Macomber Center - our building is for sure the center of our community. Games, conversations, cooking, meetings, lego constructions, writing, art work, classes, building with blocks, playing music, video games, meals, reading, computer work, making messes, cleaning up - all are part of our daily lives together. However, the vast outside that we have the great good fortune to be centered in is as much of who we are and what we do as the man-made physical structure that contains us.
A great deal of what happens each day takes place outside. These activities are almost too numerous to name, and certainly the learning that happens outside is far too deep and valuable and personal and far-reaching to quantify.
One expected category of activity might fall under the general "sports" label: four square, basketball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, fr'olf (frisbee golf, in case you are not familiar with that term) - all are played at some point by everyone at the Center. Certain ones, like four square, are played with passion and intensity every single day. Here might also be included the skateboards, bikes, rip-sticks, unicycles, and roller skates that all share space outside, and are used by experts and novices alike.
Stepping a bit away from this category, we get to the larger, looser one of "games" played outside by as many kids as can be persuaded to join in. This includes everything from capture-the-flag and back-and-forth tag to knock-out and dodge ball. Events that traditionally take place inside migrate to outside when the weather is fine - math lessons, French horn duets, movie making, Tae Kwon Do, story reading, painting, chess games, flute and guitar playing, even card games, happen in the grass, under the blue sky above.
Then there are outside happenings that engage more of the physical surroundings, perhaps, than noted so far. The "secret place" and the "new secret place" are both lovely examples of this sort of engagement - wild spots on our campus discovered and explored, claimed and named by various aged kids. Places indeed unknown to anyone before them - places to spend whole days learning about how to invent and manage a community of your own imagining, figuring out what is important in the physical setting you have before you, trying out different ways to bring order to your space with the resources at hand. Thick old vines make wonderful swinging chairs, branches higher up in a tree are excellent perches on which to enjoy a picnic lunch, logs rolled into place become sitting benches.
Our outside space is bountiful. We have harvested quantities of Concord grapes growing wild in the places close to our building, making delicious jam from this largesse. Farther afield, a stand of old maple trees has given up gallons of sap to us for two seasons now, sap which has been boiled down to syrup over fires built with wood collected from the forest around us, and stored the previous autumn for that purpose.
Venturing further into the woods surrounding our building opens up another vast expanse of outside: rock climbing, tire swings, a trail cleared and marked by Eagle Scouts, ending at a fire pit great for a s'mores-making adventure - all there to be experienced and enjoyed. Many paths leading through gorgeous pine forest meet the edge of the Ashland Town Forest, another 570 wild acres to be explored if that is your passion. There, remnants of the Witch Caves inhabited by survivors of the Salem Witch trials of the 17th century can be searched for, or the more modern remnants of a Bel Air car of 1950's era, discovered by some of our teens while exploring during our first year, may be rediscovered.
Outside is shared, of course, by a wide variety of wildlife, some more visible to us than others - we have been aware of many deer, too many Canada geese, a flock of wild turkeys, a fisher cat, groundhogs by the entrance gate, one awesome bald eagle in flight, many red-tailed hawks, a pair of red foxes, ticks, dragon flies large and small, bees, birds too numerous to name but in evidence all the day through by their songs, ladybugs, stinkbugs, toads, and one bumpy tree frog, to name a few who have shown themselves to us on various occasions. And to go along with the wildlife are the seasons - not much except for the very coldest of winter days stops outside from being used as a major part of life at the Center. Rain and wind, sun and mud and snow all become part of the vibrant, vigorous life of our members. I venture to suggest that this is a relatively unique privilege for kids today - to have the space and the time to freely explore the natural world in which we live, and to come to terms with information personally gained from spending countless hours outside.