Of Rope Swings, Trees, and the Need for Communication by Nitai Deranja
For over 40 years one of the hallmarks of the Ananda Village School, especially from the children’s perspective, has been the road swings. In the earliest days of the school, someone went to the trouble of climbing one of the 100+ foot trees that beautify our campus and tied a rope high in the upper branches, leaving the other end to fall just short of touching the ground. The children quickly learned how to use the rope as a swing, soaring out in wide arcs that circled the tree trunk. It looks a bit dangerous because it’s possible to fall off the rope or crash into the tree, but accidents have been rare over the years with each group of children sharing the basic skills with the next generation. There has been the occasional broken arm, but it’s usually been a child from the city who hasn’t yet learned “the ways of the trees”. As the years have passed, the trees have grown into magnificent guardians of the play area that is our hillside. Unfortunately, two of the trees were placed so that they gradually began overshadowing the school garden area, keeping the sun from reaching the children’s plants. The teachers had discussed the possibility of having the trees taken out, but had made no final decision. As sometimes happens though, when tree cutters arrived one day for a job in another part of the community, a rushed decision was made to have them take out the two garden trees. The following week two students had serious accidents that produced broken bones while using the tree swings. The next week there were three more accidents. At the staff meeting the teachers were discussing how unusual it was to have so many accidents from the tree swings, when it dawned on everyone that it might be linked to the removal of the garden trees. No one had taken the time to address how the other trees might react to having two of their “friends” taken out. We arranged for a time when the children and teachers could walk around the remaining trees, singing, hugging, and thanking them for all they have done for us. The ceremony only took about half an hour, but from that moment on the string of injuries stopped. All of us were able to see that the trees needed to be included in the decision that affected them so deeply. They weren’t malevolent, just upset and confused by our behavior. The ceremony had reassured them of our good will and restored the trusting connection between the children and the trees.