Birdie & the Match

Birdie knelt by her family’s temporary fire pit in the cedar circle. She had just stacked her tinder and kindling into a careful pyramid shape, and Lead Educator Julie was finished giving instructions on fire needs (fuel, oxygen, and a spark) and match safety. Birdie’s mom had given the okay; it was time for Birdie to light the match.

This time last year, 8-year-old Birdie was at a sleepaway summer camp here in the Upper Valley, the same camp she’d been attending with her older brother for years. Camp meant building forts, seeing old friends from all over the country, and the carefree joy of being out of school, which she attends in Cambridge, MA. Plans changed this year as many summer camps in the area made the tough choice to close, yet Birdie’s family still felt the pull of the Upper Valley; they rented a small condo for the summer and took a chance registering for Cedar Circle Farm’s Family Adventure Package.

On Monday, I met Birdie, her mom, Maggie, and her brother, Will, at Cedar Circle Farm’s new Education Plot, half a mile down Pavilion Road by the Willing Hands plots. The weeds have flourished in the recent heat and rain, so Birdie and her family helped liberate the kale, while another family, also signed up for that week’s Family Adventure Package, helped free the ground cherries. On one of the hottest days of the summer, we didn’t last too long weeding; we moved on to harvest as many camouflaged cucumbers and zucchinis as we could, which would be donated to Willing Hands, and finally retired to the relative shade of the blueberry patch for a well-deserved treat.

Maggie registered Birdie and Will for a Farm Chef kit, which includes recipes and the farm-fresh ingredients to make them. “Will ate chard for lunch,” Maggie said, “which really says it all!” And of the maple kale chips they made from one of the recipes, which were eaten up in no time? “Life-changing,” said Maggie.

Birdie and her family came back to the farm for Wednesday’s Wilderness Adventure Day. After a hike around the farm and some tart gooseberry tastings, we met for the day’s culminating event—a fire-building one-match challenge. Could families collect and arrange their tinder and kindling in such a way that it would only take one touch of a lit match to start the campfire?

Having been burned by a match in the past, Birdie began slowly and lightly scratching the match against the striking surface of the matchbox.

“Faster!” her brother encouraged.

“Push harder!” her mom coached.

Birdie shrunk back a little. “Can someone just light it for me?” she asked, attempting to hand the box to me.

“Absolutely not,” I told her.

She began again, slowly and carefully skimming the striking surface with the match.

“Pretend your brother just made you really mad,” advised Julie. And then whoosh, the match was lit. She moved the match slowly towards the small campfire and placed it on the paper.

“Fire!” she growled, eyes glowing, as she reached for another match.

As I watched Birdie operating at the edge of her comfort zone, pushing her boundaries, I was reminded of traditional summer camp, where these kinds of experiences are what it’s all about. While Birdie’s match-strike created the perfect spark for her family’s campfire, could it also be true that it sparked a realization of her power to be resilient in difficult situations (even those in which she’s been burnt before)?

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