By Jennie Pitts Knipe
I felt the young girl staring at me. I smiled and she looked away, but then glanced back at me. When she finally gathered her courage she said, “I saw this fairy once.” “Really? A real fairy?” I responded. She said, “Yes!” and continued to describe a fairy at the beach that spoke to her class, and how that fairy looked a lot like me. She then asked if I knew her. I had an important decision to make in that moment. Do I tell the truth or do I allow the magic from a very special day to spill into everyday life?
As so many creatives who make a living from their art, I wear many hats from instructor to choreographer to performer, gathering jobs and opportunities that keep me growing and expanding my craft as a storyteller and dance maker. By far the most colorful hat I was lucky enough to don last year was that of the Poet Tree Fairy for Trails & Vistas’ The Dreaming Tree field trip series. Created in 2011 for younger members of our community, these field trips are an ideal complement to the annual Trails & Vistas’ Art Hikes, a beloved part of local culture for 20 years. Third graders throughout Truckee and North Tahoe enter an artfully curated outdoor classroom, where learning comes to life and connections to the natural world are discovered through witnessing Washoe artisans work, writing poems, creating art, enjoying music alfresco, and listening to storytellers.
Tucked away in a pristine little stretch of beach at Sand Harbor, I transformed into Sprig, a silly woodland fairy sent to inspire young writers to use nature and their limitless imaginations to create. We got quiet and listened to the sounds around us, smelled the scents of the trees, sand, and water, and, of course, soaked up the visual spectacle that is the cerulean blue of Lake Tahoe. Sprig encouraged students to break the rules of writing, to make word mischief, to take all of the details of our special spot and to weave them into poetry magic to share with the world.
Personally, I’ve never been a risk taker or a rule breaker in my everyday life. I was the child that got a stomachache when someone else got in trouble in school. I play things pretty safe — you won’t find me adopting an extreme sport hobby, or even thinking about getting on a ski lift for that matter. My creative space is where I feel brave enough to take risks, to challenge convention, and to be a bit mischievous. I love to weave humor and social commentary into my writing, my teaching, and my dance making. I like to get personal, to shrink the spaces between us, and to make waves while having fun and, hopefully, bringing my audience on that ride along with me.
I have had the honor of creating and performing for the Trails & Vistas Art Hikes for several years, collaborating with visual artists, poets, my fellow dancers, and, of course, the environment. Performing outdoors for dozens of hikes a day creates a space that is charged with an intimacy and an improvisational quality that you don’t always experience when performing on a stage. It demands flexibility and fluidity, and is somewhat unpredictable, which allows the art to grow rich and evolve with each repetition.
Making the most of our region’s natural beauty, as well as offering a chance to learn from professional artists, The Dreaming Tree field trips offer a unique opportunity for classroom teachers and students alike.
“They came back to the classroom highly energized and engaged from their experience,” said Brook Binley, a teacher at Forest Charter School in Truckee. “In fact, our day with Trails & Vistas provided a springboard from which students created poetry and conducted research about the native plant and animal species they saw at Donner Lake.”
This September, The Dreaming Tree field trip will once again be held at Sand Harbor at Lake Tahoe and at Donner Memorial State Park. If students cannot attend in person, Trails & Vistas offers a full-length film, created during the pandemic, that captures the spirit of the field trip experience, along with accompanying art kits to help students with exploring. As the children watch the film, teachers prompt them to write poems and create art based on what nature and the film meant to them.
In response to the third grader I encountered post-performance, I decided to keep the mystery of Sprig alive. I told her that I did not know the fairy she spoke of, but that she sounded really fantastic, and that I would keep my eyes open each time I was at the beach in hopes of catching a glimpse, and maybe even a little inspiration, too.
Email Nancy Lopez at email@example.com to learn more about The Dreaming Tree field trips for third graders and the film and art kits. Art hikes will be held early next summer. Info: trailsandvistas.org.