Birdsong echoes throughout the sky as I break chunks of melting ice and snow with a ice scraper. I work near a small group of children creating waterways full of slush and melted snow. Pots and pans clang together, chickadees and red wing blackbirds swoop overhead in flocks, and the murmur of children’s voices mingle with the whir whir of sled runners as snow is loaded and dumped, loaded and dumped. My senses rejoice in the symphony of lazy afternoons, the welcoming of spring. The sun feels hot on our backs, we discard our mittens, our jackets come unzipped. The waterfalls of melted ice are bitingly cold, but no one complains, even as their fingers redden.
The contentment for me, as an adult who has seen 30 winters, is focused on the realization that soon, summer insects will buzz lazily by. But I am curious about the children surrounding me. What is it that creates their contentment? Why do they not complain about the cold? How do they know how to create waterfalls and islands? It is almost an instinctive urge, one which I wonder about. Do we all have the knowledge embedded in our beings from the moment our humanness began? Or have we all learnt this knowledge through taught moments? One child says, “It’s a channel. Let’s connect the channels together.” How did they know what a channel was? I certainly have never said this word, and it is unlikely a word which would come up in conversation in relation to this activity.
They enlist my help to thud my metal scraper against the ice and create deeper cracks for the water to rush along. As the lower pool fills and overflows, they gather sticks and piles of slush to dam up the area.
Then, almost as one, they abandon their work. One large pool sits beckoning for their attention. They stand all together in the water, then jump up and down with abandon. All of them splash and scream with delight, water flying five feet in each direction in giant sheets. They shake the droplets from their noses, then race away. One by one, they race back and hurl their entire bodies, feet first, into the lake of freezing liquid. A child flies in, momentum arrowing them like a dart into a board. They land, skidding like a penguin on it’s belly, into the inches of turbulent water.
When it’s the end of our time outdoors, they are a sopping, glorious mess of mud and water. Mittens are waterlogged, socks are sodden, noses and cheeks are pink from exertion. I think of how we must look, a bedraggled band of miscreants, to the observers eye.
The perceptions of others might miss the keen beauty of the moment, the intense learning which occurred. The flocks of blackbirds above also might go unnoticed, be unheeded, unheard. The commonplace simplicity of the moments we spent together were layered with profound depth. While the children no longer stop to listen to the birds and question me about them as they once did when the birds first returned from their sojourn south, I sometimes catch them pausing in their work, one ear cocked toward the trees some hundreds of meters away. I wonder if this urban oasis of melodies has affected them? Does the sound lift their spirits as it does my own? Or do they simply accept these songs as part of their lived reality, no more a question than the other certainties they count on?
As I contemplate my own journey of ‘letting go’ to make room for plurality, I wonder if children are intrinsically the masters of this plural existence, and we are the students? How much more do I have to learn before I can comfortably exist within a realm of questions?