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Event 2: Dirt, leaf stalks and jacaranda flowers

For the next event the girls chose an excursion up the backyard to a little tin shed that has been turned into their cubby house. The shed is low, the doorway about four feet high with floor space about six feet square. The cubby house sits underneath a large jacaranda, a semi deciduous tree that flowers in late spring, shedding its fine leaves at the same time. Outside the little shed is its yard, a flat area edged with timber, about the same size as the cubby. The cubby house yard is filled with fine twigs and dry leafy dirt and has a pot plant on each side. The floor inside is covered with a piece of light coloured lino, the walls hand painted by the girls and decorated with stickers, trails of glitter and night lighting stars. I am invited to come up to look at the newly attached stars. I crawl in through the low door and sit on the floor while the girls busy themselves in the outer yard.

Lulu begins by breaking off leaves one by one from the succulent growing in one of the pots, breaking them into small pieces and placing the pale green pieces against the dark dirt litter in a flat mosaic pattern. Charmaine busies herself emptying the dirt from the pot plant on the other side of the cubby. Lulu then moves a little away and starts to shape the dirt with the edge of her hands into a raised flat circle, patting the top. Fine dried leaf stalks from the jacaranda tree littering the dirt around her are broken into short lengths and placed upright around the edge of the raised circle; 'I'm making a birthday cake'. One by one Lulu picks up fallen jacaranda flowers and slips her finger into the throat of the flower to prepare it for slipping over the stalk. An upside down purple jacaranda flower is placed over the top of each of the dried leaf stalks forming a perfect circle of purple flower petal-candles. Charmaine continues to play with the empty pot as if it is a small beachside bucket, filling and emptying the dirt.

Sitting inside the small dark cubby looking out at the girls, I am too slow with the iPhone to catch Lulu's hand lifting up and sifting the sandy dirt, fingers and hands scraping and smoothing to make the shape of the cake, the snapping of the fine twiggy jacaranda leaf stalks, their careful insertion into the dirt cake as candles, and the ever so delicate opening of the throat of the fallen flowers. By the time I get my phone from my pocket and turn on the video function I record only the dismantling of the cake, flower petal by flower petal. 'Why are you taking the flowers out?' I ask. 'Because, they need to come out, you can't eat them'. Charmaine sings 'I am making a castle, I am making a castle' over and over in rhythm with her actions. Once all the candles are gone and the remains of the cake swept away, with a deft movement of body and swift sleight of hand Lulu swoops the empty flower pot from Charmaine. Lulu begins to fill it with the dirt and leaves; 'I'm making a big building with dirt and fuel'.

As we leave this event of place to walk across the carpet of purple flowers spread out under the large jacaranda tree, the girls tell me that we have to be careful of the bees collecting the last nectar of the dying flowers under our feet.

The two-minute video segment captures the end of the movements and talk of the jacaranda birthday cake event. I can return and review each of the children's actions, the intertwined movement of hands and limbs, flowers, leaf stalks, dirt and voices. It is interesting to contemplate the elements of this event in a backyard, rather than any kind of wild place. The elements of place are all present in the intricacy of the very intimate, embodied materiality of this making. The exquisite lavender blue of flower petals, so bright and delicate against the dark twiggy dirt. The slightly limp quality of each fleshy flower having lost its aliveness and become flat, hence the finger in the deep throat of the petal to make it round again. Each leaf stalk has become brittle too, allowing it to be an upright candle poked into the pile of dirt-becoming-cake, all engaged in this process of becoming-other. Then the sudden demolition as the elements of cake are transformed again to become a big building. I am fascinated by this kind of very quick imaginative making in response to the materiality of this very mundane place, and the rapid shift of becoming something else. It is as if the actions themselves explicate the theory of infinite moment by moment becomings. The event itself could only happen with those materials in this place at this particular moment. The materials structure the time, place and potential becomings of these moments but they are also part of larger cycles and seasons. It is late spring when the lavender jacaranda flowers fall, the dirt is dry from the lack of rain, the fallen flowers and brittle leaf stalks are in the process of transforming from the state of being alive and the bees gather the last of the nectar from the dying flowers to make honey.

A 'common worlds' understanding of place is a response to the question of how to live well with each other and in balance with the planet's ecological systems, proposed as the most pressing and confronting political and ethical imperative of our times (Taylor, 2013). Common worlds are the entangled human and more-than-human real local worlds that children inherit and co-inhabit along with other species (Taylor, 2013). Drawing on Latour and Haraway, a common worlds approach is another way of addressing the intransigent nature/culture binary in Western thought. 'Instead of rehearsing the nature/culture binary.. .the notion of common worlds encourages us to move towards an active understanding of and curiosity about the unfolding and entangled worlds we share with a host of human and more-than-human others' (Taylor & Giugni, 2012 p. 111). It is a move away from the idea that we have to reconnect with nature, that nature could be anything other than where we are. Common worlds theory involves a shift from a focus on human-human social relationships to heterogeneous relations between a whole host of living beings and things, non-living and living forces. Rather than assuming that relationships are built upon communications between already formed subjects, a common worlds approach understands these relations as generative encounters with others, shared events that have mutually transformative effects. It is through these relations with others that we become, and continue to become who we are: 'actual encounters are what make beings' (Haraway in Taylor & Giugni,

2012 p. 112).

The very ordinary, everyday event in the girls' backyard reveals the entangled common worlds that children inherit and inhabit. Place in this event is not a pristine natural world separate from the child but is made up of fallen jacaranda flowers and leaves, dirt, plant pots and children. It removes the idea that children must be in 'nature' to experience these things, but there is a different quality of intra-action in the different places of our experiment.

'Common worlds' is a theoretical framework that helps to shape different ways of seeing, and recoding these events requires intense attention to the moment by moment detail. The events are characterised by the children's rhythms, the warming up phase when the pattern is made with the succulent leaves and the plant pot is emptied of its plant to become a container. It is during this time that the girls might seek the expected adult interventions. If we are at the river they may want a snack, squabble between themselves, ask for adult- child interactions, 'can you play with us?' An adult intervention can radically change what happens. If I see this as a pedagogical moment, for example, I could introduce a particular game or activity that presumes a human centred focus. If I background my (human) self, the warming up play is displaced by the intense immersion of the event. This takes place for as long as it takes and is sooner or later followed by a return to human oriented finishing up behaviour. Sometimes this ending does not happen spontaneously and I have to fabricate an artificial ending that can be met with resistance. I understand each of these events as a learning activity in which the children's 'research' involves an openness to the possibilities of their common worlds places.

As the adult in jacaranda common worlds I am positioned out of sight and out of the picture, quite literally, crouched inside the tin shed/cubby house. The jacaranda flowers, the dirt, the leaf stalks, plant pots and children are the actors in their relations with each other. Time and space are reconfigured in the timespacemattering of immersion which momentarily becomes all time and all places, swiftly displaced by other becomings as the jacaranda cake is transformed into a building. Tiptoeing back to the house over the blossom-covered grass, the jacaranda flowers are returned again to a carpet of purple yielding their last nectar to buzzing bees who enter deep into the throat of the dying flowers like the finger of the child. Our feet negotiate the bee-flower constellation with care to avoid their stings. It is through this set of endlessly proliferating relations that we become who we are. This tiny video segment, just under two minutes, documents these becomings through a single event in the common worlds of these two children's lives.

Pattern in stones, jacaranda birthday candles

Figure 6.2 Pattern in stones, jacaranda birthday candles

 
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