Week 4: Nature Name Tracks and Making a Talking Piece

Greetings Robin Circle families and interested readers!

This past week we made laminated track cards for the girls at Robin Circle. Each card had an unlabeled animal track on it that belonged to someone’s Nature Name (which we all got assigned last week!)


To remind you, our nature names for Robin Circle are: Desert Cottontail, Bobcat, Great Blue Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Snowy Owl, Western Spotted Skunk, White-tailed Deer, Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Black Bear, Red Fox, Black-capped Chickadee, and Rocky Mountain Goat.

During our opening circle, we laid the mystery tracks out in the middle of the circle, and invited the young folks to guess which tracks were theirs. We knew this activity would be challenging, so we weren’t sure how it would go. We were impressed at how many of the tracks the girls guessed right pretty quickly! We gave some hints here and there to help narrow things down, but no big give-aways. Within a few minutes everyone had the card with the track belonging to their nature name.

We learned a couple of things. Owls have K-shaped tracks, unlike most other birds. We also learned that one way to differentiate feline tracks from canine tracks is that canine tracks are much more symmetrical—feline tracks (like bobcat) are asymmetrical (especially the front tracks), and the front tracks exhibit a clear “lead toe.” See the photos below.



Our main activity yesterday was introducing the girls to a format of talking and listening in a group known as council. In school many of us were taught to raise our hand when we want to say something, which is a great tool for ensuring that everyone doesn’t talk at once. However, in the context of nature-connection work, where we like to encourage listening (to the land, to each other, and to our own hearts) as much as possible, sometimes even hand-raising seems a little out of place, since we can get stuck on what we want to say while our hand is raised, and potentially miss out on what’s going on in the moment!

Council is an ancient form of being in community, and can be helpful in any kind of meeting, whether it is organizing local government, resolving conflict, brainstorming, or storytelling. In popular culture, the council is emblematized by a talking stick, staff, or other object, a ceremonial tool for conducting council that was used, in various forms, by many Native American tribes including the Lakota, as well as many native peoples in the Pacific Northwest. Though in some traditions, council is held together by a certain ceremonial object, it is also so much more than this! It is also about an agreement, woven through the hearts of the people involved, to value all perspectives as sacred in their own way, just as every animal has a ‘sacred’ or vital role in an ecosystem.

Many people aren’t aware that the founding figures of the American government were influenced by the ways of governing that they witnessed in the people already inhabiting this land (particularly the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee, a confederacy of six nations), which consisted of something similar to the council-format at many different levels of government, local as well as inter-tribal. This is a form of governing by consensus, where everyone is able to have a voice.

What is special about council is that everyone sits in a circle, preferably on the ground, facing each other. No one is in a higher place than anyone else. The talking piece is passed around the circle, and when someone is holding it, they are supported by the circle in sharing their perspective. While they are speaking, others listen and can not interrupt. When sharing, people are encouraged to not rehearse what they are going to say beforehand (as this can take away from listening), and simply speak what comes to their mind when they receive the talking piece. The rules might seem strict, but it is amazing what being in a council circle and following these rules can do to individuals and to the group as a whole. It is a way of encouraging speaking and listening ‘from the heart.’

After introducing Robin Circle to this concept, and talking a bit about its origins among Native American tribes (in particular, we talked about the Lakota tradition), we invited the girls to help create a talking “piece” for Robin Circle that we might use throughout the year. It would not be exactly like any particular tradition, but rather it would be part of creating our own tradition of being together at Robin Circle. This is one of the reasons we chose to call it a “talking piece” rather than a “talking stick” or “staff,” the latter of which seem more popularly associated with certain Native American traditions.

Arielle, Sage, and I all brought some things to decorate the piece with, but we also found some items from the land at Chautauqua park. It was truly awe-inspiring to see the piece collectively come together. Everyone seemed totally absorbed by this act of group art. I’ve participated in several pieces of group art before, and I’m always amazed at how the finished product exceeds the dreams and expectations of each individual. The finished product that we made was truly more than even the sum of its parts.


We experimented with using the talking piece to share about our sit-spots at the end of Robin Circle. The piece was pretty big (lots of contributions) so often the girls had to hold it with both hands! There was a different energy in our group sharing this time. Everyone did a great job of listening, which is hard especially after a long day at school. It really seemed to help us focus on sharing and listening when we had a beautiful item that we had all helped make to hold it all together.

Awesome job, Robin Circle. Practicing all the different forms of listening is hard work and it’s a survival skill, too!

When I asked everyone to pose for a photo, everyone naturally gathered in a circle around the piece, without any prompting!
When I asked everyone to pose for a photo, everyone naturally gathered in a circle around the piece. :)


See you next week!

~So, Arielle, and Sage

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