The children stand in a tight little huddle by the car, not sure what to do. Tim, the oldest, Daisy and little Nell. He smiles at me over their heads, then starts unloading bed rolls, sleeping bags, grins and gestures to the canoe on the roof rack. I’ve brought my tent, which we set up beside the Cabin, asking the children to help, handing out tent pegs…..giving them something to do breaks the ice, and talking to them as we work, I unroll a small carpet, just the right size, place inside onto which we lay their bedding ready for the night.
I bought torches, one each, hand them out….the children look pleased, almost happy.
First things done, we sit on the old wooden bench beneath the nearby trees, share food….he asks the children what they want to do?
They don’t know ….so we choose.
It’s a lovely balmy overcast day….”let’s go for a walk, do some exploring”, they nod politely and I give them some cloth bags, for hunting and gathering.
“Let’s see what we can find”, I say to them, smiling….at them, at him, as he takes the smallest by the hand, as she looks up at him, begins talking.
I feel their tension ease, and heading out into the dappled shelter of the trees, I find a perfect white feather, turn, slip it neatly into his tied back hair. The children laugh and so does he. Nell lets go of his hand, starts skipping, then running.
“Not too fast Nell, watch out for snakes”, and she stops still, frozen in place . “It’s ok, don’t be afraid, just watch where you’re walking, look ahead, down on the ground….snakes lie asleep, curled up, sometimes they’re the same colour as the earth, the leaves”.
They have to know, but I try and make it into a game for them, before they freeze back into their earlier discomfort. And inwardly….
*Christ, these kids have been through so much, how to navigate a path through their trauma, teach them about safety in the bush, and still encourage them to have fun*
He’s looking at me, serious, intense….feeling it too. The heavy weight of light and shade, to give something to these kids, something different, freedom….yet keep them safe. This moment of awareness hangs over both of us, and then Daisy cries out , in a high excited voice . “Look, ohhhh look, I’ve found a nest!!!”