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Creek Village Rises Again

Fat alder buds (Alnus rubra)

As early tree and shrub buds were swelling and opening last week, signs of human habitation suddenly appeared on the west side of North Creek.

Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis)--one of the earliest blooming native shrubs

I spotted this mysterious structure on the far side of the foot bridge and crossed over to look more closely.

After I crossed the bridge it became obvious there was more to the lonely structure than what I could see from the other side of the creek.

Soon I spotted another structure with a little pile of firewood in front. (Fire is not allowed on campus, but firewood is essential for authenticity.)

One group constructed a long house of sorts and were inside refining the structure and enjoying each other's company.

This hamlet is the latest incarnation of Creek Village, which for the past four years has arisen and flourished for about a month, in early or late spring.

During the first year, four Clearwater students created homes within the natural structure of shrubs, trees and underbrush across the creek. Matt, the only staff member in the village, acted as lodge keeper. Creek Village residents paid him in salmonberries for the opportunity to sleep at the lodge, located at Second Beach. (There are three accessible beaches along Clearwater School's stretch of North Creek. Starting with the most northern beach, they are consecutively named First, Second and Third Beach.) Every day residents trooped to their village. Someone yelled "Breakfast!"; five minutes later, "Lunch!"; after five more minutes, "Dinner!"; then "Night time!"; and finally, "Morning!". They shared food from their lunches and ate salmonberries at meal time.

A year later the four original village founders were joined by two more people. In addition to the daily schedule, they added picnics at Third Beach and hikes to First Beach, where they foraged and explored. The third year of Creek Village was much the same, with the addition of four more residents.

By most accounts, Creek Village this year is a lot more fun than the previous three years combined. For one thing, around 16 people are involved so far, although they're not always all in residence at the same time. No staff members are regular residents of this year's village. The group abandoned the tree and shrub dwellings from previous years (which they call "Abandoned Creek Village"), although some continue to poke around the old digs in the same manner as anyone who is fascinated by abandoned townsites.

More after the jump...
This year residents scavenged sturdy downed tree branches to shape conical and oblong skeletons, and then covered them with blankets and tarps. Inside the structures residents placed sleeping pads, blankets and lunches. At the end of each day, they leave the building skeletons standing and pack out all the tarps, blankets and pads.

This year villagers divide the day into four segments: breakfast, dinner, night and morning. A day is 30 minutes long. Residents who have cell phones keep track of the time and announce when each segment begins. Residents have created currency to pay for stick weapons and food. Currency is mined in the sandbar at Third Beach, although some people also bring trinkets from home to serve as currency. There is also a lot of item trading.

With the influx of new residents this year, conflict was inevitable. One group of people wanted everyone to have imaginary pets that followed people around, but another group was firmly opposed. One resident described the conflict as a civil war that involved the destruction of some homes and different factions yelling "Pets" or "No pets". Everyone agreed to put the matter to a vote. A majority voted against a requirement that everyone have pets, while allowing people who wanted pets to have them.

Soon after this issue was resolved and homes were restored, residents decided to practice stick fighting for fun and everything was peaceful.

Peace continued even as Outcast Village was created by three students nearby as an alternate place to hang out and to have fun good-naturedly bugging Creek village residents.

A new person joined Creek Village and decided to start his own town near First Beach, which he called Riverside Village. He recruited so many Creek Village residents for his town that half the population left. The remaining Creek Village inhabitants felt abandoned and declared war on Riverside Village. Stick fighting ensued; no one was hurt and no one destroyed people's homes.

By this time, each village had a mayor--Lily for Creek Village and Stephen for Riverside Village. The two mayors met and decided the fighting was pointless. They convinced the residents of each of their villages to stop fighting and everyone agreed to be residents of Creek Village. The town retains the two locations as distinct and cooperative neighborhoods. The two mayors agreed to be co-mayors of greater Creek Village.

The residents of Creek Village last week included Lily, Justin (aka Boombox), Arlo, Nikos, Tommie, Jackie, Vera, Mara, Jesse, Chiara, Zoe, J.R., Jackie, Stephen (aka Crazy Uncle Steve), Tarka and Caden.

End of post.

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First Week of School

The first week of school has ended and the second week begins at Clearwater. The word that best describes the week for me is joy. Everyone is so happy about being back and hanging out with friends. There is so much to talk about, to do, to try, to experience. Everyone is a little older, more mature, more themselves. Of course, this happens through the school year, too, but the three-month gap makes the difference seem more striking and even miraculous.Even after being on staff for 15 years, I feel such wonder and gratitude to be able to know the incredible people who attend Clearwater and witness their growth.

The big news in terms of our physical environment is that a lot of sockeye salmon are returning to spawn in North Creek. The bulk of their bodies are an intense red-orange color, the head and tail are green, and the top of their snout is hooked down to enable them to dig depressions for egg laying in the silt of the creek bed. After two previous years with no salmon sightings, it is wonderful to be able to see their tenacity as they move upstream past little rapids and waterfalls.

The glare on the water inteferred with really clear photos of the fish, but the red bodies are visible even through the glare. Many salmon rest for long periods in a calm, deep pool south of the foot bridge before marshalling their energy to push upstream again.

