Last post I talked about holding onto a vision. Since then I have been thinking a lot about what forms our visions, dreams, and ideas in the first place. After reading Steiner’s lectures on Michaelmas and the Soul Forces of Man, I was impressed all the more that it is the internal pictures we create, mold, and find ways to express and bring outward for others to experience, that really determine the course of much of our action and influence. Whether these pictures are handed to us by others, or whether we have the soul forces to receive them from, shall we say, “the cosmos” or “the spiritual realm”, they truly shape us.
In The Ringing Cedars Series, a set of books which have (obviously 😉 ) had a profound impact on me, I was introduced to the idea of how influential the individual can be who has powerful, vivid (as Steiner might say, “condensed”) internal imagery and the creative forces to portray it to large groups of people- the artists, or “bards” of days of yore. Can you imagine an age before digital media, or even television and radio when we were not bombarded with so many images at such a steady stream that we became much less sensitive to all this input- how much a song or speech or drama would sink in and deeply affect the pure inner life of the audience- who would then think back upon it repeatedly until it gained almost a life of its own?
And, mamas- we yield this power, on a daily basis. Much of our children’s “firsts”- impressions, influences, and exposures, are allowed (or not allowed) through the sieve of our discretion. And children are searching diligently for imagery to propel them forward on their path! They seem to have inborn drive to seek out heros and models to imitate and act out (hence the thriving action figure and happy meal toy industry). How can we bring vivid imagery imbued with soul life and warmth to our children- imagery that will meet them where they are at and draw them to where they are destined to journey? Well, one practical way I have been striving to do this is in form drawing.
Form Drawing has been our first Grade One block, and although there have been many lovely ideas as to how to get started, I really felt confused about it. I read about it from several sources (Form Drawing Grades One Through Four has been a favorite!)… three curriculums… Waldorf Yahoo Group files… blogs (Ancient Hearth has a great one here)… and still just felt a little nervous about starting. So I waited a few days (much to my husband’s anxiety- I think he wondered if I would ever start homeschooling!). I meditated on the information I had absorbed, I thought about how to bring it to my son, and I kept waiting. The most wonderful thing happened! A story came to me, beginning with a powerful image of a little boy drawing in the sky with a stick. This is how the story goes…
The Cloud Boy
Once upon a time there lived a young boy in a small cottage on top of a very high mountain. He lived on the mountain with his mother, his father, and their flock of sheep.
The mountain was so high that if you were tall enough, you could reach up and touch the bottoms of the clouds. The little boy would often jump up and try to catch the tails of the puffy clouds that passed by. He was still a little too short to reach them with his fingers, but he could reach them when he held up a long, straight stick he liked to keep outside the cottage door for just this purpose. He would use the stick to draw pictures in the clouds- long lines, short lines, and curvy shapes too.
The more he drew in the clouds, the better he became, until eventually he was able to draw pictures of everything he had ever seen, and his beautiful cloud pictures looked just like the things he wanted them to be. His dragons looked like fierce, flying beasts; his sheep looked like his family’s very own sheep; and his castles looked like strong and mighty fortresses. He was the Cloud Boy.
The Cloud Boy didn’t know it, but the wind would carry his cloud pictures away to all the four corners of the earth. Other little children would look up in the sky and see his dinosaurs, his sheep, and his castles in the clouds. Have you ever seen them?
One day, as the Cloud Boy’s father was leading the sheep down a steep slope to their favorite part of the mountain to run and jump and play and graze on what grasses they could find there, he fell. He hurt his leg very badly and couldn’t get up to tend the sheep the next day. So the Cloud Boy began to tend the sheep, and he didn’t have time to draw his cloud pictures anymore. All across the world, the clouds pictures ceased. The world’s children looked high and low, but instead of fierce dragons, playful sheep, and mighty castles they saw only fluffy puffs that didn’t look like anything.
Days went by, and the Cloud Boy’s mother grew worried. Every day, her face looked sadder and sadder, until finally the Cloud Boy asked her “Mama, why do you look sadder and sadder every day?” His mama answered him, “Son, it is almost time to shear the sheep and bring the extra wool down, down, down to the village far below us in the valley. But only your father has ever made that journey with the donkey and cart on this steep trail. I must stay here and take care of him, and I am scared that you will not be able to manage alone. How will we get our wool to the market? How will we sell it, and how will we buy the things we need to last us until your father’s leg is mended and he is well again?
