Explorers (not the draft copy!)


Amos and I were were explorers yesterday. We were on a mission. In the summer our log pile was brimming with frogs and we were forever releasing toads from the shed we built near basecamp in May (the takes-2-men-6-hours-to-build shed which took the six of us fifteen days to finish, but that’s another story). There is no standing water in the wood, it being on limestone, nor are there any ponds in the fields around. Fields on the far side of the wood have ditches in them, but the water is brackish. So where do the frogs and toads come from? Given the abundance of spawn in our pond at home, yesterday we decided we would try and find out where the frogs were travelling in from by finding their spawn, and hence where the tiny frogs set out from to populate our woods.

As we went up to the woods Amos ran ahead with his backpack, primed with a magnifying glass, bug tub, books and a sandwich. I had wondered whether or not water would stand long enough in some of the old coppice stools for frogs to use them to spawn in (coppice trunks that are split into many branches sometimes have a ‘bowl’ at the centre which holds water after rain), so first we looked around for frog spawn in the trees. We saw so much, though not frog spawn.  In the last week, round the edges of the wood where the light is more able to penetrate, a carpet of wild garlic has begun to weave itself over the fallen leaves of autumn. On the cut stump of the sycamore that was felled last week, we found a hoverfly (Criorhina ranunculi), that looks like a bee, feeding on the sap still seeping from the surface. Amos was thrilled to find badger footprints and deer slots (hoof marks) in abundance. Each footprint was examined with the same level of excitement. I was expected to take a photograph of each one. I love to see Amos so happy in nature. He climbed on fallen trees, balanced on their trunks and examined the fungi on them.

As I watched Amos, I felt torn inside. His brother and sisters were in school. Amos should be too, but because of all we’ve been through, we’ve settled on a compromise – 3 days in school, 2 days out. But it can’t last forever. Soon, legally, Amos will be expected to be in full time education, and I feel the same rising panic that I feel when I think about the others at school. Melody who is so full of life and energy that she finds it hard to sit still, Peta who is learning that if she doesn’t get 100%, she should repeat her work, and Joe for whom we are even less comfortable about the way things have ended up. I want my children to have the freedom to be themselves, to learn self value and a pride in doing their best. I want them to learn in a non-pressure environment, to learn to be robust to criticism and realistic in their expectations of themselves. We can’t get 100% in life – we should aim to do our best. We can’t do better than our best, and no amount of belittling or reprimanding will change that. I don’t want the excitement for life in my children to be looked on as a problem – it’s something that must be encouraged. I can’t bear the thought of my children’s aspirations for their lives being curtailed by other people’s opinion’s of what they can or can’t do. I want my children free to love words and reading, free to let their imagination take them wherever they want to go. I just hope, in the woods, they will be free to develop parts of themselves that are overlooked in today’s world. I fear for them all in today’s education system.

But Amos and I had a day together in the woods. We would make it count. We walk through the woods searching for frogspawn. We find none, so we drop out of our wood into the field where there are the brackish ditches. In this field there is a fresh water spring and I take Amos over to it, sure this would be where the frogs hang out. There is no frog spawn. We hunt everywhere. Nothing.

We’d had a lovely morning together. We’d shared so much; ideas, stories, the experiences of spring unfolding. We’d checked on our badgers, held hands as we walked the paths, it mattered not at all that our mission was unaccomplished. I hope Amos can learn it is okay to leave questions unanswered. We will carry on wondering where our frogs and toads come from.

It is the wonder that makes life so interesting.

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