There is a kind of primal magic in the depths of the forest when woodsmoke drifts through early spring air, and the whoops and catcalls of free-range children echo across the clearing and through the trees. On the day of my eldest’s seventh birthday, we made our way along the undulating woodland path by the side of the gully. At every fork in the path we left a stick arrow, a trail for the guests to follow. Our destination was the base camp of Fireside Forest School.
We gathered around the fire pit, and as the birthday boy lit the campfire with a beautiful hand carved fire steel, we all made wishes to be drawn into the fire. With the fire lit, the camp was ready for action, and the children set off on endless adventures of their own devising: fossil-mining, rope-swinging, stick-whittling, and weapon-carving. Lunch was cooked over the fire: popcorn, hot dogs, and marshmallows toasted with hand-whittled sticks.
Armed with swords and bows fashioned by their own hands, the children gloried in their wildness, embarking upon an ebullient and chivalrous mock battle. As adults, we too were caught up in the unbridled joy of it, the freedom and the creativity, the essence of what childhood is and should be.
Wending our way back through the trees, with muddy faces and woodsmoke-scented hair, we felt heavy of limb but light of spirit. The hours spent in that special clearing had changed us, just a little, for the better. Children walked home taller, adults walked home calmer. It was not just the smoke that clung to us; a little of the sylvan magic was carried home by everyone.