by Jennifer Britton | Business Office Assistant & Alumni Parent
As a twenty-something-year alumni parent, volunteer, and current staff member, there are still moments when being in this community fascinates me or brings me unexpected joy. Two most recent ones come to mind. The first was on a recent Saturday when 1st, 4th, and 6th grade parent Leyla initiated a parent work day to do, what for me has been a long-term dream, a rehabilitation of our well-loved Winter Faire games infrastructure. There were coffee, baked goods, paints, buckets, rags, bins, prizes, drills, sand paper, batting, moss, tiny trees, strings, and more! The parking lot was transformed into an elves workshop (which used to be the name for our crafting workshop back in the earlier Faire days!!). Moms, dads, dogs, and kids all chipping in to make each game look brighter and more appealing to future games players. You’ll have to wait until Faire day to see the results but anyone who has been to the faire in the last four years or more will notice the upgrades. This makes me want to sing the folk song “Simple Gifts.”
The second experience involved goose bumps, the arrival of which one cannot control. I was in a junior/sophomore math class and the seniors were gone so the class was gifted with a special lesson on a fun applied math activity with Ms. O. She had mentioned that this had been shared with the faculty once and that added to my intrigue, plus she alerted me that it was about gerrymandering. It was fantastic, not only the actual manner in which she explained the history and set up a very relevant, hands-on application for it (we got to play with “stacking” the districts for a fictitious state legislative race) but also how the students engaged in it. I’m a huge verb fan and one of my favorites that I wish for us all is engagement. The students picked up on the assignment right away (asking fewer questions than I, by the way) and began feverishly to draw their district salamanders. The level of chatting was delicious as they went through three rounds of drawing their sacred lines of demarcation. But the debrief, the “why” and “what could happen if…” and “what else could be done instead?” series of questions and answers was gobsmacking to listen to. Students really grasped the shortcomings of this system and one student who was familiar with elections, current elections, in Israel chimed in with insights about an alternative used there that has parties so disparate that it has its own level of mayhem, confusion and ineffectiveness. Just another day in a Waldorf math class. Commence goosebumps (another fun verb, commence).
by Ami Evergreen | Pedagogical Administrator, Nursery-Grade 8
For the bountiful gifts the earth bestows upon us, for the gold hues that adorn the land, for the richness of each sunrise and each day’s glory in our valley–our attention to these details can be the heartseed of a family Thanksgiving festival, and sustained through the four weeks of Advent. The growing year has come full circle as the harvest comes in. Grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts fill the larders, imbuing us with a sense of completion and gratitude for the miracle of nature–if we take the time to turn our inner gaze towards these gifts.
The harvest season is universal; the harvest festivals are among the most ancient known to mankind. The Egyptians and Chinese gave thanks for well-filled storehouses. The Hindus held a festival for Gauri, the goddess of the harvest, where girls wore flowers in their hair. The ancient Greeks honored Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, while the Romans celebrated the festival of Ceralia, dedicated to Ceres, goddess of vegetation. The Hebrews celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles, or Sukkoth. Native Americans celebrate the harvest by giving thanks to the spirits of the woods for wild game, of the lakes for fish, and of the fields for berries and nuts. At the traditional Green Corn ceremony, the fires of the old year were put out and new ones kindled. Everywhere on Earth the harvest kindles gratitude. During the Middle Ages, England and Europe kept the tradition of the harvest festival known as “Harvest Home.” The villagers went out to the field and decorated the last load of grain with ribbon and flowers. The people danced around it singing songs of thanks.
In that same spirit, a sixth grade student composed this poem:
In between Fall’s final harvest, and Winter’s first bite comes a golden hour, a time to mull things over and feel thankful for all the good fortune that drifted our way while we were too busy to notice. Blessings! My family, home, warmth, food, my friends, teacher, school, church, animals, transportation, kindness– my whole life!
To honor the kingdoms that give of their substance to support us humans in our endeavors, we offer one week to each in December. Minerals, plants, and animals fortify our lives with the yield of their lives. Each Monday in December on the Los Altos campus, the children will assemble to hear a story and sing, sharing in giving extra attention to each kingdom. On the fourth week–the week of humankind–we must ask: what is our yield, or the gift we as humans bring forth from our lives?
Below are the classic verses sung in Waldorf schools around the world:
The first light of Advent is the light of stones, stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants, roots, stem, leaf, flower, and fruit by whom we live and grow.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts, animals of farm, field, forest, air, and sea.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind, the light of love, the light of thought, to give and understand.
Many crows gather early every morning under a large oak where I live. They take advantage of the cars squishing the acorns that fall in the residential parking lot and driveway. A number of gray and black squirrels busily scurry around the trees’ bounty, too. Similar acorn enthused activity is taking place on our Mountain View campus among its oak trees in the middle school courtyard. Deciduous trees are shedding their leaves. Plants are generally withdrawing from their outward spring and summer growth, as if retreating back into the Earth. We’ve had our first frosts in the garden, which seem to herald that the formative, crystalline forces will rule for the months to come, rather than the curvy biomorphic forms of the dynamic growth forces of the warmer months.
Many biodynamic (BD) farmers capitalize on the shift of energies into the earth during this time of year. Compost yards fill up with new piles of biomass to ferment and transform over the winter. The digesting activity of blooms of countless microorganisms (trillions per “handful” of now steaming biomass) heat up the compost heaps.
Pictured above is a recently created “fresh” compost pile of several cubic yards of biomass (approximately 10’x5’x5’), which will probably yield a couple of yards of finished compost.
As if to confirm the legitimacy of the compost thermometer, many students often thrust their hands into the compost heap to feel it for themselves. (We always wash our hands after every gardening class.) They can attest that things are heating up even though the days are getting cooler. In the Spring, wheelbarrows of transformed compost humus will return to the school’s garden beds to enliven our clay soils and join with the plants in their dance of photosynthesizing the sun.
Many BD farms craft a specialized compost made from cow manure. Students are pictured here taking turns “stirring” fresh manure and mixing it with pulverized egg shells, rock mineral dusts, and diatomaceous earth. It all got buried in a brick-lined pit where the five BD compost preparations—made from chamomile, yarrow, dandelion, nettle, oak bark, and valerian—were added. When this all eventually turns to humus it will become a unique compost concentrate, which will be an incredible catalytic aid for the formative and growth forces of the living realm of our campus. We eagerly look forward to putting it to good use!