Three girls who performed acrobatics on the spinning bar at Whistlepig last spring are continuing to refine their technique, experiment and add new moves. It is mesmerizing to see their focus, their willingness to try things even when the results look awkward. They are planning to have a whole new routine to present at Whistlepig next spring. Two of them are pictured here.

The foosball table also saw some action.

The punching bag in the basement attracted 5- and 6-year-old girls who walloped it within an inch of its life.

Several students want to learn and practice tennis, which inspired Matt, staff member and sports guru, to create a tennis/pickle ball court in the active room.

While two younger students waited for Matt and Robert to finish their game so they could take the court, they served as skilled ball boys.

End of post.

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Clearwater Has A New Bus!

One week before Winter Break, our Blue Bird Mini Bird yellow school bus drove into the school parking lot in a cloud of smoke. Matt, our driver/staff member tried to drive it to the mechanic but gave up the attempt after a block or two because the smoke was so bad.

Matt driving our new bus

After our bus was towed to Earl's Garage, our great mechanics, they diagnosed the problem as cracked cylinders and recommended a brand new engine. In the 2-1/2 years we've owned and operated our 1991 yellow school bus, we've discovered just how problematic a high-mileage (over 270,000 miles), older bus can be. We considered replacing the engine, but it did not make sense to spend a lot of money to put a new engine into such an old vehicle.

For the past month and a half as we debated repairing our bus, we also scoured craigslist and dealers for available buses in our price range with adequate capacity. As of last week there were no good buses available and the families whose kids ride the bus daily continued to limp along arranging carpools to school as much as possible.

Then over the weekend, the clouds parted and the angels sang. Matt discovered a 2003 23-passenger shuttle bus for sale, in immaculate condition and well-maintained. The owner agreed to sell it to Clearwater for $10,500, instead of the $12,500 asking price, considering the $2,000 a nonprofit donation. Despite the large expense, School Meeting authorized the purchase, reasoning that having a bus is a major asset for the school and this bus's newer, high-quality body and engine will provide long-term reliability.

School Meeting has made a huge commitment to the bus as an investment for all Clearwater students. Clearwater has initiated a pledge drive to help us finance the bus purchase. Please consider a one-time or installment donation; contact us by email or telephone (425-489-2050).

Matt drove our new bus into the school parking lot for the first time yesterday to enthusiastic applause. The very first trip was to Mill Creek Sports Park for an ultimate frisbee game. The first trip for daily riders was from school to home yesterday evening.

As you can see from the photos, the bus is gorgeous inside and out. The windows are huge, the seats are comfortable for the driver and the passengers and the ride is smooth and quiet.

Here's a short video of the bus and the excitement surrounding it.

End of post.

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Soccer at the Field

Here are a LOT of soccer pictures from a December day at Mill Creek Sports Park. Note the variety of ages and sizes. On this particular day a couple of Clearwater alumni who happened to be visiting the school joined the regulars to play soccer. (Shameless plug for donations for a new bus: We need the bus to take this many players to the field.)

In addition to playing games, many Clearwater players also run practice drills to improve their skills. Since everyone began playing several times a week a few months ago everyone's individual skill and ability to execute strategic plays as a team has improved markedly.

The little five-year-old girl in the foreground of the first photo really wanted to play, but she is so tiny and has never played soccer so everyone was afraid she'd get hurt in a rough and tumble, high-energy game. Instead, while everyone else was playing she and I kicked the a ball back and forth and teamed up to kick it all the way around the entire sports park twice. She also got to practice a little goal kicking with everyone after the game was over.

It was heartwarming and wonderful to watch eight- and ten-year-old goalies make a great show of leaping to block her ball and miss so that she made her goal every time. No one suggested that they do that. They instinctively understood what would please her and generously included her and ensured her success.

An eight- and nineteen-year-old going toe to toe.

Lots more photos after the jump!

The symetry of the players in this photo is lovely.

Matt leads the charge.

Valiant and failed attempt to block a goal.

Goal-kicking practice. Impressive form, Stephanie!

I took a bunch of pictures trying to get this goalie in action. He is poetry in motion!

This photo is grainy and the lens isn't aimed quite high enough, but here he is in mid-leap.

End of post.

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Creative Soccer When the Weather Is Bad

This week the blog posts focus on soccer, which is passionately played almost every day by several students of diverse ages and two staff. Most days everyone treks up to Mill Creek Sports Park, featured in a past post, to play on the synthetic turf there.

There have been some pretty miserable days when it is so wet no one wants to be outside at all. On those days, passionate soccer students figured out a way to play, one-on-one or two-on-two, in the largest basement room. They get a great workout, too.

Airborne player and ball. Cool!

On Thursday check back for photos from soccer play at Mill Creek Sports Park.

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Warrior Cats of Creek Clan

This week and and especially last, the siren call of unusually balmy weather pulled most students outside. Many played roleplaying games and built things with the bountiful supply of spent plant stalks and downed wood. Others enjoyed the freedom of wandering outside without coats. One day when temperatures approached 60 degrees, a young student complained that she was hot and asked to go swimming, but the creek water is still too cold for that.

