El Tejar Garden

Educator: Karina Fernández
Children: Nicolás, Jose Maria, Agustín, Victoria May, Joaquin, Amelia, & Martin

The Cabogana mountain is part of the Andean range that embraces the city of Cuenca. To get to Cabogana, we walk through roads that gradually rise revealing complex landscapes full of contrast that form the valley of the city. The Itinerant School works in two gardens in Cabogana: Racar and El Tejar.

Ancient villages full of tradition and memories (natural / cultural) settle on the slopes of Cabogana at the same time that urban development grows and stifles its traditional rurality. The traditional brick and tile kilns are intertwined with grocery stores, food places that mix between traditional food and fast-food, cafe-net and a huge storage for one of the main shopping centers in the city.

The itinerant school connects us with spaces that appear forgotten.

We encounter the abundance that “El Tejar” Garden offers: grass, trees, old cars, an uninhabited house, its stories, and especially encounters with hens and roosters.

The hens and roosters catch our attention as they run away from us, almost as if we are obstacles. We are attracted to their rhythms of eating, drinking, running away from us, walking (what looks to us) randomly, attempting to fly, caring for each other, fighting, nesting. We observe more carefully.

These encounters force us to rethink time and to work with the hens’ and roosters’ temporalities. We realize the difficulties of meeting hens’/roosters’ busyness.

We take this difficulty up as a pedagogical invitation to slow down in order to attend with care to these animals and their ways of being. 

We attempt to approach them, and find proximity within our differences. We create trails with corn so that they reach us. We mimic the chickens’ sounds. We hide to carefully watch the roosters’ movements while eating.  

One way to relate to hens is to think about what we share.   

We crouch like them, and take the corn with our thumbs and index fingers in a movement that resembles their beaks. In this slow and careful observation, we notice singularities. Some hens come close, others eat the corn that we offer them, others look for a place to hide. 
  
Motivated by Kari the educator, Joaquín dares to ask the hens if they want to eat by imitating their “toc, toc, toc” sounds. 
  
 “They do want to eat, but they want us to leave. They want to eat by themselves.” – Joaquín

This hypothesis generates a dialogue between the children. More ideas begin to emerge, recognizing situations in everyday life with which we can relate to hens and roosters: 

My mom was angry because my sister bothered me, like the mother hen when we disturb the chicks. – Joaquín

What if we put a stick in the leg of the hen? Like a man I saw who had broken his leg and could not walk well. – Martín

My grandmother is ill and now she wants to lie down by herself, like the sleepy hen. – Victoria May

I can eat all day long like the rooster, I love the food they give me. – Agustín

My mom takes care of me like that Hen. – Amelia

The sun makes you want to hide in a shady place like the rooster does. – José María 

We notice our own singularities, through those situations in which we see similarities with hens and roosters. Differences and similarities relate us, bringing us closer together.

Hen’s legs 

Through drawing we continue to intensify the encounter with the singularity of the hen’s leg and its movement. Martín climbs on the table with the stick-leg. First he keeps it still while the others draw it. Then he moves, generating a “knock, knock, knock” sound as the stick-leg meets with the table. The sound is similar to the one the children imitated before with their voice to communicate with the hens.

Victoria May finds a stick and immediately notices the similarities between the stick and the hen’s legs.

The stick projects a shadow on the ground with three thin lines that meet into a thicker long line. At the same time, the chicken’s leg projects a shadow on the ground.  

The similiarities are striking. Then, attaching the stick to her hand, Victoria May invites us to imitate the movements of the hen.
Her walk approximates to the hen’s walk.  Victoria May tries out different ways of walking and their embodied affects.  

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At home, Agustín also makes claws that look like the hens’ feet and he brings them to the garden. He carefully attaches them with tape to his hands, as if through this extension he is experimenting with a different way of being. Through his invitation, we all continue to imitate the hens’ movements.

However, Agustín notices that the hens do not walk in the way that he imitates them. 

While his movements are heavy and clumsy, the hens walk smoothly and lightly on their toes. 

We commit to notice even more closely the movements of the hens’ feet.

