An old-fashioned holiday outing,” reads the invitation tothe Summerfield Waldorf School’s annual Winter Faire. I’m attractedby the chance to step out of the usual holiday hectic, plus Iremember warmly my past visits to Summerfield, both for thebiodynamic farm’s inspiring oak vistas and for the fascinating waysthe school weaves the land into students’ education.
Wanting more information, I talk with Leslie Young,Summerfield’s events coordinator. As she describes the festival, Ibecome excited at the idea of exploring unique locally made,nature-based handcrafts, and perhaps even buying a local biodynamicChristmas tree. (Biodynamic is even more earth-friendly thanorganic.) Visitors can also take a horse and carriage ride, watch apuppet show, peruse Waldorf-compatible books or enjoy a homemade,all-organic lunch prepared by the senior class to fund theiryear-end activities. Plus there’s a “Snowflake Shop,” offeringyoung children low prices on small, donated, handmade and recycleditems.
But I’m most enticed by the notion of doing the traditionalcrafting, including dipping beeswax candles, decorating gingerbreadcookies, making wool felt holiday bell ornaments and dying a silkscarf. While other crafts events might use less desirable materialssuch as Styrofoam, Young says that all their craft materials arenatural, including the silk dyes that are homemade by schoolreceptionist and parent Tracy Saucier. Young hands the phone toSaucier, who enthusiastically tells me that people are returning tothe natural dying techniques used for thousands of years because ofthe reduced impact on the earth, lowered toxic exposure andbeautiful rich colors.
Speaking again with Young, I comment that I enjoy interactingwith Summerfield folks. She replies, “Well, it’s not just a school,it’s a community.” The seasonal rhythm of the year’s festivals, sheexplains, helps create this sense of community, encouraging peopleto connect with each other in meaningful ways while honoringnature.
The school’s ceremonies start each fall with September’sMichaelmas, when they enact the story of St. Michael confrontingthe dragon. Their approach is not religious, Young says, butsymbolic, offering “living images” that can help us on life’sjourney. In Summerfield’s remake, the dragon represents ourchallenges, such as winter’s cold darkness or aspects withinourselves that we want to change. The goal is not to kill thedragon but to transform it, harnessing its strength to empower ourlives.
In another school ceremony, the Advent Garden, parents and youngchildren gather in a dark room. One at a time, each child walksinto a spiral of evergreen boughs, carrying a candle, which is thenlit. The child walks back out, placing the candle in the spiral.When the room is filled with light, the group sings a thematicsong. “It’s pretty magical,” Young says, adding that when the daysbecome short, these ceremonies help us rekindle the lightwithin.
Summerfield’s commitment to encouraging students’ connectionwith the earth is seen throughout the school’s work. For instance,it is one of the few U.S. Waldorf schools with its own onsitebiodynamic farm, which is integrated into the curriculum. This waspart of Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner’s original vision. Duringboth the regular school year and summer Farm Camp, students helpcare for the animals; tend the growing fruits, vegetables andflowers; and process and prepare foods. Through this, according tothe school’s website, they “learn many basic skills that arerapidly becoming lost in today’s industrialized society . . . [andgain] a deeper awareness of the natural world.”
Summerfield’s land steward and farmer Perry Hart writes, “MotherNature is now ailing and . . . humanity must take theresponsibility to nurture our mother back to health.”
I feel soothed hearing about these earth-honoring ways. Toooften in our busy modern lives, nature’s cycles can seem likeoptional background noise. But for most of humankind’s time onearth, we’ve had shared ceremonies to help us honor and synchronizewith the light and the dark, the expansion into summer’s expressivesunshine and the contraction into winter’s restful introspection. Ithink that we viscerally long for nurturing relationships with theearth and community. I’m moved by the opportunity to dip intothese ancient waters.
Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm’s Winter Faire isslated for Saturday, Dec. 6, from 11am to 4pm; $1 entry fee.Adults-only preview, Friday, Dec. 5, 5:30–8pm; no entry fee.655 Willowside Road, Santa Rosa. 707.575.7194.
to theeditor about this story.