless games of hide and seek and thought it would be a good place to build. The land is barren scrub. It’s located just a stone’s throw away from backyards. The kids are explorers but not too deep in the wilderness. From Noah’s perspective, there are a few things that are needed for The Village to prosper: a better pocket knife, or a saw; a bow and arrow and a target. There is a rudimentary washroom for boys but most prefer just to go in the woods.

In recent days, The Village has competed successfully against road hockey for our lad’s attention. With warmer weather on the horizon, we’re sure it won’t be long until he’s asking to take out picnic lunches to the hideaway that we can almost see from our back verandah.

DSC03161The Lodge with welcome wreath on right

Earlier in the week, just after the project had got underway, I asked our lad how the fort was coming along. “It’s the village, papa,” he replied with an emphasis that indicated that this distinction should be self-evident to me.

It takes a child to make a village of objects found lying about. What is junk, scraps and waste to adult eyes are riches beyond the imagining of it for kids on the build. In this village great things are happening – play, friendship, discovery, independence, resourcefulness….

DSC03154Looks like one of Dad’s 2x4x8s is part of one of The Village’s walls

I’m looking forward to news about The Village in the days to come. I’m curious too to see what other materials take a migratory path from our backyard to the new for the kids, by the kids space. Long live The Village!

Whose woods are these?

Each summer we trek a couple of hundred kilometres to camp at Kejimkujik one of Canada’s east coast national parks. For the kids it’s an unparalleled play ecosystem – woods, water, wildlife, wonder. They always have something close at hand in the natural environment that is readily transformed into adventure.

This trip, we are tucked away in the far corner of a walk in area. The cozy comfort of familiarity is all around us. We’ve tented here several times over the years on solo family excursions and with friends. A small inlet is just down the path where rocks, a mighty old tree and gently rippling water beckon.

DSCF9583Gathering moss and lichen from old man tree

Since our last stay, old man tree is no longer reaching skyward. Cracked at the trunk and toppled, its growing days are over. But like the tree in Shel Silverstein’s story (original animation video) it continues to give. Now, it’s a in situ natural playscape – jungle gym, balance beam, bouncy ride.

In past visits when the tree was still stretching its branches and popping leaves to catch the sun it was ‘the’ climbing place. The two older kids risked their first unaided climbs here getting purchase on the rough bark as they inched up the trunk’s steep incline and made the tricky transition onto the primary branch that pushed out almost parallel to the ground.

GOnV8NDIFf_1386290135937From ‘The Book of Play’

There is a sadness seeing this green friend prone and broken down. It’s a tree that will stand tall in my memories as the kids’ starter climber, the bridge for their first magical trip from earth to sky.

As I walk to the playground to get the kids for a meal, they are shouting excitedly about their latest discovery. They’re juiced, bouncing around their find, poking about inside, adding branches to a rootsy, vernacular space.

DSCF9648Found shelter/den

For a few minutes this is the jackpot. All energies are devoted here as plans are hastily conceived to create a similar treasure. The rapid progression of seeing, touching and doing makes the possibility of actually being den makers all the more real to them. The den is perfection. It is cozy and built to their scale with branches and sticks gathered from the forest floor.

Back on the inlet’s rocky shore, Nellie-Rose starts floating leaf boats. Before long, the three kids are marine architects constructing moss boats with twig masts. An impromptu regatta gets underway with seven or eight of these ‘mossies’ getting launched into a lazy current and meandering out into open water. Two or three are crewed by tiny toads – Nellie’s touch – who sit transfixed on their small islands.

DSCF9850Mossie crewed by a toad

These moments of fun and inventiveness, of laughter and togetherness are timeless, a kids in nature blockbuster story in the making.

At night above the canopy we can see specks of shimmery light as stars flit about and satellites skip across the sky. There is something about natural open spaces that buffers the daily chaos, soothes the city’s madness and sparks delight like magic embers arcing in the night.

Whose woods are these I think I know
Their laughter’s sweet enough to sow
Lost in play they do not see
The lengthening shadows as they grow

These woods are airy, light and sweet
But I have miles to go before we meet
Miles and miles before we meet
The ones whose love makes us complete

(Apologies to Robert Frost)

A day played out to a natural rhythm and tucked in with the best night sky viewing Nova Scotia can offer.

Keji Night SkySource: Frommer’s

Thanks kids, thanks Keji – we’ll be back.