Another grassy walk

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The kangaroo grass heads were almost level with the children’s along some sections of the track. Scattered amongst the native grasses, the delicate rattle grasses attracted our attention – and a couple of the children reached out to roll their weeping shell-like heads between their fingers, and to pick them like a bunch of flowers.

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Inevitably, some of the spikiest and stickiest grass seeds lodged themselves in the children’s shoes and socks. So the walk was punctuated by regular stops to pull them out.

One group of children were intent on picking grass-seed heads to make posies and decorate hats. They were quite preoccupied with this task, repeatedly declaring their love of the grasses and of the art of decoration. ‘Now that I’ve made this grass posy, I can get married’, one of them declared.

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Throughout the walk, the children expressed a heightened awareness of the grass, and its various functions and affordances. One child drew everyone’s attention to a flattened area of dead grass, ‘Look, a kangaroo grass bed’ she confidently proclaimed. ‘This is where a kangaroo lay down to sun itself’.

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Others noticed a pile of grass stems and heads scattered on the ground. On closer inspection, they could see that ants were swarming all over the grass stems. They discussed how they were probably picking up the seeds and carrying them down their holes ‘to feed the queen ant’.

Others still, decided that lying around in long green grass and enjoying the warm sun, like the kangaroos do, is particularly enjoyable. They kept commenting on how soft and comfortable the grass was – like a bed. They made grass pillows and covered themselves with grassy blankets, settling right in.

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Weed killer had been sprayed around a park bench that the children were playing on. We warned them not to touch any pink patches of grass, because the pink colour indicates poison. One child, in particular, became fixated on the implications of poisoning the environment. She wanted to know if we would get poisoned if we walked on the grass with our shoes on, or only with our shoes off. She wondered what would happen to the animals that touched the poison grass, and in particular, the rabbits that ate the grass. ‘I think they might have died because they ate the poison grass’ she said, remembering all the dead rabbits that we had seen on earlier walks. ‘I don’t know why people poison the grass and kill the rabbits’ she added, struggling to make sense of such acts.

A couple of children were so attached to the grass that they carried some back to put in their lockers.

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Holding onto the grass seemed to trigger reflections upon its significance to their family life. As we walked, one child told us that her whole family likes grass. Her aunt’s horse eats grass. Her dogs eat grass when they feel sick, and they like to sleep in grassy beds. In fact, her house is full of bits of grass that the dogs bring in from outside. Another explained how her mother uses dried grass to make hats. ‘She made the hat I’m wearing out of grass’ she declared proudly, and asked me to take a photo of it.

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Making Things

 

During our routine visit to the Ngaraka Shrine, we noticed that the children are now handling the kangaroo bones with the kind of confidence that comes from familiarity.  One child picked up a large pile of bones and held them close to her body.  Seeing this random assemblage, another decided it would be a good to ‘make’ a kangaroo by reconstructing a skeleton.  They spent some time picking up various bones and trying to ‘fit them together’.

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It is now late spring. The wild flowers that carpeted the grasses a fortnight ago have either succumbed to the campus maintenance mowers or to their own seed cycles. The children commented on the ‘swishy’ and sometimes also ‘scratchy’ feel of the grass around their ankles and a number had to stop to pull prickles out of their socks.

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Others gathered up soft clumps of dried cut grass and pondered which animals, apart from horses, might like to eat it. They thought that ‘maybe the rabbits’ might also enjoy a meal of ‘hay’.  But there were other grassy re-purposings in store.

 

 

Down by the lakeside, we stumbled across a scattering of partially assembled objects made out of grass, reeds, twigs and bark. ‘Someone else has been here and made these things’ the children observed. They eagerly picked up the objects to examine their structures and test out their various uses.  A couple of boys adapted a braided ring, made out of bulrush stalks, as an addition to their usual stick ‘fishing rods’. Pouncing on a large mat, woven out of reeds and bark, they dragged it to the waters edge: ‘This is a raft – look, look it’s a raft – put it on the lake and we can make it float. … Yes, our raft is floating. … Oh no, its sinking. Pull it out of the water.’

Other children were closely inspecting the materials and techniques involved in making these objects, and wanted to have a go.  So we sat down awhile under the cool shade of the casuarinas and worked on some of our own creations.  We selected the longest and strongest reeds and plaited them together to make our own ropes, belts and braided rings.Combined with feathers and flowers, they made great decorative accessories.

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One child settled himself comfortably at the base of a casurina tree, and made small structures by standing several small sticks together. ‘I’m making lots of sculptures’, he explained, and then described each in turn. ‘This one’s a little shrine, but it doesn’t have bones, it has grass’. And pointing to another, ‘you can actually climb up this one, so it’s kind of like an obstacle course’. 

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After a time, various bugs (such as spiders and slaters) came crawling around the sticks. The child declared this was a shelter for the animals: These sculptures are so bugs and beetles and all sorts of animals can take shelter. See look [a spider] is near my sculpture.  They might be going to my shelter to have a look. … I’ll make some little furniture. Well the grass in there is for being comfortable and here’s some moss to go in this one. 

 

At some point in the midst of all this creative activity, we spotted a number of slightly submerged stakes in the lake – only just protruding.

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It was then that we recalled the plans of the art student we had met a fortnight ago. He had been making stakes from the fallen tree to hammer into the lake floor. He had planned to place things on top of these stakes to give the appearance of something sitting on the water. We realised that this must have been the site where he continued to work on his art installation. The grass and stick assemblages that he had left behind had inadvertently inspired the children in their own creative ‘making’ endeavours.