The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Michaelmus September 27, 2013

The name ‘Michael’ in this case rhymes with ‘nickel’, and the ‘mas’ sounds just like the one in ‘Christmas’. And there you have the name of a holiday known as the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. In heavenly terms, Michael is the angel who defeated Lucifer in the great battle of heaven, but in more earthly terms it represents the coming of the Fall equinox, and the shortening of days. In the context of the Waldorf school, the story told is that of Michael (here it’s pronounced ‘Mike-ay-EL’) and how he summons his courage to slay the dragon. During the course of their day, on this, the school-wide celebration of Michaelmas, the students find themselves faced with challenges they must overcome; faced with their own personal dragons to slay. A boots-on-the-ground adaptation of the metaphor provided by the legend.

The morning is spent by all twelve grades in the local state park. The home base of the site is located under the generous canopy of a common shelter which sits next to a wide open field, all of which is surrounded by forest. There’s a great deal of variety in elevation throughout the enormous property plus a river running through. All in all, nature is well represented in this place. In the first few hours of of their day, the children wind their way through the woods from station to station, solving riddles, creating solutions to problems and performing various physical challenges. Each team is lead by an eighth grader who carries a staff that represents the group. Upon completion of each challenge, they’re given a pennant to fly from the staff. A few hours later, when they emerge from the woods, their group’s staff is flying a colorful assortment of banners from the stations whose challenges they met successfully. The kids are in obvious good cheer by this time (and as I came to learn later on, my own son was enjoying a deep sense of pride in his accomplishments as they returned to the shelter).

The events of the day, as I understand, are created to help foster self-reliance in the children as well as encourage them to work together as teams. Both seem to have been done very well. Kudos to the amazing, talented and loving teachers and administrators of this Waldorf school, for they pull off feats in education and personal inspiration few can. That they make their teachings so alive, so real – and that their work is just so infused with love and genuine respect for all the kids involved – it all just blows my mind (and especially in this day and age – and in this country as well). Can’t say enough about this magical school. I know one kid whose life will never be the same on account of it. !

late Sept 2013 123Here’s the dragon that started it all!

late Sept 2013 125And the twelfth grade, post dragon-slaying skit, complete with St. Michael riding a real horse!

late Sept 2013 136The kids have just returned from their quests

late Sept 2013 031The high school kids remained behind to cook vegetable soup and set the tables

late Sept 2013 064the high schoolers serve the littler ones

late Sept 2013 086groups eat at tables marked by their staffs

late Sept 2013 074Hi Sadie!

late Sept 2013 156Hunter on Hyrum’s back

late Sept 2013 104Elihu visits Lucy in the ‘pit orchestra’. She and I made sound effects for the slaying of the dragon skit. Fun.

late Sept 2013 107A

Lucy’s been playing piano for this school for a long, long time. She’s finally leaving, and I’m taking her place. Phew – lots of new music to learn. And I hate to see her go! Such a sweetie.

late Sept 2013 115A peek at St. Michael on the horse.

late Sept 2013 110Gathering after lunch for songs and then games

late Sept 2013 101Fifth grader Fiona (and her cucumber named Bob) with her first grade buddy. This school uses a really wonderful system of pairing up an older kid with a younger one. Last year Elihu was the younger one, but now, in fifth grade, it’s his turn to be a mentor. This should be in place in every single school. Magical things happen when a little kid gets the attention of a big one, and I can tell you a big kid really makes a bolder step into him/herself when she’s all of a sudden the role model for someone small.

late Sept 2013 177I shoulda known I wouldn’t get a ‘nice’ picture out of these goofburgers. !

late Sept 2013 169Ah, but thanks to one of the fifth graders for taking this nice mom and son shot.

A wonderful Michaelmus was had by one and all.

 

Dragons and Crumbs September 28, 2014

Yesterday the Waldorf School held its annual Michaelmus celebration at the local state park. The day was warm and sunny, and the children all had a wonderful time. (See last year’s post for more on the story behind the seasonal celebration.) With a large-scale enactment of Saint Michael (pronounced Mike ay El) slaying a dragon put on by the twelfth grade, a morning-long quest in the woods for the children in the Lower School led by the eighth grade, hearty autumnal stew for lunch followed by a round of games in the field, the day was full and satisfying for all. In the morning, while the kids were hiking about in the surrounding forest completing their challenges, the eleventh graders helped prepare vegetables while a few members of the faculty worked in the shelter at portable stoves to cook the soup. Elihu was in such high spirits afterward, that he and three of his happy classmates talked me into an impromptu after-school gathering at our house, where in spite of the incredibly beautiful weather, they preferred to spend the better part of their time playing rounds of Pokemon. They’d had such a good day of outdoor activity, I easily acquiesced. It made my heart so happy to see them having such fun together. My son went to bed that night a very contented boy.

