“Personal Helicon” by Seamus Heaney
for Michael Longley
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
Once, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, wrote the above poem that is shared here in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day! Yet it’s the picture that Heaney brings in this poem that led to choosing it. The images of childhood that Heaney presented—a child with a love for water wells and all of the mystery and excitement they might contain, the fingers that “pry into roots” and become slimy. Alas, Heaney owns the fact that returning to the activities of his childhood is “beneath all adult dignity.” What a brief period of freedom and imagination that childhood is! What has become acutely apparent in the past few weeks is how the Farm at Hawthorne Valley presents itself as a beacon of opportunity for such moments of freedom during childhood. We are so fortunate to be at a place with a farm school! For the children to be given opportunities—perhaps each day, perhaps just once or twice a week—to work, walk, observe, smell, see, hear, touch, maybe to taste the farm with all of their senses and their whole selves is a gift that can’t possibly be measured. The external stimuli that a farm experience provides also happen to be the very same things that create healthy brain development. No time on a screen can provide that—healthy neural pathways depend on multi-sensory experiences; a walk around the farm provides that in one fun, easy swoop. [caption id="attachment_8123" align="alignleft" width="225"] The third grade class during their Farm Trip experience.[/caption] The third-grade class recently spent a whole week on the Farm. The third-grade Farm Trip is a historic turning point or a “threshold moment” where children step away from their homes and families for a good chunk of time (for many this is the first of such an experience) and live for a whole week on the Farm. The VSP (Visiting Student’s Program) staff do an amazing job to help create an experience for the children that is magical, awe-inspiring, educational, and filled with meaningful work. This is Waldorf Education at it’s finest: a true threefold experience where each child is meaningfully engaged in head, heart, and hands—for a whole week without pause or interruption! The children left the Farm Trip with a sense of inner satisfaction that was clear upon their (tired!) faces. They bonded with their teachers and with one another and helped themselves and their peers through new and challenging experiences, that were soon transformed into coveted memories when they parted ways on Friday afternoon. This kind of inner transformation cannot be underestimated—it’s a phenomenal moment to see happening for the children, and something that they will not soon forget. The happenings on the Farm—from the children mucking the barn, to rising very early to milk the cows, to tasting the sprouts just picked from the greenhouse—all the way down to puddle jumping! They will not likely have many more moments to enter into such activities in such a free and uninhibited, unchallenged way as they get older. We adults can imagine that a week of fun, exploration and friendship sounds so wonderful—yet almost impossible! It’s my hope that while the children are still young, through nearly all of their years at Hawthorne Valley School, they will have such experiences together. And here at Hawthorne Valley, the Farm is the icing on the cake. Written by Meaghan McKenna, Grade 3 Class Teacher & Lower School Chair