Will you answer the call?
Why the River?
So what’s going on down by our rivers and streams? There is so much happening as rivers have totally shaped our world. They are constantly moving along the earth—creating habitat, moving mountains, building webs to connect us all. We have built our communities near them—as well as our farms; rivers were the “highways” of our ancestors, and today they still help us travel and navigate. They are such an important place for all wildlife’s food and shelter as well as migration routes for birds. Rivers also help generate power for our homes and industry. All of this helps connect us as a community…we even have festivals involving rivers! We learn valuable lessons about all of nature because it is all connected. This carries with it an importance of conservation, restoration and stewardship to take care of our wild neighbors and also ourselves. Let’s not forget all the fun we have too. We play and recreate on rivers–paddle our canoes, kayaks and inner tubes, swim, fish and even renew our spirit. These waterways create so much on so many levels. So let’s go down to the river together and see what is happening.
As we walk through the woods, we hear the sound of the water as it flows through the land and draws us in to get a closer look. We may hear the rustle of the leaves under our feet, feel the sand or hard-packed soil along the banks. There are all kinds of bird songs, and perhaps, one in particular that hunts the rivers—the Kingfisher is making a head-first dive, fishing with its beak. As we get close to the edge, we move slowly, so as not to startle any of the wildlife because we know that even the fish in the water can see our approach. We see the signs of our neighborhood beavers and how they may have shaped this part of the river, and there are raccoon or mink tracks in the mud. We are walking on all the stones that have been placed at our feet by the power of the river. Ahh…we have arrived; let’s take off our shoes and feel the warm stones and cool water and mud spread between our barefoot toes. We look up and around, and notice the branches leaning over the waterway to get full light; it creates a natural shady spot for many creatures from which to retreat the hot sun…and for us too.
What we notice
Surrounded by trees—sycamores, alders, basswoods and willows—we are reminded of the amazing diversity of plants in and around the water—like cardinal flower, Japanese knotweed, cattails, watercress and many algaes—in these important watersheds. Looking around, we see the riverbanks covered in many sized stones—from boulders all the way down to grains of sand and even smaller particles, such as clay, are present too. As the earth is transformed, there is a natural sorting that happens along the river bottom and the banks that we see.
Getting a closer look
As we look closer, we notice things have patterns. We are tracking the water, time and weather to understand the river ecosystem that we are currently seeing. Think of the channels of water—through rain, runoff, snow and flooding–that created the Grand Canyon. We are standing and witnessing a microcosm of that wonder of the world right in front of our eyes!
Reading the water
The water flows through in shallow areas called “riffles,” and it runs where you see turbulence in the water; this also is where the water has the most oxygen and can be the coolest part of the river in the summer. It is where the aquatic invertebrates such as caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies and others are very active in their day-to-day lives.
The miracle at the river
There is a display of nature, and it is one of the most amazing things you can experience seeing on a river as the aquatic insects spend between several months to several years under the surface of the water, feeding and living their lives. There is a term called an “emergence.” This is where there is a constant journey of insects—from being underwater for their whole lives up until the point of cresting the surface of the water and starting their adult lives, flying for the first time and experiencing the gift of flight above the place they lived before. Being able to witness this miracle is truly breathtaking and is one of the reasons to go to the river often to “Catch the Hatch.”
Don’t miss the action
These are great spots to watch just above the surface of the water and see the insects dancing, mating and falling, creating a concentric ring that signals the fish to feed. This is where you see a phenomenon called a “rise”–the trout rise, coming to the surface; you see the cresting of the water, and if in a clear pool, in middle or the tail of it, you can actually see the fish itself…size, color and grace as it moves.
Time for a river trip
So put visiting the river on your schedule and experience this miraculous occurrence with friends and family. What kind of values do you think are instilled in your children when you create experiences and opportunities to have nature astound them? I am feeling grateful, and hope I see you down by the river.
Are you ready for New England weather?
When cold temperatures are sustained, bodies of water freeze. This creates a new environment for both humans and wildlife to adapt to. Travel is made easier, though precarious, on ice-covered lakes. Games are created, and the ice becomes a playground for ice-hockey and ice-skating. People still need to eat, and fish is still readily available, as long as you can create a hole in the ice for ice-fishing. Be safe–the ice can be unpredictable if you don’t know how to read it. So safety first: check out our blog for research and videos (the best I have seen).
(These videos may not be suitable for very young children…parents may want to view videos first.)
As we walk into the forest, we see all the different types trees, and we know, somehow, that they all have a purpose in life, just like we do. We notice many have lost their leaves this time of year, and the forest looks completely different—kind of empty because you can see so far, and it is very open. However, that is just the surface; let’s look closer.
The conifers take center stage with their deep green and contrast to the snow; while they do shed their needles, they are primarily green all year, which is why they are called “evergreens.”
Using touch—reach out and feel the needles
When we reach out and feel the needles, and when we rubbed them in our hands and smell, there is that amazing pine scent reminiscent of a Christmas tree—that strong aroma that can remind us of the holidays.