Earlier in the week we’d had a few small adventures; catching a beautifully colored turtle by the local pond, relocating a few of our frogs to a safer wintering spot, getting some trees to plant in front of the new construction house at the end of the driveway plus other various and sundry pleasantries that come with an unscheduled life in the country. Like finding odd-looking, misshapen eggs in the nesting boxes, or dining on squash that emerged from our compost pile, or taking a walk in the woods to discover a trash pile from well over a half century ago languishing in the leaves, filled with the bulbous forms of antique car parts and other, more mysterious unidentified objects rusting away… And still more surprises – finding a praying mantis, getting to rumble down the road in a neighbor’s borrowed truck, learning how to play a chromatic pattern on the piano complete with a left hand part and visiting with two grandmas in one day.

When Elihu was five, we stumbled upon the Rosh Hashanah celebration taking place in Saratoga’s city park, and since then we’ve made it an annual part of our own family tradition. We’re not Jewish, but we love the idea of tashlich. It’s the act of casting the crumbs from one’s pockets into living, moving water, that the sins and transgressions they represent be washed away, giving one a chance to start the new year with a fresh, clean slate. This is personal business, as those casting the crumbs are mindful of what those pieces represent, and they do so with somber introspection. (And after the casting they then read from the book of the prophet Micha about repentance. Micha? Michaeal? Hmm…) In the Jewish tradition, it is G-d who sits in judgement of these sins, and who at week’s end – Yom Kippur – will offer forgiveness as He sees fit. Elihu and I like to believe that all people are always forgiven, as we would always endeavor to forgive others (successful or not, at least it’s our goal!). Furthermore, I do not believe in a Creator that condemns or forgives; a parent loves her children no matter what they do, good, bad – or even very bad. (I realize some of you may well feel differently.)

It’s a lovely practice to cast away ones sins and recommit to living in the world with a renewed sense of love and respect. And Fall feels a perfect time for this sort of inventorying of the self. After having shed the things that no longer serve us, be they leaves or sins, we can now turn inward and give our full attention to the big changes ahead.

The slaying of dragons, the falling of leaves and the casting of crumbs tells us that fall is now fully underway.

IMG_4313The colors are here.

IMG_4259Early in the morning the teams assemble for their treks in the woods.

IMG_4284Preparations are being made…

IMG_4281Lots of soup…

IMG_4303…for lots of kids.

IMG_4290It takes a lot of help…

IMG_4326…and a little decoration, too.

IMG_3937The dragon has rehearsed its part…

IMG_4271…which is now acted out on the enormous playing field.

IMG_4337My foley station – sound effects for a rural village (cows, sheep, cowbells and birds) plus the battle and slaying of a mighty dragon (timpani and cymbals) and finally a happy recessional (tambourine with voices). Lots of fun to do this little bit.

IMG_4386Soup’s on! The tenth graders help serve the younger kids.

IMG_4347Elihu and pal Roger.

IMG_4353The teams added a colored band to their staff for each challenge they met.

IMG_4391Somehow, there was enough for everyone. No one left hungry.

IMG_4398Sweet Sadie.

IMG_4407Our friend Cally, a talented young horsewoman and singer, too.

IMG_4441Time for games!

IMG_4452The girls, adjusting their pony tails in unison as they head back to the bus.

IMG_4474Driving back to school on the Spa State Park’s iconic Avenue of the Pines.

IMG_4504And after school, a pickup game of Pokemon. Perfect!

IMG_4520Sweet little eggs from our youngest hens.

IMG_4245I love my mod duvet cover. Got it a while ago, but happily just rediscovered it. It refreshes the spirit to have something new around, doesn’t it?

IMG_4228Something else that refreshes my spirit: trees to provide a natural barrier between us and the new house at the end of our driveway.

IMG_4106And this is how we got em there… thanks to Stephanie and Zac for lending us their truck. Ah, the feel of a diesel!

IMG_4068 The praying mantis we found on the new trees.

IMG_2937This guy’s lived in our plastic pond all summer, now we need to move him to the muddy creek bank where he can hunker down for winter.

IMG_4032And the beautiful Eastern Red Belly turtle I found trying to cross the road. Apparently they’re not terribly common, so we were really lucky to have seen her up close. Look at those striking markings! And the red was so very vibrant. Her eyes had lines that ran right through them – altogether a stunning creature.

IMG_4040Saying goodbye.

In an instant, the turtle slips away into the pond.

IMG_4165We like to visit this lovely pond in Congress Park on Rosh Hashanah.

IMG_4182I don’t know why, but I like to know there’s a local Orthodox Jewish community here in Saratoga. Maybe it’s nostalgia for my old home near West Rogers Park in Chicago.

IMG_4192While some cast crumbs for their sins, some cast em more for the ducks. !

IMG_4202This one is pretty young…

IMG_4207She’ll need to migrate soon – but how can she with these tiny pin feathers? Hurry up and grow!

IMG_4220Elihu meets Esther.

IMG_4216And shares his duck with her.

IMG_4243Now we’re enjoying an evening at home with the emerging colors of fall outside our window.

IMG_4061Some lovely hydrangeas I picked from the cemetery on the hill.

IMG_4126The maple’s beginning to glow… see how the ripples in the window tint look almost like rain…

I love the shifting moods that the changing colors create. There’s a melancholic feeling in the air, and yet there’s also a bright little spark of hope for what lies on the other side. For now we’ll savor the scented air and enjoy listening to the final evening choruses of crickets before the world slows down to its long, cold sleep.