In late September, Camp Jamie ran a one-day grief camp at ThorpeWood for thirty children ranging from age five to seventeen. From ten in the morning until eight at night, these children immersed themselves in nature. While the day’s activities, ranging from constructing memory boxes to painting memorial rocks, were chosen to help the children process and heal from their losses, the space in which they were done so contributed to the sacred nature of the moment. The sharing circle, for example, was conducted within the circle of dawn redwood trees, an undeniably holy place within our arboretum. Similarly, the rocks for the memorial rock painting were gathered along our Coffee Hollow trail, which follows each curve of Bussard Branch. Although these certainly are wonderful healing environments, the freedom of the woods also allows for expressions of joy and youth. At the stream, for example, one girl repeatedly doused herself in the cold currant, perfectly delighted at her sopping wet clothes. Many of the other children enthusiastically chucked rocks into pools below them, waiting for the splash and seeing who could throw the farthest.
In addition to these activities, the campers also participated in a modified equine assisted learning program. The children greeted and groomed our Icelandic horses, and took turns leading our horses around the paddock. During this experience, we asked children to take a moment mid-way through their turn leading, and share something privately with their partner, the horse. In this, we gave them a chance to relay a secret to an animal – the only being truly capable of listening without judgement. My group noticed how, after the private moment with the horse at the far end of the paddock, there seemed to be a changed dynamic between the pair. For example, one boy, after sharing his moment with Thokkadis, found that instead of dragging behind him, she now walked shoulder to shoulder with him as he finished his loop around the paddock. Another child who took a minute to share a moment with our horse chose to leave the lead rope over Thokkadis’s neck as she walked back to the group. Despite being totally free to go anywhere she chose, Thokkadis followed her step by step back to the group. From this, we so clearly saw how the children formed a bond with Thokkadis by opening up their secrets and pain to her.
After a long day on our farm, the children were reunited with their family for a dinner at the Lodge, followed by a remembrance ceremony, during which they created and burned prayer pouches around the fire. After thus closing out their day on the farm, the children returned home not only with their memorial rocks and memory boxes, but also farm fresh air in their lungs, stream water dried in their sneakers, and the fur of our loving animals clinging to their clothes.