Visual things to watch for
As we look even closer, we notice really short needles (less than an inch) that are flat and on the underside, there are distinct white lines like racing stripes; this is an excellent identification characteristic. It also has the tiniest little stem you can barely see. In botanical terms, when you look it up in your field guide, this is called a “petiole.”
Feel the texture of the bark
These trees have really smooth bark when very young, and as they get older, it becomes stiff and deeply furrowed (creating indented grooves). Look at many different trees—young and old—and compare the feeling of the bark, and how the young ones are really tender and the older ones are like a rock.
In the 1800s, Eastern hemlock (Tsuga Canadenses) was used heavily; these trees would be anywhere from 250 to 800 years old. They were harvested in great numbers and were sought after for a special quality they possess: great amounts of tannic acid—up to 12%—used for tanning hides and preserving leather; the outer bark was used and soaked. Some of the hides were kept in vats (barrels of soaking tannins) for up to six months in order for them to turn the dark tea color and create a preserve and coloring for the produced leather. Hemlock tanneries were all over the Northeast, and they shipped the hides from here all over the world.
What I have personally seen, and you can too!
In the picture, you can see the needles and the bark. You can see underneath the very outer light brown bark, there is a dark purple color; this is a great characteristic for being able to identify Eastern hemlock.
What use are these trees now? They are a tremendous resource for wildlife: the needles create shade to give animals and birds cover. So they are used for nesting, denning and protection from the elements.
I often find many deer and moose in these areas…tracks, signs and tons of “browse” (feeding sign). This is where deer “yard up” (all stay in same area communally); this helps create safety in numbers and helps avoid being surprised by coyotes. It also makes it easier for them to move, because they pack down the snow to conserve their energy during these hard winter months.
I’ve also found coyotes’ beds, which look like circles; the heat from the coyote’s body melts out the impression of its nose where he/she is melting snow with the breath.
Outdoor challenge and scavenger hunt you can do with your children
See if you can find the interior bark that is purple. Hint: When you look around at the base of the tree, you can see the flakey bark chips; look under there.
Tracks and sign: if you look on the very tops of the branches, close to the trunk, you will often see squirrel territorial teeth marking sign, or going up a mature tree, you can see the claw marks and sometime bite marks of our black bears climbing since they use Eastern hemlock as babysitter trees (mama sends her cubs up them in times of danger or when she is away for long periods).
And at the bottom of the hemlocks, underneath the dense needles protecting from the wind and elements, you can find deer, fox, moose and bear beds. Let’s not forget the calling cards of raccoon and porcupine too—scat!
If you find little holes and black powder on the ground and through the roots, it’s possible you have found Truffles (fungus).
Can you find the little Hemlock cones that look like little tiny pine cones—about ½ inch. Can you find the racing stripes on the underside of the needles?
Earthwork Programs is grateful for all the press we received this Summer! The Recorder and the Daily Hampshire Gazette visited our At Home in the Woods and Way of the Scout Summer Camps and captured the moments…
Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Hitchcock Center, Earthwork Programs connect children and environment
By FRAN RYAN Gazette Contributing Writer
On a hot summer day in mid-July, Rainier Jewett, 8, of Florence rose up from the underbrush in the woods of Conway covered in mud and forest debris and sporting a broad, sly smile.
Then several more young campers, including Caleb Schmitt 13, and Ari Benjamin 10, both of Williamsburg, also emerged from the forest. They were all participating in a summer day camp run by the Earthwork Programs.
Frank Grindrod, is director and founder of Earthwork, which offers wilderness education programs and teaches emergency survival and self-sufficiency skills. Grindrod described how his programs help people of all ages learn to broaden their ways of seeing, in order to understand, survive, and thrive in the natural world, and along the way he paused to talk about plants that were native to the area.
Honing skills that work beyond the wilderness
By TOM RELIHAN
CONWAY — Frank Grindrod has noticed a trend that disturbs him deeply. To see it, he said, all one must do is compare a child’s ability to recognize corporate logos to their capacity for identifying wild plants and animals.
“You show them a ‘Hello Kitty’ logo and they’re like, ‘Oh, I know that one,’” he said, as we walked through a dense pine forest in Conway. He stopped to bend down and examine a patch of leafy green plants on a plot of land, which had sprung up under a rare, sun-soaked gap in the canopy. Cupping the leaf of one plant in his hand, he said, “But you show them one of these, and they say, ‘Uhh … a fern?”
That trend — one he defined as a decline in knowledge of and appreciation for nature among young people — is one he is determined to change.
Learning naturally: Nature programs take the classroom outside
Story by Tom Relihan & Fran Ryan
As he crested a densely wooded, moss-covered hill in the middle of Conway’s pine forest, Edwin Anderson, 13, of Greenfield yelled, “Wow, come and look at this!”
At his call, a half-dozen other kids scrambled up the hill. Some dropped to their knees as they examined a huge brown mushroom protruding from the pine needles on the forest floor. Moments later, Frank Grindrod of Conway knelt in the middle of the group and began to inspect the fungal wonder.
