Curiosity-filled and four years old, Ava was making her way back to base camp one afternoon when she came upon Lisa’s cat, Ceilidh.
Like most cats who wander the woods, Ceilidh was a hunter at heart, and her prize on this day was a particularly unfortunate squirrel who had lingered too long on the Alphabet Trail.
Ava wasn’t sure if the squirrel was still alive or not, so she leaned in for a closer look.
This squirrel was nothing like the squirrels that scurried busily around the forest.
Not knowing what else to do, Ava picked up the squirrel and bought it back to her spot in the woods for closer inspection. Ava showed Jenah what she had found, and it wasn’t long before the solitude of the woods was entirely forgotten.
As I approached the girls to see what they were up to, I was hoping to help them settle for some peace and quiet, but I was met instead with great excitement.
As they stood up and ran towards me, I could see that Ava was holding something close to her with her arms.
As they came closer, Sarah, a fellow educator Tír na Óg, noticed some blood on Ava’s hands and neck. Despite the joyful smiles on the girl’s faces, she felt, as most adults would, a wave of deep concern wash over her.
“Look at what we found,” Ava offered up by ways of explanation. “Ceilidh dropped it, and now we are looking after it.”
Half-horrified, and half-amused, Sarah replied as calmly as she could. “Well, let’s see if we can’t find some way of keeping it warm.”
Back at basecamp, Sarah grabbed some paper towel while Ava, still beaming and slightly bloodied, gently placed the limp squirrel in its new “blanket.”
Trying to think of the best way to handle this, Sarah swaddled the now definitely dead squirrel as if it was a wee baby. Sarah told the girls that it might be best not to touch the squirrel anymore, as it might have germs that aren’t so healthy for people. And so the learning process began.
As Sarah cleaned the blood off Ava, she asked Ava and her friend Jenah to tell her about the squirrel. Ava explained, how she found it and then the two excitedly recounted their experience. As they washed their hands, the details of their encounter emerged.
Some of the other children could see and hear the commotion going on at base camp and started to leave their Magic Spots to come and see what was so interesting.
Ava and Jenah told us, as most four-year olds would, that they had played games like hopscotch and hide-and-go-seek with the squirrel, and that they had pretended to take it for a ride on the back of a decoy duck down in the forest.
After everyone was satisfied they had seen and heard enough, some of the children left base camp to play in the forest. As the crowd broke up, Sarah and I looked at each other.
“What should we do with the squirrel now?”
"I know," said one of the children. “Let’s bury it!”
So that's what we did. The children found a spot to bury it. A few of them grabbed shovels and started digging. Others decided that the squirrel deserved a grave marker, so off they went, in search a decorative stick.
Once the squirrel was buried, and the grave marked, Sarah and I looked at each other.
“What now?” The day had definitely taken an unexpected turn.
Still, many of the children seemed to grasp the moment.
A small group of them stood at the grave and said things like "goodbye, squirrel," or "you were a good squirrel."
And then, as quickly as they came, they dropped their shovels and went off to play.
You just never know what you’re going to find and learn about down in the forest, which is just one of the many things that we love about it.