The Magic of Long-Term Mentoring

Today did not start out looking like it was going to be an awesome day at Bear Clan. Driving to the land, I wrestled with the feelings of sadness and overwhelm that had weighed upon my heart the past couple of days. As I turned onto Highway 36 and then into Lefthand Canyon, the 40-50 mph gusts of winds that greeted me did nothing to raise my spirits. The glimmer of hope I felt when I left my house with the sun shining and the day calm faded as I sat in my car watching the wind create mini tornadoes of snow as it swept across the field.
Darilynn and Wendy arrived, and then the girls. We all agreed that the best course of action was to go to the tipi and start a fire. We walked through the howling wind to the other side of the creek and ducked into the tipi. Once inside, listening to the poles creak and the wind beat against the canvas, none of the girls wanted to go back outside to gather firewood. I suggested we all go together, since it was the job no one wanted to do. The girls did not all rise in enthusiastic support of my brilliant community-minded idea. In fact, only Wendy and Darilynn even indicated a willingness to get firewood. Discouraged and knowing that I did not hold the right mental attitude in that moment to be effective, I went outside to gather wood.
A little while later, with load of dead maple twigs and cottonwood branches in my arm, I retuned to the tipi. I noticed that only my colleagues and Jessica were outside gathering firewood. I passed my armload of wood to the girls inside the tipi and started to walk away, wanting to disappear to my sit spot for the next hour or two. Instead, I took a few breaths, walked back to the tipi, and climbed inside. Sitting next to the fire pit, I let my eyes adjust and looked around. What I saw unfold over the next 20 minutes was pure magic.
Reagan, sitting to my right, was shaping dry grass and inner bark from a tree into a tinder bundle. On the other side of me, Berkleigh was placing thin sticks in the fire pit attempting to make a tipi structure. On the far side of the tipi, Anne, Isabela and Bryleigh had their bow drill sets out and were putting the pieces together so they could make a coal. Watching, but not saying a word, I began breaking up the wood I’d gathered and passing sticks to Berkleigh for her tipi.
Reagan asked if there was any cattail down for the center of the tinder bundle and Berkleigh asked Phoebe if she would help her make the tipi structure. Jessica, Wendy and Darilynn returned while Anne started bowing. Isabela began singing “Fire in the Sun,” the song we use to encourage the fire maker and fire spirits to gift us with a coal, and the other girls joined in. Neither Wendy, Darilynn or I spoke. I watched in awe as the routines we’d led the girls through week after week, year after year, carried them effortlessly towards our goal of a warm cozy fire.
After making several coals that burned out before reaching the tinder bundle, Anne invited Phoebe to bow with her. Bryleigh and Isabela offered their spindles to replace Anne’s, which had worn down from use. Reagan added cattail fluff to the center of her tinder bundle, while Berkleigh put finishing touches on the tipi in the fire pit. Everyone seemed to know what needed to be done. Each girl stepped naturally into a role that utilized her gifts and moved us forward. As the girls started bowing again Jessica picked up the song. I joined in and soon the group’s hopeful voices filled the tipi.
Anne and Phoebe quickly got a coal. I stared in amazement as I watch Anne carefully lift the piece of bark where the coal rested and gently wave her hand over it to help it grow. With a relaxed ease I’ve only seen in experience fire makers, Anne fed the coal sprinkles of dust generated from her bowing. After a long moment of careful tending, Anne leaned over to where Reagan sat ready with the tinder bundle. She carefully transferred the coal to the bundle and, like birds flying in formation, the girls began blowing together to bring the bundle into flames.
“Tag team with me as I blow,” Reagan said as the smoke filled her eyes. Each girl leaned in adding her breath to the red glow in the center of the tinder. The smoke thickened. I added my breath. Then Reagan blew again and the tinder burst into flames – always a miracle to witness.
Eyes stinging from the smoke, the girls managed to get the tinder bundle into the tipi, which flamed up almost immediately. Our voices exalted, we sang “Fire in the Sun” one more time. My heart soared and I thought, I guess we’ve got that teambuilding activity covered that we planned for today. It was an awesome day at Bear Clan and it was only 10:30 am.
Thanks for sharing your awesome girls with us!!

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