"How old do you think I am?" he asked me with a smile. We'd only met a few times before and didn't know each other very well, so I hesitated before I answered. (This can be a tricky question to answer depending on who's asking it!) But he seemed genuinely curious, so I gave a completely honest response, "Um, maybe around 60?" He looked slightly amused and a little bit smug as he replied, "No, I'm 70."
I had been a whole decade off! But who could blame me? He might have had white hair, but he was an active man and very fit and healthy. He was also deeply passionate about children's education and the outdoors, which is why our path's crossed.
Adam had been a former school headteacher and firmly believed in the importance of educating children in the outdoors. When he retired, he continued to pursue that passion by volunteering regularly with the education team of a local environmental charity. I was a staff member at that charity for a few years and was lucky enough to get to know Adam, particularly through our work with Forest School. We spent a year together helping another staff member deliver weekly Forest School sessions to a group of home educated children between the ages of 8 and 12. We would spend an entire day every week in the woods with this group, from 10am to 3pm, which gave us many hours of projects, play time, and shared lunches around the fire.
We depended on Adam for many things, particularly on rainy days when we would need to set up a tarp over our fire circle. Adam was very tall and he was able to tie the ropes up high enough on the trees so that the tarp would stay a safe distance above the fire. Then we'd have to ask him to take it all down at the end of the day because none of us were able to reach it without the help of stool!
Adam was a quiet, but strong force at Forest School. He was 'old school' in many ways, but also understood and supported the Forest School approach to education. He knew when to step back, but equally would not hesitate to participate either. We played many games with the kids and Adam would often join in. He was also crafty and helped many children learn how to use tools to make small items or even larger scale building projects! That year, Adam took the lead on a group project to build a wall made of woven ash saplings around our fire circle. Some of the older boys took a particular interest in the project and Adam patiently worked with them over many weeks (maybe it was even months?) to build it. The result was a fantastic wall that acted as a wind break and made our circle feel much like a home. It also engendered a sense of pride and accomplishment for those who helped build it.
One of Adam's great qualities was how he never took himself too seriously. He could be very silly at times. Sometimes this was purposeful, by cracking a joke. Other times it was entirely accidental, like the time he rolled backwards over a log and laid there for a moment with his legs splayed in the air. Luckily he wasn't hurt and smiled and laughed as he sat back up. I'm not sure if it was that incident that prompted him to start bringing his own fold up chair to Forest School to avoid sitting on the logs...? That chair became a feature at Forest School. Some of the children would sneakily try to sit in it when Adam wasn't looking, but we all knew the chair, much like a throne, was reserved for him.
Adam was a wonderful presence who showed me the extraordinary benefit of intergenerational learning. I'm extremely thankful to Forest School for being a platform that fosters that particularly well. Age might just be a number, but it's a valuable number and I will forever be grateful for Adam's impact on my Forest School learning and life. I know many others feel the same!
In loving memory ❤️
(Note: Names were changed out of respect for the privacy of the loved ones of the individual in this story)