Thus, Agustín’s idea leads us to thinking about the footprints that chickens leave when they walk.

With our artifacts, we try to recreate their walk.

Painting helps us to make visible the traces that our artifacts leave on the paper. We observe that each step leaves a different imprint and we pay attention to these movements.

Chicken’s Singularities
Through these multiple encounters, we change the way we describe chickens. We move from the generic definitions (they are white, they are black, they have feathers …) to describe the singularity that we notice in each hen. This is a consequence of the relationships we have created with each of them.

The fearful hen that flees from the roostersMartín

A particular rooster with his large crest and chin intrigues the children.  They call him ‘bossy rooster’, as these large animals denote strength and authority.  

The injured rooster, especially, concerns the children.  This rooster cannot stand on both feet, always raising the injured leg. 

He stands on the food so that the others do not take him away. – Jose María 
The hen that when she eats, makes a sound and calls the rest – Joaquín
He fights with other roosters and hens to eat more. – Martín
 He scrapes with his paw and the others are scared and leave. – Joaquín

A Clay encounter

In the garden, there is a long ditch that slowly transforms into a muddy place when it rains.  The children are attracted to this ditch and use its mud to create figures that evoke the garden’s presences.  

Joaquín decides to sit by the ditch and create the rooster with mud. Holding the mud on his hands and repeatedly using circular motions, he slowly shapes the rooster’s body in a miniature representation.  He attaches a small rock for the rooster’s head, and finds tiny sticks in the garden that he uses for the rooster’s short legs. Joaquín spends a long time carefully creating this figure. We notice his shift in his ways of being in the garden: slowing down, paying attention, caring.  Certainly, the figure that he holds in his hands is abundant with the stories and experiences that have been happening in this garden for months.  
The hen that only wants to be laid down because she is the oldest – José María
The rooster that has a damaged leg, that does not let him stand without having to raise his leg – Nico
The rooster that wants to eat all day long because he is very hungry all the time like me – Agustín
The mother hen who cares and protects her chicks and gets angry – Victoria May

The mother hen of the chicks – Amelia

We pay attention to the pecking, the rhythm and symbiosis between the rooster and the corn. We can notice a synchronicity between the pecking and the way in which the corn penetrates his beak. When pecking, some grains escape and the rooster continues without stopping – he stays in this synchronicity. As the corn skips in and passes through the beak, his eyes gaze intently at the next grain of corn.

The hen with the tousled hair 

As we deepen our relations with the rooster and other hens throughout these 2 months, we notice that the hen with the tousled hair is the only one that has decided to slowly get close to us.  We notice that she is always alone, away from the rest. The others chase her and don’t let her eat. The children suggest that this hen with the tousled hair is afraid. 

We become complicit by deciding to protect this special hen while she eats.

Little by little we create a close relationship with her. Unlike the other chickens, everyday she approaches us, touches us and we touch her. The warmth of our hands meets the delicacy and warmth of her feathers. When we pick her up, our hands feel her heart beat.  We are excited, but also unsettled by this strange sensation.   
 
Hens and children affect each other.

Eggs and life

As we follow the hens, we notice that they are intensely dedicated to taking care of their eggs. We try hard to find the eggs – as the hens choose isolated and hidden places to lay them.  The children suggest that the eggs hold mysteries that intrigue them.

Martín: Which was the hen that laid the eggs that we found?

As we ponder with this question, we decide that if we make nests and offer them to the hens, the hens would come to lay the eggs while we watch them. 

After a few days of unsuccessfully waiting and watching, the children start wondering about the inside of an egg.  
We invite children to live the experience of being inside an egg: What happens inside an egg? Straw baskets and yellow and brown fabrics allow us to embody and experiment with this question. Attracted by these elements, a group of children approach and wrap themselves in the fabric. They sit together with each other, their bodies feel each other’s warmth, and the fabric tickles. First they feel comfortable; the transparency of the fabric evokes the image of swimming inside, playing games. Little by little that feeling becomes uncomfortable and then it connects with the need to get out.

