In a million years, no one would’ve expected me to be standing at the head of the Russian Ridge Preserve trail, waiting in a medieval-style gown and my trusty Keens; if you know me well, you might expect me in the medieval dress thingy. But most definitely, you’d know I’d balk at having to don Keens with my dress simply because I had no other choice than to hike up a mountain—okay, a hill, but it was a steep hill…elevation 2400 ft—with the Bug’s entire 6th grade class and their parents. But the truth was we were all about to follow their lovely teacher on an amazing journey back in time—the 6th grade Knighting Ceremony—and climb I would.
Waiting in the parking lot, I had to chuckle: a group of kids from some other school were pointing at the lot of us, wondering at all this fancy dress; certainly the rite of passage we were about to partake in was not something they’d find in their own school’s curricula. Indeed, nowadays, rites of passage for kids this age often take the form of material things: a first cellphone, makeup, more mature video games.
But at Bug’s school, this event, known as the Knighting Ceremony, marks the successful achievement of studies in the Grade 6 year as well as the class’s fulfillment of special tasks to make them eligible for “knighthood.” In addition to regular 6th grade studies–Geometry, Grammar, and Report Writing, for instance–the study of Western Civilization through the Middle Ages forms a structural theme around all the studies of the first year of Middle School. The students discuss Medieval philosophy, literature, and architecture, as well as learn games and songs of the period.
For the Bug and her friends, the study of Knights and Chivalry was the single most exciting thing in all of 6th grade. Of course the point of the study of chivalry was designed to be each 6th grader’s personal journey of reflection and how they could be of service to others–what they could accomplish to make better their community, their family, and ultimately, themselves.
Bug’s class embraced this challenge wholeheartedly; soon after returning from winter break their teacher charged each of them with 3 tasks of service. What each chose to accomplish was to be of their own design, and their ideas included book drives, food drives, park and horse stable clean-ups, and even knitting teddy bears for kids with AIDS as community tasks. Cooking and gardening were often selected for their family tasks. As for self-improvement tasks, many chose to go to bed earlier (Bug, for instance, but did Bug ever actually ever go to bed early? Hmm. Maybe twice.), or improve their concentration in class, but there were also more personal tasks set and accomplished by individuals in this group.
So now here we all stood at the trail head, teacher (who was to be known that day as “The Lady of the Wood”), students, and parents, ready to journey back to a time when chivalry was the law of the day. Each student, also decked out in medieval garb, wore a white belt to symbolize purity, black socks to symbolize mortality, and a red hooded cape–hand-sewn by that student–to symbolize humility. Students also carried banners that each had designed and constructed; parents brought along a light lunch and blankets. We were quite a sight.
And then we started to climb. It was a fast-paced, heart-working hike of about 20 minutes or so. For yours truly, it seemed a bit longer than that. Not to whine (okay, here’s a little whine), but the teacher is fast, the hill was high, and my being on coumadin dramatically reduced the amount of oxygen coursing through this old, decrapatated (yes, decrapatated. My sister’s word) bloodstream. Honestly, I nearly fainted at one point. Sheesh. Can you say embarrassed? I mean, I do the “treadmill-on-an-incline thing. I could’ve done it with no problem if I had about 40 minutes instead of 20. Oh well.
At last, though, we reached a gorgeous, open grassy area full of wildflowers in bloom. There we were surprised and delighted to be greeted by the sound of medieval tunes played by a quartet and led by the school’s music teacher. It truly felt as though time had shifted a bit.
There we drove our banners into the ground and spread out our blankets. The view all around us was magical: from one direction, we could see the Bay, from the other direction, the Pacific. But we hadn’t reached the ceremonial grounds yet. After another thankfully brief walk through a grove of moss-covered oaks–trees which had certainly been growing there long before settlers arrived in California–we reached the hallowed place where The Lady of the Wood would perform the actual Knighting Ceremony.
One-by-one, the students, accompanied by their parents, climbed through the woods to where the Lady waited, her sword drawn. Here she asked three questions, and if he or she answered correctly, the Lady conferred knighthood with a gentle touch of her sword.
And when all the students had been knighted, we climbed back to the top of the grassy hill and enjoyed ourselves with feasting, dancing, and stories from each student explaining their tasks and accomplishments to everyone gathered.
Of course, by then the winds had changed and was now coming off the Pacific. Brought the temperature down to the mid 40’s. Unreal.
Still, it was really lovely up there. Had we not been battered by that freezing wind, we might’ve all stayed until dusk, for the day’s enchantment was strong.
Wish you could’ve been there…