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Rain, Sun, Etc.

There were geese this morning on Loch Ettrick. Two Canadian Geese, with a few babies trailing behind them. I noticed them because they hadn’t been there the previous two days, when the Loch had been cast in glorious sunshine, but this morning in the cool grey, there they were. 

I'm currently in Dumfriesshire, on the second block week of my Forest School training course. We spent the day yesterday identifying grasses. We learnt a rhyme about how to tell the differences between sedges, rushes and grasses, except I don’t know what a sedge even is, and anyways I was much happier basking in the beautiful meadow than worrying about telling the difference between a Yorkshire fog (which sounds like a great drink) and a foxtail grass. 

Yesterday we had a discussion in class about what makes a good Forest School Practitioner, and people had a variety of suggestions, from maintaining all the right certifications (outdoor first aid, PVG, etc.), getting a good night’s sleep, dressing for the weather and being ready to respond to all manner of risks and surprises. 

For me, I think the most important part of being an educator is maintaining your own authentic connection and constantly being on your own journey of learning and discovery, learning alongside the participants rather than just teaching them. 

I’ve been stopping by Loch Ettrick each day for a swim, once before class and once on the way home. It’s a relatively small loch, fresh water, ringer by trees and low hills covered in forestry. The bottom is made of rocks, some sharp, some flat, and in the shallows the water is tinged red with silt. The single track road runs right past it, so it’s easy to stop in, and I’ve seen loads of people swimming, picnicking and paddle boarding.

Each day is so different. Earlier in the week it was sunny and beautiful, blue sky and clear, but it’s also been grey and overcast. The colour of the water changes, from a creamy midnight to a flat grey-green. I find myself transfixed by it. When I was younger, I took swimming lessons at the Jewish Centre, and they would make us tread water for two minutes. I remember watching the multicoloured second hands moving by at such a slow pace, willing it to be over. Now I could tread water for ages, just watching the colours shift as the water gently waves.

I find myself looking out for other species, identifying the willow spread along the bank, the plants and grasses growing along the path. The reeds along the edges look different when seen from eye level, down in the water, as opposed to looking down on them from land.

This afternoon it started to rain. It was light at first, but after lunch we headed into the woods for activities which resulted in me being cold, wet, and covered in insects. It was quite tiring, and by the time we had lugged all of our equipment back into the classroom I had very little energy for our class discussion, and just wanted to be home to a warm shower and clean clothes. 

On the way home I stopped off at the loch. It was raining much harder, with mist hovering over the tips of the pines on the far side. There was no one about, and it would have been very easy to just keep driving and head home for dinner. But I’ve committed to helping others connect with nature and love it in all its forms. So I got out of the car, slipped into my swimsuit, and waded into the loch. 

I was shivering as the cold rain hit my skin, but once I was in the water, it was quite warm (well, warm enough). In the woods, the rain had been draining, something to avoid as I tried to stay dry and warm. Here in the loch, there was no escaping it. It meant giving over to being totally enveloped in the wet. The grey cloud cover turned the water a lighter eggshell blue, and at eye level I could see each drop bouncing off the surface. It was completely mesmerizing, and although I had promised myself a quick in-and-out dip, I lingered for a long time, taking in the experience of seeing the loch, experiencing it and loving it, in all of its states of being. 

For me, the key to being an educator, whether that’s through my work as a (nearly qualified) Forest School Practitioner or as a Jewish Educator, is being on an authentic journey yourself. You can’t guide others if you’re not in the boat (or loch) with them. If I’m truly going to succeed in helping others love nature and feel connected within it, then I also need to be constantly engaging in these explorations myself, pushing myself to try new things, to learn more and to connect with nature in all of it’s manifestations - not just the warm sunny days but also the cold and rainy ones. 

Forest School is so much about meeting people where they're at - acknowledging that everyone turns up to the session with their own life experiences and background and even whatever happened to them on the way there that morning. Sometimes we're sunny, and sometimes we're less so, but all of that is ok, and we need to take all of that as it is and work with what we have. At Forest School we adapt to the situation at hand, accept people as they are on that day, and find ways to create meaning in that moment.

So tomorrow’s another day. Hopefully I’ll remember to put on my raincoat this time (it was in my bag the whole time, I was prepared!). I’m looking forward to another full day of exploring, trying new things, and being on the journey. 


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