A post from writing intern Sarah Diggins

It’s just after 9 AM on a Monday morning, school is off for the day, it’s fourteen degrees outside and a group of six to twelve-year-olds cannot decide what the giant pile of snow they just collaboratively made is.


“It kind of looks like a Hershey’s kiss!” One child shouts, taking impressive observational note of the pile’s natural shape and even later using the word “obtuse” to describe the bottom of the now colossal pile.

“Or it could be a teepee!” Another points out and thus opening up the opportunity for this pile, after a few modifications, to experience a whole new life as a snow shelter.

Whatever the snow pile ends up being, the progress of it comes together beautifully through hard work from a team of instructors and students attending a Primitive Pursuits school break day event on January 20th. The students poured out of their cars as they arrived at 4-H Acres and fell right into place in an open field with no shortage of snow. Some found their places to be filling sleds with snow to be brought to the pile, others preferred to help shape the pile, some even decided to try their hand at building a rival pile about a hundred feet away. Regardless of what job they held, each student was an integral member of a hardworking team. This is a theme that I soon realized to continue more and more throughout the day.

I grew up by the Jersey Shore, and snow was a rare and special treat for me. My childhood field trips and beloved nature endeavors involved hiking beaches, identifying seagull tracks in the sand and cast net fishing with my sixth grade class. I could tell you the perfect time to watch the sunrise in July, how to build a chair out of sand or where to find the best seashells. But when it comes to snow, I have a lot to learn. Only once or twice a year was there ever enough to play in. I did not go sledding or build a snowman until I started my studies at Ithaca College two years ago. But these kids? They’re pros.

Shortly after interest in the snow pile slows, we’re in a circle. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the children are asked to think about his legacy.

“What legacy will you have?”

And I thought about that question as the children separate into groups for the day. I thought about it as their instructors introduced themselves and each other. I thought about it as I listened to each group’s agenda, deciding which activity I wanted to experience for myself. I thought about it as I decided to follow instructors Sarah and Kaisa’s group of the youngest kids as they we set out on a path to find tracks from rabbits, deer and fox left behind in the snow.

Upon reaching a clearing in the woods, the children were reminded of the three “respects” of the day: to respect themselves, respect each other and respect the earth. The reminder to respect the earth was an important takeaway for the day as I believe people are not taught this enough in other instances in their lives. Without respect for the Earth and a strong passion for preserving it for future generations, legacy is not possible.

My first internal question of the day (“Don’t the kids get cold? I’m freezing!”) was quickly answered by this group of six and seven year olds. The answer is yes. They may be young and full of energy and have plenty of cold weather experience thanks to a Finger Lakes upbringing, but they are still human, after all. The difference here is, rather than calling it quits and retreating back inside, they are taught ways to solve this problem. Whether it be building a fire, drinking hot water from their thermos, inserting hand and toe warmers into their gloves and socks, adding another layer from the countless extras packed carefully in their backpacks or just some good, old fashioned jumping jacks, these kids bounce right back. Learning this skill of resiliency at a young age will prove to be beneficial in several other areas of their lives. If you notice a problem, think of the ways you can fix it and spring into action. That’s how you build a legacy.

We can learn a lot from kids. They don’t hesitate to work together, whether it be building a snow pile or collecting sticks for a fire. They’re helpful. They don’t hesitate to help a peer put on their mittens. They’re observant. They can identify perplexing animal tracks or locate sticks that will make the perfect “wispies” to fuel their campfire.They’re resilient. They get cold, but they find use their problem-solving skills to help themselves. Primitive Pursuits is helping them develop these skills, one fourteen degree (or eighty degree!) day at a time.

These kids definitely proved that I have a lot to learn. I thought my four layers of jackets and Adidas sweatpants would be enough for warmth. I quickly learned otherwise.

There are several ways to build a legacy. Whether it be through helping members of the community or learning how to preserve the earth’s natural beauty, children got the opportunity to begin building it on a Monday in January at Primitive Pursuits.