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Incredible Insects

Summer Explorations for You and Your Child

By Arianna & Frank Grindrod

Summer is splendid season to be outside exploring with children. There is just so much to investigate! A myriad of flowers are blooming in the garden and field; bees are buzzing and gathering pollen in their pollen baskets; butterflies are sipping nectar; preying manti are hunting for food. Listen! Crickets chirp and children chatter; each are separate instruments in a summer orchestra. Enjoy the symphony of sounds. Let the buzzing and chirping entice you and your child into the exciting world of the six-legged. There is not much you will need—just an open heart and mind towards our creepy-crawly neighbors, for they will be your teachers.

Identifying Insects

Insects are the largest group, or class, of animals in the animal kingdom! They are found almost everywhere on the planet, living in a wide range of habitats. We can even find them living in our homes. Insects belong to the phylum of invertebrates, having no backbone; instead of bones on the inside of their bodies, insects have a hard outer covering called an exoskeleton. Insects also belong to the subphylum called arthropods who share some distinct characteristics, such as jointed legs and segmented bodies.

Spiders, millipedes, and lobsters are other examples of arthropods and invertebrates. But they are not insects. How can you tell the difference between an adult insect and others arthropods and invertebrates? Insects have three body parts—a head, a thorax (where the legs and wings are attached) and an abdomen (where the heart, digestive system and reproductive organs are located); whereas spiders have only two body parts and eight legs. And where are the lungs on an insect? Insects don’t have lungs. Instead they have a series of tubes, called spiracles, carrying oxygen through their bodies. Aquatic insects, however, may have breathing tubes, portable air bubbles, or gills!

Exploring the Insect World

Because insects live all around us, they are easy and fun to study. Here are a few hands-on activities you and your budding naturalist can do together to learn more about these fascinating and incredible beings.

Sing with Me: Sing the song “Head, Thorax, Abdomen” (to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”) to learn about insect body parts.

Head, thorax, abdomen, jointed legs.
Head, thorax, abdomen, jointed legs.
Antennae, wings, and an exoskeleton.
Head, thorax, abdomen, jointed legs.

Tracking the Six-Leggeds: Find or create a small wet clay or mud area that is somewhat slippery to the tough and a very cooperative insect such as a grasshopper and watch the grasshopper make tracks in the mud. Using a magnifying lens, have your child study the tracks. As they focus on a creature they saw make tracks, they may become ever more excited to see what other invertebrates make tracks. Always remind the child to be gentle and respectful to our small friends.

Insect Safari: If you and your “little bug” would like to catch and observe insects, then there are very specific ways to safely catch, observe and release the critters. The equipment you will need is simple: a few bug boxes of various sizes with magnifying tops, a field insect net and an identification guide. Many of our local bookstores carry insect identification guides for children.

Walk into the field and gently sweep the field net back and forth through the grass. Take a look at what you have caught. For a closer look, carefully inch the bug box under one insect and place the top on, making sure not close it on any little antennae or feet. Please make sure that no live creatures are under direct sunlight in the magnifying boxes!

Observe this amazing creature! What do you and your child notice? Did you catch an insect or some other invertebrate? Do you notice three body parts—the head, thorax and abdomen? Count the creature’s legs. Are the legs hairy, barbed or spindly? Are its legs designed for hopping or crawling? What color is this animal? Does it have any special markings on its body? Does this critter have wings? What is the shape of its body? In a field journal, take some time to draw the creatures you catch. Can you identify this creature or what would name it if you could?

After you observed the animals you have caught, a nice way to honor them and let your child know the importance of respecting other life forms is to do a releasing ceremony.
Holding the bug box, return the creature to the field while saying this poem aloud:
“Run away, crawl away, fly away, hop! You are free to go.
I’m not going to stop you from living your life. You deserve to be free;
but thank you for sharing this time with me”.

A note about who not to catch: It is not recommended that you catch bees, wasps, moths, butterflies or adult dragonflies. Bees and wasps do not make good specimens because they do not to appreciate being caught and may sting you. It is better to observe them while they are busy pollinating a flower. Butterflies, moths and dragonflies are also not happy with this method of observation because they have delicate wings easily damaged when brushed up against. Again, better to observe them wherever they are.

Orders of Insects

Now that you and your wee naturalist know what an insect is, it is time to learn a few of the different groups insects belong to based on similar characteristics. Below is a sampling of the insect groups you may find in the field.

