Wednesday, December 4, 2013

CA History - Our Back In Time Adventure at Fort Ross

Where did this begin? Probably with a comment made by an interpretive ranger when the girls and I stopped by to explore on our way back from Gualala. "When you are in fourth grade, you can spend the night here." Really? What could be more enchanting?

I wrote away for info and found out that fourth grade teachers plan FAR in advance; this was last spring, but already there were but a few weekends left to book. I consulted our CA history planning team and then we grabbed the date, with the lurking possibility of inclement weather lurking in our minds. What if it was very cold? What if it rained? December, after all...

We planned for a few months, never as thoroughly as we wanted, but with lots of participation and enthusiasm.  Charles attended the teacher training (I still can't bear the thought of being away from the girls overnight.)  We recruited fellow adventurers, learned history through the biographies of selected roles, literature, costume making, and more. We got to know new friends and played with wonderful old friends through get togethers at which we did crafts or played Russian or Kashaya games. There was a ton of work for everyone to do, particularly the parents who opted for lead roles.  Gratitude then, gratitude now!

Finally, we arrived. The Monday after Thanksgiving weekend. We met at a pull out just off Hwy 1, 20 kids and 14 adults, all in costume and character, ready to hike the half mile or so to the fort. Down to the beach and back up again, completely gorgeous. For many of the kids, this was their first view of the fort, a wooden structure surrounding multiple functional buildings. The area around Ft. Ross is more remote and less populated than in was in the early 1800s, when the Russians occupied the area and Kashaya Pomo people had their lead village nearby, so the sense of going back in time was quickly accomplished.  There were very few reminders of our present culture - other than parents surreptitiously sneaking photos and the random car heard at a distance - and there were only the sounds that we made as the kids began to run the fort, dividing into pre-selected roles as artisan, militia/hunter (K), clerk, or cook (G).  Parents took secondary roles.  Charles and I were in character as the couple who ran the fort from 1838-1842, Alexsander Rotchev and Princess Elena Pavlova Gagarina Rotcheva.

Vasilli Stepanovich Zavoiko; Mitya,
a Kashaya woman; and Alexsander Rotchev.
Before the rest arrived.
Our interpretive ranger, Martina,
in costume as Anna, a Kashaya woman.
Martina is herself Kashaya and she
is using Mitya(G) to lead a presentation
about the international economy
of the Pacific in the early 1800s.

The cooks get their instructions.  The Fort had
never seen such a young group of cooks, but with the help of excellent leadership they
had each delicious meal prepared with time to spare.
Some of the militia (including K) get directions
The artisans chose difficult projects, making benches and
lanterns during their hours of hard work. Their ambition
and dedication impressed everyone.
"Anna," showing some of the cooking
crew where to find supplies.  Ingredients
were selected to be authentic to the time
and the preparation was too.
Cook at work
The clerks had an important, if not-so-glamorous
job; their function was key to the reason for the fort's
existence and they did the important work of inventory,
pricing, and trade.

Inside the trading post

Fort workers line up to trade
Cook crew hard at work
The militia learning how to keep the fires burning,
which was one of their responsibilities
Love this photo of "Mitya" churning butter,
chapel and hillside beauty in the background.
The efficient cooks use their spare time to
look for bay leaves.
Vasilli loved the militia responsibilities
on the last day especially; they included
setting off a canon and another flag ceremony.
Our group designed our own flag, many of the kids participating and a talented mom organizing and finalizing.  We began and ended with a flag raising ceremony.

The most memorable element of the 27 hours we were there was the night watch, at least for me.  Everyone was required to participate and all but one did, which is quite impressive.  The kids worked in shifts, getting up in the moonless night and patrolling either the inside or outside of the fort, keeping the fires burning, keeping the water on the fire warm, and playing games quietly to pass the time.  I stayed up for most of the watches, enchanted by the passing of the night.  The first shift had the worst weather - a light rain.  G had that shift and when she crawled into her sleeping bag at the end of it next to Charles, he said that she felt soaked.  The third watch, from 11-3, had the second-toughest weather - cold and windy.  By the time we started breakfast, the temperature had dropped to only 34-degrees!  One of the older kids did ask me every few minutes how much longer was left on his shift and a few kids looked like they were sleep walking, but everyone did a wonderful job with virtually no complaining.  I was so impressed!

A wonderful, memorable experience.  I finished feeling oddly as if I had been separated from this world in a way, not exactly convinced that I had returned from time travel, but with the normal cares of everyday living vague and difficult to even remember.  Such a wonderful group of kids and families working together to create an extraordinary experience.

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