Over more than two decades, the Hill School Country Fair has evolved from a pony and pet show to what it is today: a communal celebration of fall and the great outdoors that involves a picnic, pet parade, games, wilderness skills, and live music. Organized by alumna and current parent Sheila Harrell (Hill ‘86), the 2017 Country Fair began at noon on Saturday, October 7 with lunch at the  Dornin Science Center barn and didn’t end until the moon rose over a campfire facilitated by the Hill School’s Place-Based Education team and friends from as far away as the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington state.

After a picnic lunch featuring contributions from families at all grade levels, Country Fairgoers enjoyed molasses spice cookies, kitchen sink cookies, and a key lime tart, all baked by students from favorite family recipes. Shade-lovers could visit a pumpkin-painting station, a tub of apples for bobbing, and a cadre of helpful eighth graders painting faces with animal and seasonal designs. Sense-sharpening nature games such as Dead Ant led by visiting Wilderness Awareness School faculty Quinn Bailey and Merilee Bradford, engaged those who wanted to run in the sun. The pet parade showcased a hedgehog, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, and a goat– some of which attempted the nearby pet agility course. Traditional skills expert Michael Sottasanti, a longtime special guest to Hill School third  grade classes, supervised fire-starting and use of blow darts for an interested group, while other adventurers scaled nearby apple and maple trees. Of course, few Hill School events would be complete without the folk and bluegrass music of Paradocs Hunt Lyman and Paul Haefner, joined for the occasion by fiddler and mandolinist Zane O’Connor. 

When the day’s winds had quieted enough for a campfire, the celebration moved into an area behind the Gunnell Garden known as Maple Meadow, cleared and named last summer by Kevin MacDonald and McNeil Mann of Earth Village Education in Marshall, current facilitators of the Hill School Nature Club. In this newly claimed but already well-loved spot, Wilderness Awareness School faculty led adults and children in generating and tending a flame through traditional means. Created using a bow drill, a glowing ember was carried around the circle in a cedar bundle, with each participant taking a turn to breathe the ember into life. Songs, a potluck dinner, a Lakota trickster story, games, and s’mores rounded out the evening. Connected to nature and to each other, participants said goodnight and doused the fire as a waning gibbous moon rose over the Hill School woods.