As you read each description to your youngster see if she can identify the insect by either looking at pictures or at live field subjects.

• Butterflies & Moths (order, Lepidoptera): These creatures have two pairs of fine, powdery-covered scaly wings.
• Ants, Bees & Wasps (order, Hymenoptera): These “tiny-waisted” creatures are usually considered to be very social, living together in large colonies or hives.
• Mosquitoes, Flies & Gnats (order, Diptera): Insects in this group have only one pair of wings, usually clear, rather than the usual two pairs.
• Beetles (order, Coleoptera): To know this group of insects look for tough front wings that meet in a straight line down their back.  A pair of thinner wings is kept folded under the top pair when this creature is not flying.
• Dragonflies & Damselflies (order, Odonata): These darlings have two pairs of nearly transparent wings that are almost equal in length. They have large compound eyes and long slender abdomens.
• Leafhoppers & Cicadas: Observe two pairs of wings that form a tent over the insect’s body when it is not flying or jumping.
• Grasshoppers & Crickets (order, Orthoptera):  Notice the long hind-legs of these jumping musicians of the field.
• True Bugs (order, Hemiptera): Look for the triangle shape on these creatures’ backs.  The triangle is formed by the leathery forewings crossing each other when the insect is not flying. These insects have sucking mouth parts, whether they are supping on plant or animal juices. YUM!

If you are observing insects with an older child, you may stimulate a discussion with the following questions. If you were in charge of classifying or grouping insects, how might you group them differently? What criteria would you use? Would you also use physical characteristics that you could notice, such as color, body shape or size? Or do other characteristics jump out at you?

Insects are incredible! Take some time to investigate their delicate beauty and the diversity of species. They are marvelous reminders of the tenacity of life!

A Summer Wander with Our Friends: the Plants

(Let’s Get to Know a Couple of Plants, in Depth…)

Summer and What Is Happening

Summer. What a fantastic time to get outdoors! This is the time of vacations—when we can take a break from our busy lives, spend time with family; the kids experience summer camp where lifetime memories are created.

So what’s happening in the summer in the natural world?

Birds are nesting all around us and raising their young. This is a great time to see lots of bird behavior…to see the parent birds teach their young how to fly. It is also a time to find baby birds out of their nests. The birds of prey are very active, seeking out those young birds to feed their young too.

The trees are in full leaf, creating shade for the plants below…also creating shade for us. There are so many different leaves: shapes, structures and textures that help to create photosynthesis, capturing the sun’s light with the pigment in the leaf called chlorophyll combining with carbon dioxide and water creating energy. These are little sugar factories.

The animals are rearing their young. A great time to be outdoors is around dusk or dawn—times of twilight (the magic hour)—to see the young foxes learning to hunt in the nearby fields.

The wetlands are exploding with life: newly-hatched frogs, turtles laying eggs, herons actively fishing, humans actively fishing; trout, bass and pickerel abound. Insects of all shapes and sizes—butterfly, moth, beetle, dragonfly, mosquito and more—are abundant. Birds and mammals, especially bats, and fish are delighted with the foraging potential.

Let’s Start Our Journey

Let’s start from our house. Go out the front door into our lawns. There is a plethora of wild edibles on many lawns. However before we go to the individual plant species that we will exploring, let’s pause to learn a little bit about foraging.

Historically, we’ve been foraging since the beginning of time. Our ancestors lived by their means of foraging as we are originally “hunters and gatherers.” As I make my way around interacting with native cultures and with mentors who have studied with them, I discovered that there is a deep relationship with the plant nations—from all types of food to fiber for rope, baskets and crafts, wild medicines for tinctures and salves, first aid and overall health. Every time you study and use a plant, you develop a deeper relationship with the natural world. The plants can be the foundation that connects us with all the things that are intertwined with which we are in relationship.

The Power of Native Knowledge

As we learn to look deeper at our neighbors, the plants, we also can recall how ancient peoples had an intimate relationship with plants as teachers and mentors, and many rites, stories and ceremonies were born through this connection. What I find as an incredible testament to our past is the deep knowledge of place that was, and continually is, fostered.

The Cherokee people had a deep understanding of 600 plants and their uses. The children, by their teenage years, knew 200 plants AND their uses. How many do we know?

