Something special came to life on this land just a few weeks ago. Something remarkable was born in the hearts of 24 children and 9 staff...and witnessed by this forest. What began as a dream in a notebook by the winter fire flowered and grew into a life-changing journey. I have heard from parents that their children have been “empowered, inspired, and deeply influenced by the message of nature, love, encouragement, and acceptance”, that children who have struggled to be engaged in the outdoors have finally found a place where they can come fully alive in their joy and gifts, that “never has there ever been a camp as awesome” and that the children ended each day bright, confident, loving, eager to share with their parents, and begging to return.
After walking and running over 25 hilly acres in Georgia summer heat and humidity with ticks and biting ants galore, I found my heart leaping for joy at the thought of the children returning each day and for what our Wildwood story might have next in store.
What was it about this forest immersion that lit our hearts so bright? What about it allowed the children to engage so deeply with the wild without and within?
This camp was founded based on a question in our hearts. What is it about video and computer games that children find so irresistible? What needs are being met, and is there a healthier way that we can support children in meeting those needs? We decided that children are longing to be part of a story that is more exciting and alive that the one that our busy modern world is offering them...one where they are challenged and can stretch themselves on adventures without fear of failure...and where they can see themselves as a hero...empowered and unique. Similarly, many children who are not impressed by video games are deeply enthralled by books, movies, and other stories. And so Joel and I asked ourselves whether we could find a way to bring those stories to life and invite the children into a real-life, embodied adventure where they are the heroes and heroines starring in the tale, learning real skills and building true confidence that continues on once the story has ended.
Wildwood Quest was thus based around the power of story and role-play to empower the participants to live their dreams in harmony with the more-than-human world. Each day we invited participants to lay down the story of who they believe themselves to be and what they believe the world is, and to step into the imaginal realm, where most anything is possible. In the imaginal realm, we are able to let go of limiting personal beliefs, such as, “I’m not good enough, I’m not funny, I don’t have friends...” and choose other personal attributes in the safety of acting out another character in a story. In this place, we can imagine ourselves as strong, powerful, loving, and capable. Research all over the world is demonstrating the incredible impact that repatterning limiting beliefs and brain patterns can have on us.
But here is where Greenwood makes a link between creative role-play and rewilding. Our goal isn’t just to help participants write more positive stories for themselves. Our hope is that through the power of imagination and creativity we step more fully into harmonious relationship with the more-than-human whole. Ultimately, even stories are a thing of the mind. So we brought the story to life by encouraging the participants to actually live out the story through embodied, playful experience. The children were placed into guilds based on their personal choice and aptitudes where they learned advanced skills and crafts that were once practiced by their ancestors and that support them in meeting their needs in healthy relationship to the Earth. The children made herbal salve with wild-harvested plants, they slipped poplar bark from a tree and folded them into bark baskets, they made beautiful rattles from gourds, they carved forks, learned to build fires, pitched shelters, made ghillie suits for camouflage, shot archery, learned blacksmithing techniques with clay, learned how to track, make maps, and enter wild awareness. The crafts and skills were enfolded in games and approached through an attitude of playfulness. Each day the children were given cooperative challenges to face fears and apply what they learned for the good of the whole. They gained experience in creative problem solving, conflict resolution, loving service and care for others, pushing past fears, and trusting in themselves and each other. Not only did the children have the opportunity to re-write their story about themselves, but they also had the opportunity to embody and truly live those stories.
All of the stories, crafts, skills, games, and challenges were tied back to the land. The children were invited to notice threads of relationship in the world around them, to offer feelings of thankfulness and love to beings we share this earth with and depend upon, and through awareness of these threads recognize that ultimately, “We are the wilderness!!!”
And now that camp has ended, the story lives on. Each of those children are back in their homes writing their story within the wider web of life. The instructors are all living the skills they teach and the story of wildness and deep communion with the natural world in off-grid homes in the forests of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee...dreaming, teaching, and being free.
Here’s to living, breathing stories that remind us of our place in the great web of life...to those that have come before and those yet to come!