My heart pounds as I reach the end of the switchback trail at the top of the mountain. Ready for a break, I drop my pack and turn to see how the group is doing. I expect to see the strained and sweaty faces of the climbers as they make their way up the steepest section of the trail but instead I am surprised by smiles all around. And I hear singing! Light and lilting voices emerge from our band of excited hikers as we make our way up the mountainside for a day of climbing. The song matches the light mood of the day perfectly, in spite of our early morning start, the heavy packs and the challenging climbs in front of us, we are a happy band of merry travelers coming to climb the mountain, to renew friendships and to celebrate the beginning of a new year at school. Our joy affects other climbers in the area. Purposeful guides shepherding nervous clients stop their morning preparations to share a greeting and a smile, exchanging pleasantries about our plans for the day and where we’ve come from. Working with this class is special and I feel as if I have emerged into a new world, one of kinship, song and lightness.
My family came to Waldorf education through playgroups in the city when our first son (now a high school senior) was just a toddler. The more we lived into Waldorf education the more I saw how the rhythms of the natural world affect the well being of humanity. I wasted no time bringing what I was learning as a Waldorf parent into my full time work in adventure therapy with troubled teens at the state run juvenile detention centers. Picture a group of angry young men gathered in a circle around a campfire on a snowy winter night; meal preparations are completed, bowls and spoons are pulled from backpacks, camping mugs filled with hot tea, uncomfortable glances as I call for a moment of silence before the meal. Hands join together, a collective out breath as we relax into the moment. The silence deepens, the fire crackles, the soup pot bubbles and for just a moment we are blessed.
A happier group gathers to share a meal on this brilliant autumn morning on the bluff top in the woods. As I ready the climbing gear others sit in a circle and prepare a simple trail breakfast. Again, bowls emerge from backpacks and we instinctively share a song and a blessing. This is the annual back to school climbing trip and everyone is up with the sun and ready for action. Serious climbers call this an “alpine start” but here at the Waldorf School we call it the “breakfast hike.” It is a fine morning and we are greeted by lots of hikers and climbers out for an early morning adventure. An elderly man and his hiking partners stop for a break on the trail enticed by all the smiling young faces and our offer to share a slice of apple. His friends take photos of the autumn colors as he munches on a snack.
“Where are all you kids from?” he asks.
We describe to him the location of or small town, the Waldorf School and the purpose of our class trip to begin the school year.
“You mean that on your very first week back at school you get to come out here camping and climbing?” He asks in amazement.
“Yes, everyone in the class is here, even our teacher, for the whole week.” His interest and wonder affirms the joy that we are feeling on this particular day.
“Sounds like a wonderful way to begin the year, you must have a really fantastic school. I wish I did things like this at school back when I was a kid.”
We all nod in agreement, reflecting on the goodness around us and, for the moment, we are blessed.
This post first appeared in the journal CALYX produced by Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School, Volume 32, Issue 2, Spring 2011.