Harvesting and Giving Back, What Is Our Intention?

When harvesting, it is important to realize that it is to be done with great care. Some people make an offering—tobacco, corn meal, a prayer, song or story. The Anishinabe use tobacco, but when Grandmother Lillian shared with me and others, she said to have the children use dry leaves that they can crush up to create a kind of fertilizer, and it was important for the children to get in the practice of an exchange.

In our classes, we let the children chose what to exchange, and sometimes it is a little bit of water or a hair from our head. With this kind of intention, there can be a link to help foster appreciation and respect for all species, not just plants. I strongly feel that if we pause in thanks and take the time to tune into our unspoken connection, we will learn much from our neighbors. To help put things in perspective, I like to point out that we wear plants and animals.

The Five “R’s”

It is important to remember where not to forage. This list will help:

  • Roadways: Highways, busy back roads, etc.
  • Rights of Way: Power lines and other easements.
  • Residences: If you don’t know if pesticides are used.
  • Railroads: There can be heavy toxins used to control growth of plants.
  • Rivers and waterways that use motor boats frequently.

Introducing the Plants

A friend of mine, Jeff Gottlieb, who teaches primitive skills, likes to categorize plants in three different ways. We have the “Grocery Store,” “Hardware Store” and “Drug Store.”

So let’s get back to our journey and meet some new friends, and if you already know these, let’s deepen that knowledge and reinforce the story we have that we can share with others.

In our yards, we have two wild plants that we will talk about in depth:

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)—Leaves of this plant are more nutritious than many things you can buy [GROCERY STORE]. They’re higher in beta-carotene than carrots. The iron and calcium content is phenomenal, greater than spinach. You also get vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc by using a tasty, free vegetable that grows on virtually every lawn. The root contains the sugar inulin, plus many medicinal substances [DRUG STORE]. The specific name, officinale, means that it’s used medicinally. The decoction is a traditional tonic. It is supposed to strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder, where it promotes the flow of bile, reduces inflammation of the bile duct and helps get rid of gall stones. This is due to its taraxacin. It is good for chronic hepatitis; it reduces liver swelling and jaundice; and it helps indigestion caused by insufficient bile. Don’t use it with irritable stomach or bowel, or if you have an acute inflammation. (Taraxacum comes from Arabic and Persian, meaning “bitter herb.”) Dandelion leaves’ white, milky sap removes warts, moles, pimples, calluses and sores, and soothes bee stings and blisters (excerpt from Steve Brill). There is so much more…

Cattail (Typha latifolia)—The cattail is one of the most important and common wild foods, with a variety of uses at different times of the year. This is commonly known as the “supermarket of the swamp.” As my mentor Tom Brown taught me, and I continue to share with kids and families in our classes:

• The leaves, flower heads, shoots and rhizomes are food [GROCERY STORE].
• You can make rope, baskets, hats and visors with it [HARDWARE STORE].
• You can use it for fire making for the tinder and the stalk for a friction fire named hand drill (personal experience…Earthwork Programs) [HARDWARE STORE].
• The mucilaginous juice is a barrier to protect from Giardia and also is a numbing agent [DRUG STORE].

You can easily recognize a cattail stand: white, dense, furry, cigar-shaped, overwintered seed heads stand atop very long, stout stalks, even as the young shoots first emerge in early spring. People sometimes confuse cattails with the very common grass-like non-poisonous reeds (Phragmites species), which form dense stands twelve feet tall. But reeds have flag-like flowers, and leaves originating along the stalks. When the two species compete, reeds tolerate more salt, and wins out on land. But they can’t grow in shallow water, like cattails. Caution: Young cattail shoots resemble non-poisonous calamus (Acorus calamus) and poisonous daffodil (Amaryllidaceae) and iris (Iris species) shoots, which have similar leaves (excerpt from Steve Brill ).

IMPORTANT: NEVER EAT A WILD EDIBLE UNTIL YOU’VE LEARNED FROM AN EXPERT.
For more information on wild plants and their uses and classes, visit our website.

The Secret to Seeing Wildlife with Bird Language

The New Bird Watching

A Heartfelt Thanks to the Birds

As the birds fly overhead, flit from branch to branch or perch on our feeders, do we actually notice them?