The Cloud Boy told his mama he was not afraid. He had gone with his father to the village before and he knew the way. He would be very careful, and go very slowly, and he would take the extra wool to the market, sell it, and buy the things they needed until his father was well again. His mother’s face still looked sad and worried, but as she had no other options, she agreed.
On the day he was to leave, the sun shone bright and the wind blew playfully. The boy’s mother packed him a few loaves of bread and lumps of cheese, and a few apples from their one lone apple tree that dared to grow so high on a mountain. She gave him a kiss, prayed for his safety, and waved to him all the way down the mountain until the curvy path led him out of sight.
The boy went very slowly for a while. But as it got later in the day, and he was still very, very far from the village, he began to urge the donkey on faster. Oh no! The donkey stumbled, the cart lurched suddenly, and the bags of wool went tumbling, tumbling down the mountain. He peered over the edge of a cliff and watched as the bags ripped as they bumped over the jagged stones and rocks, and the soft fluffy wool scattered everywhere across the hillside and into the valley below. It looked as though snow covered everything. How would he ever gather it all up? It was already dinner time. Soon it would be dark.
The Cloud boy began to gather up what pieces of wool he could find until at last, the sun was almost completely gone and he had to head back to where the donkey and the cart were waiting for him, and start a small fire to keep warm and safe during the night. After he made the fire, he sat beside it on a rock and big tears filled his eyes. How would he explain to his mother that he had lost the wool and couldn’t buy the food, tools, and supplies they needed? He unwrapped his loaf of bread, and ate it with a small lump of cheese. But when he held one of the red apples in his palm, he was just too upset to even take one bite.
As he sat there with big tears in his eyes holding the apple, what should happen but a wee man, a Mountain Gnome, came bumbling across the clearing where the Cloud Boy had set his little camp up. The Mountain Gnome didn’t see the Cloud Boy, and he was singing and muttering under his breath as he traveled. He was singing:
“Snitchy snatchy, what to do?
Watch out or clouds will fall on you!
Snitchy snatchy, all around
I see them landing on the ground!”
The Cloud Boy interrupted this song after the third time he had heard it. “Excuse me, sir, but what are you singing about?” he asked timidly. The Mountain Gnome was startled, and almost jumped back into the woods, but seeing as it was just one sad looking little boy sitting all by himself, he reluctantly came up to him.
“You see, it started several weeks ago. My daughter the little Mountain Gnome Girl used to lay upon a blanket and watch the clouds with her friends, where she would see beautiful pictures floating by. They saw castles with princes and princesses too, dinosaurs and dragons, and everything imaginable! She and the other mountain gnome children would watch the sky stories and then pretend that they were right up there in the clouds, inside the castles, riding the flying dragons. This is what they did all day. Then all of a sudden, the cloud pictures stopped. Then without warning today, the clouds all fell from the sky and we have found pieces of them all over the mountainside and the valley! Oh my, what shall we do?” the little man wrung his wee hands and tugged on his long white beard.
The Cloud boy tried to be polite, but he began to smile and even laugh out loud! He told the Mountain Gnome about how he used to spend his days drawing pictures in the clouds, about how his father fell and injured his leg, and how finally today as he tried to bring the family’s wool to the village below, the donkey has stumbled, the cart had lurched, and the wool went all over the mountainside and valley. And what do you know, but the Mountain Gnome began to chuckle too, and they laughed and they laughed until the fire grew and roared, fanned by the flames of their breath.
“Well, little Cloud Boy, you have given me the answer to a mystery I couldn’t solve on my own, and I will gladly repay you with an answer to your problem too, if you promise that when you return to your mountain, you will once again draw pictures in the clouds for all the gnome children to enjoy.” The Cloud Boy agreed.
