The Garden School, Lifeways in Marin, year of the Pandemic ~ 2021 by, Tracey Harrington

We made it through a pandemic lockdown in March of 2020 and re-opened in the fall of 2020 with a group of 8 LifeWays families in our tenth year in San Rafael. With very strict Covid protocols, screening, hygiene, washable everything, and with the help of WECAN hub, a healthy community agreement was formed with our families.  We opened our Garden School in September with the plan to be outdoors as much as possible. The parent handbook said, “Be prepared for closures due to Covid, wildfires, air quality alerts, or (electric utility) black outs”.

Despite all of this, we had an exceptionally joyful year with the children! Hand washing with peppermint castile soap and our good morning verse was a delight.  We sang to each child this song each morning before their snack and everything became simple and more full as the year went on.

“Good morning dear children and sweet be your day

may angels surround you, their silent watch keep,

good day, good day, good morning, good day.”

This was to remind us of our invisible connections as we entrusted our lives into safe keeping each day.  After the long winter we began to feel that we had passed through uncharted territory, a kind of initiation, and we were still here, with joy in our hearts, to be with these children. They had experienced a year of being in a healthy community, carried by the LifeWays rhythms, our love and their play. Most of them were not concerned with the word corona. They lived in the present where childhood is alive and well, despite modern challenges in our fragile world.

Having almost completed the most difficult circle of the year at the end of winter, news arrived in March that our landlord needed his house back.  It was time to sell. By April we saw an inflated and saturated housing market where homes suitable for a family daycare were thousands of dollars more a month from the year before.

With no home for our children’s program, we entered a swift process of letting go…and we have come to trust the mystery of profound change. We have carried other initiatives and our family together, we have loved and lost deeply. We know these words to be true by the poet Shelley; “ I am the daughter of earth and fire, and nursling of the sky, I flow through the shores of the ocean’s shores, I change, but I cannot die.”

On the practical level there is a grieving process that needs to take its course.

When your life initiative cannot move forward in the same form that has served families for years, when the conditions of life present extreme challenges, then allow everything to rest.  Let go of some things and free the dust bunnies! Store the essence of the joy and rhythms of your work like a seed, all wrapped up tenderly and tucked in, in the storehouse of your heart.

We ended the year with a gratitude circle. It was simple and beautiful.  Each child had a turn to hold a special crystal and offer their thankfulness for being together and we lit a candle and sang of a circle that never ends.  With rose petals and all the rainbow flowers we could gather, we made a nature Mandala, then we hugged good-bye.

So, no one tells you in school, or in the trainings, that your heart breaks when the children move on or when what you love most is gone; that some day, your program (life initiative) will be taken apart, dismantled, the space emptied.

Over the years we have come to know this truth, there is an eternal space where the joy we cultivated is always present. And when you give yourself completely to something, your family or your LifeWays families, the letting go hurts, but it is natural and the work for now is complete. Also, the children are too big to fit at the table anymore. This helps to know and is real wisdom.

“Letting go” in Greek is the word “kenosis”, kenosis means self emptying, to empty, letting go, non clinging, releasing.  It was one of the central teachings according to author Cynthia Bourgeault, of Jesus Christ.  To give completely and then let go. This is the greatest secret.

And this is a wake up call.  As a crafter with a Quaker sensibility who saves every bit of felt and thread for future purpose, and often living on a small budget, never knowing when it will be needed, our storage is a little much to sort out at the end of a ten-year process. The little things like sorting bits of felt, too many bags of finger knitting, remnants of ten years of sewing projects, wood-crafted toys, another box of things…arts…baking, etc. and the big things: hand them out! Store only what is essential.  I think Steiner had this in mind. Especially if you are as old as the hills, reach out and hand things over with love. Lighten up if you can.  

 Knowing how to yield is strength. Use your own light and return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity. ~ Tao Te Ching

Just then someone youthful shows up and is ready to carry them all off: a redwood handmade mud kitchen, water tray, climbing wall that my husband Rob made with love.  And others come to take the picnic tables, chairs, a yellow slide, a refurbished play house, an entire play garden, dismantled along with a galvanized bin of play things. The clearing was shockingly refreshing and swift.

We carry our family and the rent needs to be paid.  We listen deeply for any guidance.  It may come from anywhere, a dream, a child, the grocery clerk, or your mother. I found support from podcasts on the practice of R.A.I.N. offered by the mindfulness teacher, Tara Brach.

R is for recognizing the deep emotions such as grief,

A is for acknowledging it fully,

I is for investigating the source of the emotion or pain, and

N is for self Nurturing.

The pain comes in resisting the changes.  The freedom comes in letting go.  Like a strong wind bending a sunflower and dispersing the seeds, it is the great way. There is an expansion, a complete giving. The nurturing comes in holding your heart like a great mother, allowing the changes, taking a bath in water or forest, or anointing with rose oil, it reminds us that real grief is sacred ground.

LifeWays is an intergenerational model, where age and relationship-based care are still valued. It is a treasure in a time when we are forgetting what it is to be human. It is grounded in the view that spirit permeates all of matter, and is embedded in the rhythms of ordinary life in a family. Slowing down is appreciated and the simple things become sacred as we bring our attention and presence to washing, cooking, sweeping, gardening, crafting, storytelling, singing, and most especially to playing and making play things with our hands.

Our sense is that children need connection to a garden and to nature. And of this we are certain: young children need each other and our love. They need the seeds of wisdom we carry in this work. How to continue? Can we re-build with less and think in widening circles, perhaps a LifeWays nature program? How this will go is a question.  Can our program transform and thrive within these limitations during this time of uncharted world change and uncertainty? Time will tell.

Joanna Macy, a living elder in ecology and Buddhist scholar, speaks of widening circles in her translation of the following:

Rilke’s book of hours : love poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world,

 I may not complete this last one, but I give myself to it…”

“I circle around God and the primordial tower

I’ve been circling for thousands of years

And still don’t know, am I a falcon, a storm

or a great song?” 

And when you do not know how you will move forward in your work of carrying the rhythms, relationships, and loving care forward without a home for the children, sometimes the very best thing to do is just to lie down somewhere for a good amount of time and wrap nature around you like a blanket, hold your cat, look into your dear one’s eyes, listen to the cicadas, the wind, the precious birdsong, and feel the sunlight on your back. Become still. Like a seed, storing the essence of the joy, packed and dry and waiting for conditions to flower again. It is in the stillness, the waiting and dark unknowing, that the seed germinates.

The Peace of Wild Things by,  Wendell Berry

 When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,

 and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time I rest

in the grace of the world, and am free.  

Rob, Tracey, Amber and Emily, 1998


Tracey and Rob Harrington have carried a LifeWays center in Marin California for ten years.  They have a family and a cat named Rio. Rob has a Waldorf-inspired camp for school age children, Orca camp, in both Marin and Santa Barbara. They have been on this path for 30 years together! 

*Much Gratitude for the LifeWays community, all our helpers and families who have been a part of The Garden School in Marin.*