19 January 2013


For two years in my early childhood, I was privileged to attend the Bynum, MT, elementary school.  The community is tiny, occupying perhaps four square blocks.  Students from surrounding farms and ranches rode the school bus each day.  It was a compact edifice ~ three classrooms and three teachers for eight grades.  I was there from mid-first grade to mid-third grade, and sat in the same classroom with the same teacher the entire time.

There's something to be said for such an arrangement.  At first glance, one might think the work load on the teacher must be enormous, until you consider that there were only 5-8 kids per grade.  It must have been relatively convenient to cycle from one grade to the next, with those not being taught directly working on their assignments, all under the watchful eye of the teacher.

Recess was a challenge to our imaginations.  The tiny school had only a slide and two swings (if memory serves), so we had to be creative in organizing games.  Winter was a special challenge ~ but also provided its own opportunities, in spite of the cold.  Imagine a swarm of busy, bundled-up young engineers digging child-sized tunnels into the deep snowbanks at the edge of the playground, or erecting snow forts from which to launch vigorous snowball fights.

One game is vivid in my memory ~ Fox And Geese.  A maze of paths was trampled into a flat area of snow ~ curves and intersections and dead ends, sometimes with two paths running closely parallel for a short distance (see the model train layout above for an approximation, though our paths were more irregular and unpredictable).  A designated child played the fox, similar to "it" in tag, and the remainder were geese.

On a signal, the fox would try to catch one of the geese, thus swapping roles.  Ah, poor fox ~ he or she could only walk, while the swift geese could run.  Ah, poor geese ~ they had to stay on the paths, while the wily fox could jump from path to path, if two paths ran close enough together.  Thus the layout of the path maze was critical, and a good maze allowed both fox and geese to use their advantages in movement.

Many years later, my then-partner and I and our blended family of three children were visiting her relatives in winter, near Reno, NV.  No one there had heard of Fox And Geese, so I laid out a path maze in the snow and showed them how the game was played.  Everyone had a ball, laughing and shrieking ~ the adults perhaps even more than the kids.  It gave me a warm feeling to share something so special from my childhood.

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