“See how it’s all shaggy on top and on the stipe? This is called ‘The Old Man of the Woods.’” he said. “Oh, and look at this one!” he said, picking up a piece of bark with a couple of fuzzy, pink mushrooms growing on it.
“It looks like the Lorax!” exclaimed one of the campers.
That day, the kids were out in the woods as part of Grindrod’s Earthwork Programs summer camp, which he runs to teach children about nature and develop skills that they can use in their everyday lives.
Perhaps, if we were moths, we would be drawn to it the same way they are.
Take a walk back in time and imagine our ancestors sitting around the campfire. This fire wasn’t just there, filling up the space; it was constantly being in use…in a variety of ways, such as heating up rocks for a sweat lodge ceremony, making pottery and firing the earthen ware clay pot vessels, fire hardening tools, and purifying plants and making them softer and more edible.
During my last trip to Alaska, I had an opportunity to talk in great detail about the symbolism and the detail in the carvings that were created within our ancestors’ own personal bowls. These were not just a means to an end; their artistry was an example of their love, respect and reverence for the creator—very much tied to their spirituality. These bowls were carved or shaped from the coals of fire.
How to Make Your Own Coal-burned Bowl
1. Need a fire—not just any fire will do; the fire needs to have embers that will last a long time. This is done using hardwood coals, i.e., maple, birch, beech, etc.
2. Need a good strong seasoned price of wood—size is up to you; 5” or 6″ round is a great beginning…pine, cedar, cherry, etc.
3. Need a way to extract coals to place on your bowl blank shows the different details that we do when we teach coal burning.
4. Need a tool to keep ember in place—this could be something that will not catch fire. A green branch to hold ember to bowl blank until depression forms.
6. Replace coals and repeat—when the coal goes out, you simply scrape out the char with stone or a stick and get another ember from the fire and repeat.
Enjoy experimenting with these wilderness skills and add a whole new level to having a campfire.
So after working on signaling with sound, I decide to make a sun compass. Time is important right now so I only take 3 minutes to put this together. I get a straight branch and place it in the ground and mark the tip of it where the shadow ends with another shorter stick. The next part of the sun compass is time. As the shadow moves every 15 minutes, I mark it again. This allows me to form an accurate read on the sun’s trajectory and gives me an east/west line while getting other things done.
Off in the distance I hear the call of a woodpecker; I have an intuitive hit that this is important somehow but not sure at the moment. Birds are excellent allies because they know their place and are specialists and depending on the type of bird will indicate habitat.
A New Paradigm in Being LOST
Indigenous people all over the world lived (and live) so close to the earth that they did not call what they did on a daily basis survival. They did not consider where they lived “wilderness”; something separate from their lives. Historical research in ethnobotany as well as speaking to the native peoples directly, has taught us that it wasn’t about being lost, it was about “being”; it was not about surviving, it’s about “living.”
We can learn from this recognition of a close relationship to the land. In this paradigm, you are part of the forest. If you are at home in the woods, you are never truly lost. Knowing your place, the plants and wildlife as part of your community is what will nurture a healthy at-home mindset where ever you are.
Thinking of the forest as “home” starts by knowing your plants and their uses. What parts of them are edible, medicinal, and in what season? What edible plants have poisonous look-alikes and what are clues to proper identification? What trees are good for firewood, for tinder? As you get to know your plant neighbors, they become your allies in better understanding the habitat you are in.
Building a Shelter and Knowing Ecology
I will not camp directly under the great pines where the bark is peeling and are probably infested with ants. That was what “that little bird told me.” The woodpecker’s activity tells me the tree is rotten inside and could become a potential blowdown hazard. I don’t want a tree falling on me. Also, lightning can strike the same place more than once so I am scanning for lightning scars.
Location! Location! Location!
There are clues on the land to know where water pools even though the site looks inviting. By learning what plants grow in moist or wet soil, you learn that even when there is no water present, the plants tell you of a tendency towards moist soil conditions, hence, do not build your shelter in that spot. For example, when you see moss on the ground you know the soil will be damp. So I need to continue searching for a drier area.
Building My Shelter
I start with two leg-sized diameter logs, a little longer than my height laying down. Make them parallel like train tracks, which creates a container for all the small sticks I quickly throw into the middle, making a raised bed. This is vital for staying warm because you need to create a layer of dead air space between you and the ground as insulation. The reason is that the Earth is bigger than you are and the heat from your body will transfer to the Earth; this is called conduction. This is how you get cold from laying on the ground even if you are out of the wind. My bed is made out of a jumble of sticks and a thick layer of needles and leaves. This is really “comfy”; I’m not kidding!
Telling Time by the Sun
Since I used the S.T.O.P rule and stopped early enough in the day, I have plenty of time and light to take care of all of my basic needs, and even wander from my anchor point.
The Importance in Developing Skills and Training
Home Away from Home
Enjoying the experience of the setting sun, the sound of the owls in the trees, and crackle of a bright, warm fire, there is a real peace that washes over me. This is a gift to experience and learn from. I am camping; thriving, not just surviving.
It took me getting lost to truly find the gift of the present moment.