I arrived a bit early for circles at an elementary school campus, which gave me a chance to hang out with the kids on the playground. Some girls came to me and said they were concerned about the boys trying to kill a gopher that was digging around on the edge of the field where they play football.
"Do you want to have a circle?" I asked, and they did. We walked across the field to where the gopher activity was. A couple of boys were pushing rocks into the gopher hole and stomping around it. The girls yelled at them to stop, which had little effect. I asked them if they wanted to sit in a circle to discuss the gophers. These were boys I don't know; their class has not been doing circles with me this year. They declined. The girls and I sat in a circle by the gopher hole. The boys wandered off.
As the talking piece went around they shared their sorrow about the gophers. They also touched on sorrow about other ways in which humans are insensitive to animals and the oceans and trees. We brainstormed solutions to the immediate problem of protecting this particular gopher. The settled on the idea of marking the hole with a little fence to protect it. Then they abandoned that idea, recognizing that it would be futile.
"Do you want to talk to the gopher?" I asked. Yes, they did. So, playing simple tune on the Kalimba which I carry in my circle basket, I guided them on a journey: "Imagine you are getting smaller... the size of a small dog...of a cat... small enough now to travel into the gopher hole.... and that you are travelling in the tunnel the gopher made, feeling its damp earth and the roots of the grass as they tickle your head... and you come to a large room, and there you meet the gopher family. Now you can tell the gopher family what you would like for them to know..... and then you realize you can ask the gopher family a question... what they would like people to know.... and they give you an answer... and after the answer has come, you thank the gophers and return back along the tunnel, feeling the damp earth and the roots tickle your head, and come up into the light where you grow to the size of a cat, then a dog, then to the size of girl and you are back here in the circle with your eyes open.... "
They were very excited to tell their stories about their visit with the gopher family. Three of them found that we were all there, everyone in our little circle holding council with the gophers.
In case you are wondering, the gophers want us to know that they are doing something important down there and wish we would leave them alone.
Amos Clifford, Guide and Restorative Council Mentor; trainer in restorative justice, restorative dialogue with nature, and circle-keeping and the way of council; mentor.