Warrior Cats has been a particularly engaging and enduring roleplaying game among students from age 5 through 11. It is loosely based on a book series, although Clearwater students have gone far beyond the books by creating rich new worlds, characters and scenarios. Many of these students are working with a staff member to develop and rehearse an original play using their roleplaying characters as a starting point. (Look for future blog posts about the play.)

For many hours, students gathered materials to build shelters and dens.

One group of students helped some of the warrior cats to build a beautiful medicine cat den (photos below) and spent some time putting together a lean-to separate from the roleplaying activity.

The warrior cats themselves, who are known as "Creek Clan", are prodigious and industrious builders, as well as a close-knit and harmonious clan. They care for each other and have a complex culture and well-organized structure. They have a leader, warriors and warrior apprentices, a medicine cat (or healer) and apprentice, and kits (the young ones), which they take turns caring for and training.

Clan gathering

More text and photos after the jump.

Leader cat and kits

Medicine cat den opening

Medicine cat herself

Medicine cat and apprentice

Medicine cat at home

Apprentice gathering herbs

More herb gathering

The warriors have their own den and the warrior apprentices den up nearby.

Warriors' den at the base of last week's fallen snag

Woodflight enters the warrior's den

Thistlethorn above the warriors' den

Woodflight relaxes in the warrior apprentices' den

Just today three of the littlest kits went out to the clan lands without the elder cats and sought to imitate those same elders by setting up a nursery and starting to build their own den.

End of post.

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A Tree Falls in the Woods + Signs of Spring

A sizable wind storm passed through the Puget Sound area over the weekend, and one casualty was a large dead snag across the creek on the back 40, featured in an earlier post about the cold snap in December. Here's how the snag looked before the wind storm.

And here's how it looked when we came back to school on Tuesday. The wreckage extends from the foreground to behind the sign in the background.

There was much excitement about the downed snag, partly because it opened up more space in a small wooded area where some students have created what they call "Creek Village". There are rooms and common spaces in Creek Village. The fallen snag made some of those rooms larger and created more possibilities.

Throughout the day students were busy strategizing and then utilizing the unexpected remodel.

Having all of the rotting wood down on the ground made some fascinating fungus visible. I would love to know what these fungi are, so leave a comment if you know.

The snag also knocked over some alder and vine maple saplings, which might or might not survive the trauma. Only time will tell. The site attracted this red-breasted sapsucker, in addition to a Bewick's wren and some spotted towhees.

There are already signs of spring around the school. Indian plum buds have cracked open, so we'll be seeing the beautiful white pendulous blossoms before too much longer.

A pussy willow is already sporting some fuzzy catkins.

The native hazelnut trees are covered with striking elongated catkins.

End of post.

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Fun at Mill Creek Sports Park

Most days of the week this winter a group of 10 to 12 students and two staff drive four miles north on Highway 527 to Mill Creek Sports Park. Most of those who go to the park play one or two games of soccer, and a few play in the skate bowl. One day I joined the park group and got to see some soccer action and skate park play, minus skates or boards.

The day I was at the park was cloudy and dark and I didn't get the best soccer pictures. Here are a couple of photos. I'll do another post soon with more soccer pictures from a different day.

Some of the 7-9 year old girls like playing in the skate park bowl. They use the bowl for climbing and sliding. On school days there are rarely skaters there, so they have the skate park to themselves.

They get a running start in the base of the bowl and clamber up the sides to the top. It's especially thrilling to watch these small girls fearlessly run up a nearly vertical wall twice their height, again and again. Then they slide down.

End of post.

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Catching Up

Before too much more time goes by, here are some snapshots of activities in the warm, early days of this school year, which will perhaps help ease the frigid temperatures during this cold snap.

One of the most popular warm weather activities was whiffleball, played many hours daily by a variety of students and staff, rotating between all ages and sizes, playing on teams, practicing together and one six-year-old who only wanted Matt to pitch him a few balls almost every day.

Ready to hit the whiffleball

And here's the pitch

For lots more pictures and more of this post, click on the link.

Another pitcher takes the "mound"

This pitcher is also an expert juggler

Another student having just finished playing on a summer league, worked with Matt to keep her softball batting and catching skills sharp.

Steely-eyed softball batter

A few students posed when they spotted my camera, while two girls, blithely unaware of me, focused on their farm.

Don't mess with these girls

Ready for the stage

Good friends

Friends overseeing a farming operation

End of post.

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Basketball Rules!

Thanks to Matt G., Clearwater has a new-to-us, high-quality basketball hoop. With warmer days, skilled players and others eager to improve their hoop skills enthusiastically form 2-on-2 or 4-on-4 games, play H-O-R-S-E and practice shooting.

A variety of ages from 9 to adult give no quarter while playing, while at the same time, everyone learns to be sensitive to size and skill differences. A committee has formed to oversee basketball certifications and to make sure players take care of equipment and use reasonable rules of play.

See more photos by clicking the "Read entire post" link.


Shooting hoops

Taking the shot

Staff take the court

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