“I will tell you the secret of the Gnomes, which only the Gnomes know so you must never tell another soul the secret or some great evil shall befall you. We gnomes work hard beneath the ground, mining precious rocks and bringing them up for the humans, who buy them and use them as jewels and trinkets. This is how we make our living. Sometimes, when we go for a long patch without finding any gold or gems, we can use our gnome magic to make gold and gems out of plain rocks, or fruits, or anything Mother Earth gives us. That apple you hold there, for instance.” The Mountain Gnome took the apple from the boy’s hand and held it tenderly in his own. He began to rub it with the bottom of his shirt so that it shined, and as he rubbed it, he said in a half singing, half talking way:
“Backwards, forwards, round and round
Shining as a jewel be found
Snitchy, snatchy gold and treasure
Riches, riches without measure.”
And sure enough, when the Mountain Gnome pulled the apple from his shirt again, it was a huge nugget of gold!
The little boy took all the apples his mother had given him, and imbued with the Mountain Gnome’s magic, transformed them into golden nuggets too. The next morning, he led the donkey and the cart into town and used the nuggets to buy all the supplies his parents had asked him to obtain. He also hired a shepherd lad to care for the sheep. This way, he could fulfill his promise to the Mountain Gnome and once again, spend his days doing what he loved- drawing cloud pictures. If you look outside on a cloudy day, you may see some of them that the four winds have blown across all the skies of the earth.
Maybe it’s just me, but that story really gripped me. I realized later how many archetypal and psychological issues it dealt with. My son is one of those “head in the clouds” kind of children, and the journey to meet the wise old gnome who represents a very grounded, elemental being brought gravity and depth to its listener. The idea of the apple came to me from seeing two young boys, my milk farmer’s sons, polishing apples to be sold. They sat on stools content as can be, rubbing the apples in their shirts. I wanted to give my son the simple joy of this meaningful task, but without having to tell him to do it. He really took to this activity, after hearing the story he polished a single apple for hours and it is nearly gold! He also found a stick in the woods and has carried it with him everywhere outside, and yes, it does sit waiting for him just outside our door. But beyond all this, the greatest joy came in pouring forth my heart to his. He knew I crafted this tale just for him, and loved it and wants to hear it again and again.
In addition to telling the story, we prefaced our form drawing with “absorbing” the forms by finding them around us in nature.
Our first attempt didn’t go so well- it ended in a torrential downpour! Here we are taking cover in our car.
The next day was better. 😉
We found curves in the path of the swollen creek.
And the leaves bear straight lines in the middle, with curvy edges.
Straight lines in the thorny spikes of the hornbeam…
And we walked the straight lines of fallen logs.
We adored the curved lines of the toadstool tops,
And the patterns of the lichens (or maybe fungi) on this tree…
There is so much to take in-
in our woodland classroom. That is what we call this spot where the logs have fortuitously fallen in a big rectangle.
Before we leave, we draw some lines in the mud with a stick…
And then use the stick to pole vault across the puddles!
As we leave, we notice that one way the road is straight.
The other way, it bends around the valley.
When we get home, we practice drawing straight lines with our hands in the air; our noses, our chins; laying down on the floor stretched out as straight as can be, and I also draw lines on his back with my finger as he tried to draw what they feel like on a sheet of paper. When he is satisfied with his practice work, he draws some beautiful straight lines on the first page of his main lesson book.
And so, having grasped with his whole being (body, our nature walk; soul, the story; and mind, the practice work on paper) the nature of straightness and curviness, and truly feeling what a line is, I think it has become a part of him. It is not some abstract bit of image he arbitrarily copies, but a yearning to attain that purity of form we see all around us in the natural world (and don’t straight lines bring to mind that striving for truth and righteousness? The archetypal “straight and narrow”). What a solid foundation it will be as we work on forming letters and practicing good penmanship- and what an incredible way to fill him up with good, worthy images. I hope they will serve him well as he takes what he needs from his experiences with me and uses them to fuel his destiny.
Oh, and we ended the day with our lovely Michaelmas feast! Here is this year’s dragon bread.
We used cherry tomatoes for the bulging red eyes and sliced almonds for the ears and scales.
If you have any stories you’ve created for your homeschool adventures, please add links in the comments, I’d love to read your homespun stories. And speaking of sharing stories, I love this mama’s storyline! Maybe I will use it next year.