Do we see the interactions between different birds, notice their reactions or lack thereof to our presence?  Do we know the difference between when they are happy and content in song or their startled into alarm?  Our ears may be aware of the sounds coming from the birds that fill the air, but sometimes in our natural rhythm of our own busyness and our being “human doings” rather than human beings, we might not appreciate this amazing gift of the rich language that is articulated around us all the time. Here is a friendly reminder of the neighbors with whom we share our homes and the possibility of deepening our relationship with them.

A historic cultural perspective

In many native cultures and hunter gather societies from around the world there are many stories (oral traditions) and practices that instilled many values and help connect people to the earth, their families and also to oneself. One of the teachings I learned from a Mohawk man named Jake Swamp, subchief of the wolf clan, is a custom called the Thanksgiving address. This is one version of this amazing custom which truly emulates the sacredness and appreciation of the birds.

“We bring our minds together and send our greetings and thanksgiving to the birds at the beginning of time the birds were given a very specific duty to perform in order to help lift the troubled minds from the human family and many times during the day our minds are often lifted by the sounds of the bird nations songs. With one mind we send out a thanksgiving to all the birds of the world”

Lessons from my Dad and storytelling

Looking back to when I was a child I began to learn about birds because my father told me my aunt used to have birds eat right out of her hand and I was inspired by this. So I began to try my own methods, and this is when the birds became my teachers of the lessons of patience, awareness and perseverance. When I wasn’t at the feeder, I also began to tune into the birds to their songs as well as their behavior and could tell what birds were around just by hearing them (this is called birding by ear).

I started to adopt this philosophy of Thanksgiving when I wake up in the morning to greet the day whether it is just a few minutes or preferably longer. Another one of my mentors, Jon Young from the Wilderness Awareness School, said that he learned in childhood from one of his Elders from Poland to “never disturb a singing Bird because it is in its thanksgiving“.  Since I learned that and something that is called “Bird language” I have a whole new appreciation for the birds, it has opened up so many doors of possibilities.  Now instead of only seeing the white tail of the deer as it bounds away  from me or wondering where all of the animals are, I’ve instead had some amazingly intimate experiences. Let me share one with you. I was fox walking and using wide-angle vision (techniques of movement and Awareness that we share in our programs), being conscious of the bird language and fully present in the moment and noticing everything was in its natural rhythm. I was able to walk up to a deer without creating any alarms from the birds or the deer. I froze in place statue still. The deer was walking slowly and started to investigate the other visitor, a porcupine that was also a few feet from me.  This transported me to the many times before I had been tracking these amazing beings. I had seen their tracks and now seeing them move in their natural rhythm right in front of me was a “gift”. I paused and gave thanks. I don’t tell you this to impress you, but to have you realize that this can be more of what you can experience yourself.  I learned that this is mostly from visiting one place over and over that is the key by adopting a place on the land. I was in plain sight in a pair of jeans and fleece top no special camouflage or anything. The porcupine almost walked right up to me.  Then the deer passed by me and started sniffing the porcupine.  I felt as if I was in the middle of a special show “Wild America”! As I look back at these “gifts” I cannot help but feel thankful.

Practice with your friend and family and have fun with it.

I am going to share with you the five voices of the birds which Jon has shared with me. If you are just starting out or have been birding for years the information on this subject can seem quite overwhelming, but I will do my best to give a simple introduction to five major types of bird language so that you can begin to unlock your understanding of what the birds can tell you.

So what is this thing — Bird language? Well, first know that there are no hard and fast rules and what I’m about to share are tendencies and not absolutes. Being aware of these tendencies may be fruitful and will get you on your way to learning this rich language…”

Of the five voices, four are baseline voices and one is the voice of “ALARM”. Baseline is the natural rhythm of the Forest which is the way the animals and the birds and all the creatures live. This reflects their life of survival. One of the most important ways of life is conservation of energy. This is not just a good idea, this is a necessity.

The song: this is the one we are most familiar with. Scientists say that this is how birds set up their territory. This may be true, but also think of this scene: the birds awake at first light and there is a dawn chorus as they sing  they turn to face the warmth of the sun greeting the day, maybe they are simply giving thanks for another day to be alive? Maybe we could greet each day with a song of thanks and praise? This could be a powerful lesson from the birds.

Think of the song as baseline behavior/no alarm. You will notice when the ground birds such as the robin and the song sparrow are singing and when the tree top birds (the warblers) are singing.

