AIR’s Autumnal Adventures!

This fall we have been delighted to offer a few outdoor opportunities for our teens! After months of physical distancing, it was thrilling to see each other and make art together again in three-dimensions. 

Our outdoor events have been limited in capacity with precautions in place to keep teens and staff safe. New safety protocols have added beats to the rhythm of our programs, and with them, a surprising sense of normalcy. Staff phoned teens the morning of each outdoor event to issue a health questionnaire, which both cleared them for participation and fueled excitement. Sanitizer has always had a place at AIR, but now its presence is even greater, essentially becoming another participant in our community. Teens reach for disposable masks upon arrival, which recalls the familiar muscle memory of placing cell phones in the AIR phone box (which as you would guess, has been temporarily suspended). The AIR vans have come out of hibernation! They are cleaner than ever (thanks to our new electrostatic disinfectant sprayer) and are so happy to be transporting teens once again.  

But enough about sanitation and PPE! Here is a glimpse into our autumnal adventures… 

 Writers Workshop I – Featuring Guest Writer, Liz Lavoie  

We met in the afternoon on the last Sunday in September. Humid and overcast, the occasional breeze brought relief to our faces, warmed by our FDA-approved Clear Masks. The masks allowed us to see our full faces and range of emotions- especially those momentary, instinctual expressions that get lost in these days of opaque masks. 

Our opening circle was larger than usual with a six foot gap interposed between us. We listened excitedly as Becca welcomed our group and shared our check-in prompt for the day. We warmed up our bodies and minds with an improv game in which we creatively passed a mass of energy to each other. We each dictated the size and characteristics of our energy mass, infusing it with a color that represented the energy we wished to bring to our session. Our fiery, sticky, rubbery masses were invisible, yet palpable as we reacted and responded to them as they moved through our circle.

Next, Becca introduced our guest writer, AIR Marketing and Communications Manager, Liz Lavoie! Our session would focus on creative nonfiction, a writing form that marries the structure and creativity of fiction with the factual retelling that’s characteristic of nonfiction. Liz explained, “Creative nonfiction does not have a lot of limits. It’s about getting thoughts and images out on the page.”  After discussing the many places we see creative nonfiction, Liz read a few of her own pieces to get us inspired and to share her artistry and creativity with our teens. 

“Creative nonfiction is a way to add sensory elements to a factual account” 

In our opening exercise, Liz asked us to look at our cell phone’s gallery, to choose either the 3rd or 5th photo, and to write a few sentences about the scene. Next she asked us to write about a mental snapshot of a memory from the previous week. Volunteers shared both of their writings while our group guessed the source. This proved to be difficult as some depictions of memory were as clear as the descriptions of the images. Liz noted that “Sometimes our memories are our truth.” 

We had a longer session to write in which we could continue with our earlier prompts, write a piece that began with a fun fact provided by Liz, or continue with another work we had in progress. Our afternoon evaporated as we wrote diligently together to sounds of migrating birds and the low hum of rt 4 traffic. We ended in a share by choice, either reading our writings or discussing the process. 

We would like to extend the utmost gratitude to our community partners Friends Forever International for permitting us use of their beautiful grounds for this workshop, and to Liz for inspiring us to blend our voices and experiences into our writing. 

Try a Writing Prompt from Liz!  Write a creative nonfiction piece that begins with the following fact: Did you know that goosebumps are caused by muscles attached to hairs. 

Field trip the Bedrock Garden’s Fairy and Hobbit House Festival 

October brought us to Bedrock Gardens in Lee for their annual Fairy and Hobbit House Festival! We arrived at the new point of entry to staggering scrap metal sculptures and a socially distanced sea of woodland creatures, maple merchants, and enthusiastic volunteers.

We entered the fairy village with eagerness and awe. Our group maneuvered the pine needle pathways with keen eyes, soaking in the creations and craftsmanship of the featured designers. We spotted a mossy gothic revival, Airbnbs for gnomes and fairies, a dragonfly-shaped abode, and a fairy Fallingwater. There were homes notched into tree trunks, cape cods with pinecone foundations, and a spooky homestead constructed from artificial bones and plants gone by. 

Fairy House #14 was something special! All homes were impressive of course, but this one was set apart by its construction from solely natural materials. The house, meticulously crafted inside a hollowed trunk, felt delicate and solid. It was clear the designer worked in the round, with every vantage revealing a new surprise or detail. Seed pod garlands and birch bark bunting added a welcoming warmth. The rounded forms of three suspension bridges created harmonious contrast to the prominent A-frame roof (not to mention accessibility for its fairy residents). The interior was a moss-laden paradise of fieldstone wainscoting, dried flowers, tapered candles, and hanging plants. The cathedral-ceilinged loft was a place to inspire with a miniature desk, blank parchment scrolls, and fountain pens awaiting the next wave of creativity!

We then realized the architect had been with us all along as Becca revealed herself the artist! Becca shared with us some of the techniques she used on the house, how she made some of the creative decisions, and the materials she used. 

We continued down Queen Bee Way which led us to beekeeper Mary Ellen McKeen! Mary’s passion for bees emanated as she answered our questions about the ins and outs of keeping bees. We learned the three types of bees (drone, worker, and queen) and their responsibilities. Buzzing all around us were worker honeybees who didn’t make it into Mary’s observation case. “They are following their queen,” she explained. Mary shared that despite the queen’s loyal devotees and important role in propagation, her life is mundane and without adventure! 

We took a pause from Fairy Village to walk the rest of Bedrock Garden’s beautiful grounds. We found a shady spot to sit under the Torii gates and began our next activity. Becca led us through making our own miniature sculptures using natural materials! We used pieces of dried marsh reeds and twine to make miniature rope bridges for fairies or insects. Through the process we learned to embrace the little imperfections, because they’re more aligned with the perfectly imperfect quality of our natural world.

Once our bridges were constructed, we headed back to Fairy House village to build our very own fairy houses! We trotted over to “Gnome Depot” to source our materials. Available for use were boxes upon boxes of bark, branches, marigold leaves, egg shells, feathers, and shells. Our group gathered up construction materials and searched the trailsides for the perfect plot of land. Inspired by our earlier tour, the teens worked quickly and intuitively. Many teens incorporated their miniature bridges into their creations, while others opted to bring them home for an alternate venue. This chance to build provided our teens with an opportunity to use nature’s mediums– material that is readily available to them whenever they feel a creative urge! 

AIR would like to thank Bedrock Gardens for hosting this very special field trip. We’d also like to extend our gratitude to Becca Romanoski for organizing our visit and for sharing her work with us. We are pleased to announce that Becca was one of the festival’s three award-winning homes! 

We’ll be continuing to offer small outdoor workshops through winter. These events will be held in limited capacity and with AIR safety practices in place. Email [email protected] for more information.