They are very comfortable inside. – Joaquín
They are cold if they go out. – Martín
It’s like being in mommy’s belly. – Ame
They are swimming inside and they don’t want to get out. – Agustín
They don’t want their games to be taken away. – José María
They don’t want to go out because if nobody takes care of them they die. – Nicolás

They cannot get out because they are being formed. – Joaquín

When the chicks are inside the egg, they cannot move much and they want their mother to do everything for them. Then when they get tired, they want to go out and they learn to stand up; they break the egg and they go to do whatever they want but with their parents. – Victoria May

We bring children to continue to think through these ideas by drawing. 
We draw life inside the egg.  

Eggs are like the mother’s belly. – Martín
They are not like the belly, they are born different from us. – José María
They grow in the egg and when they are large and cannot be comfortable they peck the egg to break it and thus come out. – Agustín

The mother hen

We speculate about the mysteries of what happens inside an egg and, as if the hen was listening to our questions, one morning she surprises us emerging from under an old car with 10 chicks.

We listen to sounds that catch our attention. Slowly and without making noise we walk and meet the hen and her chicks. Our presence is uncomfortable for the hen and she tries to hide the chicks under her wings. We have to be very careful when we try to see them as their mother hen is very protective. With noises similar to those we hear from the chicks, we try to call them but the chicks hide under the car.

Mother hen and her chicks have a very different dynamic from the rest of the roosters and hens. The chicks do not detach from her, they always walk by her side and she gives them food in their beaks. Every time she finds food she calls them. 

The children also try to feed the chicks to imitate the hen.  However, these encounters create tensions as the hen protects her chicks.

I went over to leave them water and the hen thought I wanted to steal her chicks, she opened her wings and jumped towards me, for me to run away. I was very scared but I think she was more scared because I screamed and she went back to be with her chicks. – Victoria May

I wanted to catch a chick, but the hen attacked me with her legs on the chest, I got scared and ran but the hen got very angry. – Martín

Life-Death approximations

One morning we find a chick that walks alone, his mother is no longer with him and he is far from the rest. He is weak and tired; he walks slowly and his wings seem to hang from his body. He has no strength and we decide to help him. We try to feed him by placing corn and water in our hands. We cover him from the cold with feathers, simulating the wings of his mother hen.

As the morning goes by, the chick becomes weaker and weaker. We notice that the chick no longer opens its eyes and that its legs support less and less the weight of its body.
The chick seems asleep but I think it is not breathing well anymore. – Martin
His body is shaking and it is because he is already going to die. – Nicolas
Let’s put him to bed, Auntie, to make him more comfortable, so he could rest and get well. – Victoria May
The tension that exists between the children is a combination of hope and resignation. They believe that they will be able to help him but at the same time, when they notice his growing weakness, they know that without his mother our care is not enough.

The chick stops breathing. Its body becomes very rigid and it collapses. The chick’s body is no longer soft, but hard. Only its feathers are soft.
Immediately Nicolás calls his friends, he tells them that the chick died because its body became very hard. They all touch the chick and they realize that it is no longer breathing because it is not moving.
He is going to go to heaven because his body is no longer moving. – Joaquín

Where do chicks go when they die? – Amelia
They remove the feathers that covered him because they are no longer necessary. We now think about what we are going to do with the chick.
We have to bury the chick but I don’t know how. – Martín

At the same time that we were experiencing these processes of life and death, El Vergel garden was also thinking about these rituals. In El Vergel, children were creating ancestral clay urns (ancestral containers for the end of life).  

We wrote a letter to the chidlren at El Vergel to share the sad death in our garden. The children at El Vergel responded by creating and sending us a clay urn.

Our chick is sick and then he died. We put feathers in the nest to cover it because it was very cold. Now we want to bury him so that he goes to heaven.  We want to ask you to make us a box for the chick – Agustín

We exchange thoughts about death and how to bury the chicken in a way that we don’t forget him.

How will he live in another place? ”- Agustín
Is there life despite being dead? ” – Martín

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Once the pot is ready, we give it a place in the corner of the garden.

We stop to look at the empty pot. In it we place the chick. Dialogues arise about what the chick could take with him – some corn and a picture of his mother.