You will notice when the cat moves through the yard and alarms the robin and the song sparrow, interrupting their song, but the grosbeak (in the tree top) is still singing. The ground birds are the ones most interested in the potential danger, the grosbeak comfortably out of immediate reach.

The companion call: The best way to explain this is to think of a pair of male and female cardinals. They’re communicating back-and-forth not with a song but a “chip”. This is a short sound, very high pitched and some people may call this a call note. This call will go back-and forth “male chip, female chip, male chip, female chip”. The call has a rhythm with the same time and distance between the birds. This is baseline again; there are no predators. However if one of the cardinals is making too much noise and does not return the call there will be nervous series of rapid calls “chip/chip/chip/chip” (this is challenging to describe in words but if you listen for it you will know it). The call is then returned to baseline if there’s no danger.

Aggression: Two males encounter each other over territorial dispute. They will chase each other around vocalizing. This display makes a lot of noise and when first starting out you may mistake it for being an alarm. There may be a tremendous amount of body language associated with this–birds flying into each other, chasing each other, etc., but if you look around you will notice the other birds are feeding in baseline. As you develop a discerning ear you will be able to tell when you hear a loud raucous of birds that there is no predator nothing is endangering them, it is clearly baseline with aggression.

Begging calls: this sound is what happens throughout the spring and early summer and you can tell when you start to hear these calls because it sounds like constant begging (feed me, feed me, feed me), in this moment it is still a baseline call for young birds. However you may hear an adolescent bird constantly calling for food while other birds have stopped feeding and singing and everything is silent. This silence is a sign of another alarm–possibly a Sharp-shinned hawk coming through to feed its own adolescents on their main stay of songbirds.

These are the four baseline voices. Learn them and remember that the more you practice the more you will expand your awareness of and appreciation for the birds.

Alarm: The voice of alarm is when a danger or predator is at large on the landscape and there is intense body language and intense vocalization which is enough to call other species of birds to alarm. It is mostly a multi-species response to danger.

Daily practice when you walk to your mailbox, your car and into the fields and forest

Now that you have some tools for understanding Bird language remember them as you walk out to your mailbox or to your car or into the forest. Be aware of the birds and the messages they have for you. What is the robin’s reaction to you? Hopefully you will notice it next time. The robin, in essence, is holding up a mirror for you to see your level of awareness and empathy reflected back at you. It’s letting you know how well you are learning their language. Are you going to be accepted by them and learn to see through the eyes of the birds?

I’m glad that I can share just the taste of this art with you. So get out there with your new awareness of Bird language! If this has inspired you and you want to learn more, hopefully you

will connect with us here at Earthwork Programs, Wilderness Awareness School and other schools that are sharing and passing on these skills.

All good medicine,

Frank Grindrod

Frank Grindrod is founder and owner of Earthwork Programs, a local business since 1999. Earthwork Programs is dedicated to teaching people earth skills such as nature awareness, tracking, wilderness living skills, survival, and earth philosophy. Earthwork Programs is also recognized as a Nurtured Heart™ School. Visit Frank and Earthwork Programs at www.earthworkprograms.com. Immersed in Nature, We Reconnect You with the Earth.

Gifts of Winter

Gifts of Winter

By Frank Grindrod

Winter is here, and there is so much to celebrate and so much to learn! The word “winter” conjures up many thoughts, feelings and powerful images. Some people think of winter as cold and dark–a good time to get close to the wood stove or crank up the thermostat; while others see the first snowflakes and think, “I am going to the mountains to ski, snowboard and snowshoe.” You may hear an excited shout “no school!” and “I am going out to build a snowman or snow fort!”  Of course, there is always, “I’m going sledding!”

Animals in Winter

As a tracker, there is a long-awaited unveiling to seeing the many trails of animals and bird species. A blank canvas is placed on the earth, the snow is a medium, and the animals are the artists creating a masterpiece about the story of their lives.

When going for a walk in winter, it is like attending an amazing theatrical performance. There is action, drama, adventure, suspense, mystery and love.

