What a day we had on Friday! Only our second day of program and already we’ve experienced an incredible animal encounter.

Morning games held a special energy of fun. A sprinkling of rain did not dampen spirits.

After games, we headed into the forest, where little did we know the learning that awaited us today, nestled deep in the woods.

Over the course of the morning, our River Otters began the process of learning safe tool use and worked together to fell a rotting tree stump. After some moments of dedicated work, the stump fell with a satisfying crash. A moment of appreciation and then…

Out of the broken bark tumbled something fluffy about the size of a softball— a tangle of soft bark fibers and plant matter. At first it appeared to resemble an empty bird’s nest; however, closer inspection revealed two tiny creatures huddled in the center of the nest. Eyes still closed and delicate skin still naked. Miniscule ears tucked flat against the head. Toes small as seeds. These critters were young, likely only a few days old. Extraordinary flaps of skin from each forefoot to hind paw gave us a clue. One child exclaimed “Flying squirrels!” Sure enough, soon mama arrived on the scene, no doubt alerted by the unusual activity in her home base area. Her bright eyes, silken fur and darting tail captivated the group. Anxiously hopping from tree to tree, she searched for the sanctuary in which she had left her babies safely tucked away, the sanctuary which now lay in pieces on the ground.

Baby flying squirrels in nest found by children during forest school classes

Emotions were running high in the group. Feelings of regret for the impact we had unintentionally caused for this wild family. Sadness for causing such worry for the mama, damage to her home and danger for her babies. Their soft nest had protected them from the impact of the fall, but what impact would the event have on their young lives? Many questions arose. Will they survive? Will the mama come back for them? Can we forgive ourselves for our mistake?

Because we realized that we had made a mistake. In the excitement of working to fell the stump, neither children nor mentors paused to consider, “Might there be something making it’s home inside this stump? What might our impact be by taking down this seemingly insignificant rotting log?” Our innocent lack of awareness had had a considerable, potentially life threatening, impact on this flying squirrel family. Realizing we had a responsibility to do our best to make it right, the group devised a plan. Working together, we picked up the pieces of the fallen stump and rebuilt it as best we could. We then tucked the nest back inside and decided to steer clear of the immediate area in hopes that the mama, who had, by this point, left the scene, would return and find her babies in their repaired home.

More questions came. Will our repair job hold? How can we make sure it’s watertight? How long has that family been living in that stump? What can we do differently in the future to ensure we don’t repeat our misstep?

The sigh of relief was palpable when, as we ate lunch, mama flying squirrel returned and after a few tentative hops, she approached the opening in the bark, peeked inside, and after a moment’s hesitation slipped silently inside, tufted tail disappearing last from view.

Rotting log tied back together by children at nature camp to protect a flying squirrel nest they found

Wow. We were relieved to know the babies were reunited with mama, and yet our new awarenesses lingered. None of our actions are insignificant. The choices we make can impact our world in unexpected ways. It is important to admit a mistake and make amends as best we can. Sometimes the most challenging experiences are the ones that bring the most valuable gifts. Though our flying squirrel encounter was emotionally intense, it is, I believe, these intense experiences that help us learn what is in our character, give us a chance to hold ourselves accountable, learn from our own mistakes and, most of all, from the incredible interconnected web of nature, of which we are a part.

At closing circle at the end of the day, one sentiment was shared by all: our flying squirrel encounter had been a gift— one that would not be forgotten soon.

With Love,

Robin, Clint and Jamie