Eight excited kids went for a hike up KC Ridge on Tuesday to collect dye plants for projects from plant goo paintings to wish flags, all part of their week-long “Navigating Nature” camp.
Hope Donovan was keen to point out all the different colours they hoped to find in flowers, stems, berries, grasses, and mushrooms. “I want to bring them home to dye my plain white t-shirts,” she beamed.
“We’re hoping to do some experimenting,” said Katie Wallace, the camp leader. “We’ll also collect some things we know dye colours,” such as lilac stems for a yellow-green, or dandelion and yarrow roots for various shades of gold.
The day before, on Monday, “we learned different names of stuff,” Hope said, recalling alfalfa and lilacs. They also made rubbings of cedar and fir branches using crayons and played guess-the-plant.
“People picked lots of stuff, because there’s lots of plants there,” Hope added.
Looking to the rest of the week, the group will use alum as a mordant to fix the dyes — although Wallace said, “I think I might bring in some vinegar too, just to see the difference,” — and they’ll use the colours for all kinds of paintings on silk to make into wish flags.
This is the first time Wallace has done a camp like this, but the supply teacher with more than 10 years experience as a ski instructor — most recently the assistant director of ski school at Castle Mountain — said “it’s a fun way to spend the summer.”
“The kids are really into it,” she said, “and they know a lot already. They’re recognizing a lot of plants and trees, and getting some good treasures.”
The purpose of the camp, besides having a good time in nature and with art, is to foster stewardship of our natural environment in the young campers.
“It is important to know about your local environment,” Wallace said. “I’m really excited to be able to run this camp, and the two others I have coming up this summer: a music camp using things found on hikes, and a weaving camp making dream catchers and wind chimes.”
The camps combine Wallace’s love of teaching, “seeing the thrill of discovery on the campers faces,” and her love of the outdoors, learning about local plants and trees.
Her knowledge of natural dyes and other wildcrafts is largely self-taught, she said, growing “from a lifetime of playing and living outside.” She grew up among farmers in Ontario, and she and her sisters were “always busy with many projects.”
Wallace completed teacher’s college at the University of Western Ontario, specializing in visual arts and history at the middle and high school levels, but her experience as a ski instructor makes her more familiar with younger kids, like the seven to 10 year olds at her camp.
Still leading a nomadic life that prevents a garden, “rather than having garden goodies to fill my cupboards,” she said, “I’ve been learning about what can be used from nature in my day-to-day life. This goes for food, teas, salves, tinctures, and art supplies.”
Underlining the importance of building a local awareness of nature’s gifts, she said: “I think any major change that needs to happen globally in regard to our relationship with the environment and how we treat our natural resources and the planet should start in our own backyards.”