As we witness these works of art, like tracks criss-crossing across a field or the wing prints of an owl swooping down in silent flight for a vole (small mouse-like creature), we get a glimpse of the playful courtship chases and successful hunts. We can also observe the hardships that face our wild neighbors, such as the deer being heavy enough that their hooves break through the ice whereas the coyotes are light enough to travel on top of the ice-crusted snow. Many animals, who are well camouflaged in other seasons, stand out in winter–their black, red, dark brown fur contrasting the white landscape. But there are masters of camouflage in all seasons; the ones that seem invisible. These critters are the ones that molt and actually change color. They turn white! Who am I talking about? Any guesses? I will give you a hint. One is in the weasel family, and the other is a lagomorph? A what? A lagomorph is a fancy way of saying rabbit or hare; it’s Latin. You were right if you guessed snowshoe hare, Ermine (short-tailed weasel), and long tail weasel.

Winter Living and Ice Safety

There have been several weeks this winter where the temperatures have dropped below freezing; an Arctic blast moving through the region. 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.)

The Sami people of the Arctic follow the reindeer herds. They are nomadic hunter gatherers, continuing the ancient ways, heating their homes with fire. First there was the campfire, but a campfire is far too inefficient when temperatures range between 40° to 50° below zero. In these conditions you would go through a lot of wood! So these traditional people adopted a small portable wood stove that transformed their winter lifestyle. Today, the Sami still live traditionally, working, playing, creating amazing crafts of beauty, making their own clothes and shoes, harvesting their food, and raising their families; traveling across the snows with their portable fires. The Sami are many miles from any kind of town, so when a journalist who was studying their way of life asked the elders “what happens when someone gets sick?”, there was a long pause before someone stated “we don’t get sick.”

Night Sky Navigation

In the Northeast alone there are so many celebrations of winter, especially the Winter Solstice. This is a very powerful event because this is the longest night (or shortest day) of the year. The next day, the light returns and the days begin to grow longer again. Winter is a great time to learn about the night sky. As winter begins you may look to the sky for some constellations you know such as the Big Dipper (Canis Major). However, upon gazing skyward, you realize you cannot find it so easily. This is because the Big Dipper or the Great Bear, as it is otherwise known, is not as prominent in the winter sky early in the evening. Looking for the North Star to help guide your way? Are you thinking it is the biggest and brightest? The North Star, otherwise known as Polaris, is not big or bright. This is a common myth. Some people have gotten lost, because in the far reaches of their mind, they remember something about star navigation, so they follow the brightest star, which is actually Sirius. However, as all stars move across the heavens, except the North Star (which is stationary), following the brightest will not lead you north. In the winter night sky look to the constellation Orion, the Great Hunter; he is your guide this time of year.

So you are outside on this beautiful, clear night. As you gaze at the stars there is a part of you that would like to stay outside all night, breathing in the crisp air. Brrr! However, if you are not prepared for winter camping, it can be a challenge. Learning how to camp in the wintertime is very empowering and rewarding. Imagine you have all your layers on and just finished cooking by a warm fire. You enjoy sipping your hot tea or cacao outside, surrounded by forest. You look up and see the stars and the Milky Way. Wow! There are no ringing phones, no TV or computer screens, or even the humming of a furnace or refrigerator. The snow creates a blanket of silence. You watch the moon begin to rise and see millions of sparkles glistening, reflecting off the snow. It is all magical! Everywhere the moon’s luminescence touches the snow…it is glowing. A whole new sense of quiet and peace washes over you, and you are cleansed with a form of renewal that only being in nature can bring. We are all searching to slow down, rest and recharge. Experiences like these can be life changing; creating many years of memories and a strong connection with all things.

Embrace the gift of winter!

An Introduction to Tracking: Seeing through the Eyes of the Forest

Welcome Winter!

There are always amazing things happening in the outdoors, and all of them leave stories. This is an amazing way to learn: it puts the QUEST back into question and the SEARCH back into research. It also helps to engage all the senses: touching the tracks, listening to the birds, and letting the listeners know if the animal is still around them.

“Let’s follow an animal. We see some footprints in snow.” We all gather around, making sure not to step on the tracks; this is harder than it sounds with the excitement of everyone. Then we get close and reach out with our eyes like we are mountain climbing and we have shrunk ourselves down to climb in the track. We see that it looks pretty deep.

We start to measure and discover it is about an inch. Then Chris says, “I think it is a wolf!” We ask why? “I picture a wolf walking. We are reading a story about a wolf at home, and I would love to see one…” This is a gift; their imaginations are brimming, the tracks are coming alive, and the excitement builds!

