Magical Mountain School moments

Title - MS moment
One of the trickiest parts of being an instructor during a Mountain School session is how to properly transition from boisterous, high-energy games and songs to more quiet, less obviously engaging activities. Too abrupt a change and the high energy spills over into the supposed-to-be quiet activity. Since the boisterous activities are often fun equally for the instructor and for the students, a tendency can emerge for the instructor to concentrate so much on the attraction of group interaction that the interaction between student and nature can suffer. By their nature, these latter, quieter activities have more reaching power, in terms of having the students directly encounter the close-by wonders of the world outside. Underlying all of this, too, is the goal of increasing observation skills, those of both the students and the instructor.
Here’s where the students can teach you something as well.

MS moment 2Students & chaperones from Fidalgo Elementary enjoying a Mountain School campfire

So what does this have to do with a magic moment? During campfire program a couple rainy weeks ago, students, instructors and chaperones were having the usual time of our lives singing songs at the top of our lungs, interpreting legends via skits, laughing and enjoying the fire and company. The warmth of the company and activities concentrated everyone’s attention on the human world within the glow of the campfire. Rebecca then led a wonderful transition activity, a rain circle, in which participants mimic the sounds of different levels of rainfall. This is accomplished through the rubbing of hands together, clapping with two fingers, snapping, full-hand clapping and slapping ones thighs. The leader transitions sounds from a falling mist to a downpour then back to a falling mist.

As Rebecca led us back into falling mist mode, my gaze happened to take in the face of a student in the front row. She had been mostly fully engaged in all of the evening’s activities, she had proved a good litmus test for how we leaders were doing with our choice of campfire activities.

As the noise level subsided with the mist mode, her face, lit up from without by the fire, lit up from within as well. Her mouth and eyes opened wide in amazement and wonder and she turned to nudge her neighbor to see if she also had made the connection. I assumed this amazement was due to the accurate mimicry of the sounds of natural rain, of which we had had ample opportunity to sample that day.

The student then looked her friend in the eye and subtly pointed one finger up and moved it in a slow circle. She had noticed something more. The sounds weren’t just reflective of rain in general, they reflected the sounds of the rain just outside the Lily Shelter right then.

As I suddenly got it too, I let out a single, too-loud-for-the-moment A-HA that promptly garnered a chastising look from one of my fellow instructors.

I later realized that, according to the Learning Center’s de facto poet laureate Gary Snyder in his poem “What I Have Learned,” I got it mostly right and she had gotten it completely right:

“Seeing in silence:
never the same twice,
but when you get it right,
you pass it on.”

MS moments 3The author passing on a story at another Mountain School campfire
Photos courtesy of Kelsi Franzen.


  1. Leslie Franzen

    Thanks for another great learning lesson Corey – sounds like you all are doing a great job with the students and also teaching those of us who are following the group. Aren’t those “AHA” moments fun?
    Sincerely, Leslie Franzen

  2. Jean Waight

    My thanks, too, Corey, especially for taking the time to write out the story to share. It’s got my wheels turning.
    Jean Waight
    Volunteer for One Square Inch of Silence Foundation

  3. Kenny

    I am working on a site that main theme is Nature. Can people please visit the site and email me comments about what you thing about it?

  4. Kelsi Franzen

    I love this article, Corey. Such a beautiful account of your moments in Mountain School.

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