Taking Flight With Friends!

This reflection from being at the All in the Circle Camp was written by Erin Pratt, former program director at MNIPL.

The last two days of camp have been full of drumming, singing, playing instruments, sketching birds, paper mache, quilting, weaving, working with composting worms, and projects in the kitchen.  The intense heat broke after the rain and it made for delight and fun on the playground and in the park for nature.

Nature update

With our group agreements made we have begun to learn more about our birds- hearing stories about their complex social lives, stunning vocalizations that are thought to be what first inspired spoken language in humans, their finely tuned senses so that if we learn to listen to them they will tell us what is happening around us.  They remind us of the importance of play, community, and how we ourselves have the ability to use our senses to much greater effect than we normally do.  Intelligence can be defined in relation to how expanded our awareness is.  Learning these skills are tools for being happy, healthy, compassionate, and resilient.

Expanding our ability to sense  

Two groups used “deer ears” and “raccoon touch” to discover just how much we can perceive by pausing, being present to what we hear around us, and even cupping our hands behind our ears (you can hear twice as much that way).  When we did this there were intakes of shock, eyes widening in amazement as the sounds of bird, wind and planes came roaring into our ears.  It was like a new world was opening up as campers pointed out all of the new sounds they were hearing.  

Using raccoon touch we realized that our entire body is able to sense: wind, temperature, pressure, sun, and shade. As birds always know intimately the landscape of the forest, we decided to try our expanded senses through an exercise called “Meet-A-Tree”.  In pairs with one person as a guide and one with a blindfold, the guide selected a tree and took them using a circuitous route to visit it.  There the blindfolded person used their touch, smell and hearing to notice everything they could about the tree, surrounding vegetation, the sense of temperature on their body and what they could hear.  The guide led them back to their starting point using a different route.  Their blindfolds off they were given the challenge of finding their tree.  Amazingly, everyone found it! They reported how they used their innate sense of direction, their sense of gravity feeling through their feet the path back based on the incline, the width and texture of the tree etc.  

Bob Klanderud reflected to us that our senses expand to our heart as well and that through paying attention to our heart we will find that the natural world speaks to us through a sense of knowing.  And it is this sense that is just as important in learning how to be kind to ourselves, each other and the earth as our sense of direction is to knowing where we are.    


The longing to fly and all of the ways that pulls at our imaginations is universal.  Exploring that in a story we are reading each day entitled “Becoming Birds” by AJ Pratt, we had councils in which everyone shared stories of their flight attempts: from jumping off beds with blankets as parachutes, to magnolia branches serving as wings for flight off tree branches, to umbrellas deployed at the height of a jump on a  trampoline, to soaring leaps off diving boards and the backs of couches: everyone had something to share that brought grins and laughter and a sense of understanding the urge to take flight.  

So strapping on cardboard wings we took off soaring around the park, flapping our wings and imagining that our leaps and skips were taking us closer and closer to the tree tops above.  Exploration of flight is exploration of initiative, imagination, the inclination we all have to gain larger perspective, to expand and discover.  To become bird is to become ourselves in new and exciting ways.  

Bird Allies  

We are learning that we live in a world that is alive, intelligent, kind, and laden with a complex web of relationships in which we belong.  Part of that realization is discovering that help, guidance, and friendship is all around us, in our human communities and in the natural world.  

Three groups set off on scavenger hunt adventures to discover clay figures (made by AJ Pratt with love) of the types of birds they are learning from- who would be a friend and ally to them.  After everyone had found a bird (all campers kept on the search until everyone had found their bird) they brought them back to paint them.  Each day they are part of our opening circle and at the end of camp campers will bring their bird ally home.  Upon learning this one camper said “This bird will be my friend.  At night when I feel sad I will open my drawer where he will live and I will hold him to remind me that I am not alone.”

Counselor Debriefs and Conflict Resolution  

In this camp we pay special attention to all of the interactions that we have.  Conflicts, tensions, and misunderstandings are seen as an opportunity to learn and tend to the work of creating a culture of kindness.  

Each day the counselors gather with two senior counselor and Erin to report on their experience, to assess their learning goals and what they want to work on, the successes that they have, and to get help in responding to camper needs and dynamics.  In a debrief, a counselor brought up some tensions they were feeling with some of their campers in the group.  Soon after a camper reported feeling frustrated with this counselor. This was the perfect opportunity to address needs that each had.  So camper, counselor and me as mediator sat together.  The camper was scared to have this conversation but with encouragement tried it out.  Each shared the way they felt, what they needed, and what they appreciated about the other person.  They made a plan for how they would work to treat each other. The next day the camper came to nature and said to me “Thank You!!!”.  I said “You’re Welcome!  For what?!”.  The camper said, “It worked!  We are bonding!” as they went to sit by their counselor.  The counselor said “It’s true!  Not only did that conversation solve our problem but it changed how I feel today, I’m more relaxed and everything is going more smoothly with the rest of the group!”.  What was a brewing source of disconnect became a pathway to a connection.   Both expressed a feeling of excitement that those feelings didn’t have to be scary or secret but instead something that when talked about it helped them make changes that felt good.

Up next?  

Nest building with mud, sticks and hay, water play, and camouflage kick the can!