Who’s got their journal? “Oh I do; it’s right here,” say several of the kids. They whip out their backpacks and start to make a sketch right there on the spot. Now the one measuring is working with the ones who are sketching.

There have been no answers given yet. We are in the brainstorming stage of tracking where everybody is sharing their direct observations, thoughts and feelings. There is a real magic at this point; an energy that flows throughout the group.

I ask some questions: “How many toes are there? Any claw marks?” There is a silence while everyone begins to get closer to the tracks. “I think this is a toe and this is another.” We all agree there are two huge toes that are about 3.5 inches long, and the width is 2.5 inches. I ask, “What shape is the overall track? A circle? Square? What do you see?” One of the girls says, “I see a heart.” “Me too!” agrees Maya. “Oh yeah, it is a heart,” confirms another.

I fuel their passion by reflecting back to them–“You are becoming great trackers.” “Now does anyone see the line right down the middle of it?” Someone exclaims “I see it! It is down by the bottom of the heart of the track.” I suggest an idea: “Why doesn’t everybody point which direction the animal is moving…on 3; ready…1…2…3!” Most of the students point where the mystery animal is headed. “Awesome! Way to trust your intuition!” I praise.

“Let’s look deeper. Did anyone bring any tracking guides?” A couple kids bring them out as I do. We all huddle around the guides looking for the tracks. It is now a matching game. “Are these fox tracks?” “No,” the group answers together. “These are way too big.” I ask one of them to make a track right next to our mystery track. He starts, and everybody watches. “Try to make it as deep as that one and feel how much weight–a lot or a little–it takes.” “Whoa! I am putting all my weight down, and it is just barely the same.” I ask, “Is this a light or heavy animal?” A resounding “heavy!!” is the reply.

Sometimes it is more important to have more questions than answers, like assigning a name. A lot of times I have noticed when I just share an answer of what I know, then the curiosity and mystery ends, and sometimes the experience as well as the discovery part of the need to know stops. I hope you can watch for it next time you are sharing or teaching.

Back to woods!

The kids start to guess certain animals and are showing and asking each other “do you think this is it? what about that?” This is a great example of how peers teach peers; they are mentoring each other!

Maya Tracking winter

We researched coyote, fox, otter and deer. There is a reason that I have them go through their guides; this is called coyote teaching–deepening the experience for them so they know what they know and they are learning how to learn when we, as a parent or teacher, are not there.

About the field guides: these guides are respected and revered as modern day elders with extreme knowledge and life experience. They have thousands of field hours in them. Lots of times there are also personal stories in them along with facts of behavior and measurements, etc.

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Primitive Skills in Maine

I love Maine; I have been visiting for many years. This fall, I had the opportunity to spend some time with some of my extended family up there. The Maine Primitive Gathering is where people come from all over to practice and learn with each other. There is so much to go over even though it is a weekend event, but I wanted to share what has been a focus for me in Maine for the last 2 years working with an amazing basket maker Mark Young.
Stay tuned for the video…

had the opportunity to mentor with and capture some incredible video at the 2009 Maine Primitive Gathering in Wells ME hosted by Mal Stephens.

Mark demonstrates and gives insight into a traditional skill that has been practiced for many years.

In this video, hear Mark’s philosophy of the baskets he makes, see pieces of this process…from pounding so the growth rings lift, to making and shaping splints, and learn how water is your best friend. Also hear the questions folks have about the how-to and the story that shaped a bow maker into a basket maker.

The baskets you see here and others may be available through Mark Young directly (while supplies last). Order your basket and support our basket makers and mentors who share this knowledge today.
*  Mark Young
* 207-646-1096
* mark@blackashpackbasket.com

Black Ash Pack Basket – Maine Basket Maker
Made in Maine by Mark Young

sharing our trip to Alaska and Learning about Animal tracking

Frank Grindrod of http://www.earthworkprograms.com/
invites you to go for a guided walk of the mysteries of animal tracking in Alaska.
Learn to see through the eyes of a tracker.

what questions do you ask yourself when out in the forest?

when tracking look for patterns in the natural world.

what are the animals doing throughout the seasons.

There are so many mysteries in outdoor education and so many models.

How did you do on this little tracking quiz?

Filming by my lovely wife Arianna in our trip to Alaska in the Kenai wildlife Refuge.
Hope you enjoy our video’s and share with your friends and family.
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Thanks for your support.

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