nes-makeAnn Sherman, Nederland.  How can someone so little make a difference in their community?  It seems just like yesterday when families sat huddled near Barker Reservoir overlooking the plume of smoke that filled the July sky.  To some, it was surreal watching the nearby neighborhood burn.  To many others, it was traumatizing.  Young children were often numb, anxious, edgy, and saddened as they picked up the valid emotions raging through the adults in their lives.  They wanted to feel safe again.  They wondered how to feel strong and empowered after the dog days of summer had turned into a frightening time for their community.

nes-make-3Mary Joyce, physical education teacher at NES, joined forces with Principal Jeff Miller, Social Emotional Learning Instructor Ann Sherman, and Music teacher Susan Jones to create a tangible way for students to learn about the natural cycle of forests, to find ways to act in the tailwind of tragedy, and to find their happy, grateful hearts once more.

For a week, NES students gathered native grass and flower seeds before the brisk fall winds scattered them.

Irene Shonle, Gilpin County Extension Agent, shared with them how different plants, insects, and animals would inhabit the forest now that the shade of old growth trees gave way to sun drenched ground.  Students were amazed to learn that ponderosa pines NEEDED heat and fire to open their resin soaked cones and regenerate themselves.  In the end, the nes-make-4natural cycle of forests continues after a fire and hope is reborn.

Hansen Wendlandt shared stories about humans and animals who helped to care for and beautify a damaged area.  The young children were reminded that even though they are little, they can help to make a difference after a tragedy.  They scratched the blackened earth with sticks, pushed rocky mountain bee plant seeds into the yard of Mike and Claudia O’Neil, and gently watered and tended their wildflower garden.


Maybe it was just symbolic.  Maybe it won’t change the fact that neighbors lost their homes and pets.  But it gave children an action to take; a service to provide as they and the forest heal and move forward.

And finally, in a parade of Gratitude, NES students waved signs and delivered thank you notes to the fire fighters and rescue workers who protected our community.   They proudly gifted Cold Springs residents with baskets of seeds for their lawns.  Because, hope is still alive in the mountains.  Hope, which no snowstorm, fire or flood, no act of ignorance, no affront to our freedoms can destroy.  Like their parents, mountain children are learning to bend with the winds that periodically taunt them, to pick up where they left off, to empower themselves and overcome their trauma by giving back to the land and community that sustains them.  For it is in life-affirming, collective action that we find the hope to carry on.


And their song trailed off into the breeze as Susan Jones accompanied them on guitar:

Plant a Seed of Love, by being kind.
Plant a Seed of Love, and share your time.
Plant a Seed of Love, and show your care.
Plant a Seed of Love, everywhere.
It’s just like a seed to plant a flower or a tree.
Something wonderful grows that can be seen by you and me.
A difference can be made by you,
by the things you say and do,
you can plant a wonderful seed of Love.  


(Story originally printed in the October 27, 2016 print edition of  The Mountain-Ear)