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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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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!

Nature’s Gifts

Greetings!

The holiday times are upon us. You could go out and buy all kinds of decorations for your Christmas tree or your windows, or cards for friends and family. But let’s look at another perspective…how about creating your own decorations using materials from the natural world?

Our ancestors constantly used different fibers of different plants for textiles, making baskets, creating mats out of cattail, art and sculptures too.  Living in a time where people buy everything, there seems to be a disconnect to the natural world.

How did this picture frame actually get here?

Well, first you need the natural materials—who knows if they were harvested in a respectful manner and that other trees were thinned to create habitat for small herbaceous plants and animals and insect growth too? Then it needs to be shipped to a factory where it is to be manufactured; then once it’s manufactured, it gets packaged. Then after the packaging happens, it gets put on a truck…then there’s all the resources used to ship it whether by plane, train or tractor-trailer vehicle from overseas. Notice how many things are from China. These are all a tremendous amount of resources to use when you can easily learn how to make things on your own from nature.

The alternative…
First begin with intent; then decide what your goal is—what would you like to create and for whom (i.e., your mother or father or perhaps grandparents or friends)?  When you figure out for whom, then create something for them; imagine what they would like. You can make a necklace with homemade beads that you can carve. You can make a wreath using our abundant Eastern Hemlocks. You can make bracelets. You can make a little basket. You can even make a spinning top with an acorn, and dolls or action figures from cattail and sedge. You can make cards too. There are so many options.

What do you think about when you want to create?

Think about where you are most likely to find an abundant source of material; it could be a wetland, deep forest, in a field close by. Then research and learn how the native people or pioneers or current crafts people process these resources.

When you create something with your own hands and your heart and intent behind it, it has so much more value than perhaps buying something that doesn’t have a personal connection. There is so much happening in the wilderness during this time even though the leaves are dropped and it looks bare.  There are so many gifts out there that nature offers. You can also go out with friends and enjoy the “process” which helps to build relationships with each other as well as with your surroundings.

The other option is going to the store and waiting in lines to buy things, spending your money and your time in an area that’s very loud and not as intimate.

So life is about “choice.” May you give yourself the gift of creating your own gifts this season.
Blessings,
Frank

Winter Shelter Building (Quinzee)

This is an article we wrote in the past but is so pertinent right now!

Maya and the Great Outdoors
A Daddy-and-Daughter’s Quest for Adventure, Knowledge and Fun in NATURE.

Winter is a magical time full of wonder! Animal tracks abound; coyotes and owls call, interrupting a profound silence; and the moon glistens off the snow. This is a time of slowing down and going deep into ourselves.

“I am Maya Grindrod and I’m nine years old. When my dad and I were out snowshoeing one day I asked, how do the animals live out here when it’s so cold? How did people live out here with all this snow? What if they got lost, what would they do?”

“Well Maya, remember those little tunnels we saw in the snow?” I asked.

“Yeah, I saw some earlier and the entrance was surrounded by ice.” replied Maya.

“That’s right! You have a keen eye; ice was only around the entrance not the tunnels itself. When we get back from our hike, let’s that’s look it up.”

We discovered that snow is one of the best insulators and that the ice at the entrance was formed from the body heat and breath of the animal inside the den.

There are regions in North America where the snow pack is not deep enough to consider igloos, a more permanent shelter, and so the natives of the region developed a snow shelter that could be thrown up quickly as a temporary shelter. While on tracking and hunting expeditions, instead of bringing heavy gear like tents and lots of hides in order to make shelter, they created quinzees from snow which they could just leave when they were done with it. An experienced person can make quinzee in less than an hour or two.

So one day after getting some fresh powdered snow of about half a foot, Maya and I (her dad) went into the forest to build a quinzee. It was still snowing, and Maya agreed that building a quinzee would be more fun than shoveling the deck. Below are the steps we did to create our quinzee. We also video-taped our experience, which includes many important tips, more information that would not fit here. Visit www.earthworkprograms.com to view the video.

Step 1: With any shelter, it’s important to have the materials you need, so one of the most important steps is what, Maya? “Location, location, location.” We brought shovels and found in a shady spot. A sunny spot can work too, but the snow shelter will melt quicker. If we didn’t have shovels we could have used our snowshoes. When we found a location, we had to look for hazards, such as broken trees limbs and dead trees that could fall where we would be building.

Step 2: We created the size of our shelter by standing in the center of the area and drawing a circle with a walking stick.

Step 3: We threw up snow into a pile about a foot high and then packed it, and kept throwing and packing until we reached the height and dome shape we wanted. (We also ended up throwing snow at each other during the process; a fun way to keep your child shoveling.)

Step 4: We turned our quinzee into an animal. “This is the porcupine phase,” stated Maya. “It’s a local mammal covered in quills. We covered our snow dome in sticks.” Find straight pencil diameter sticks between 12 to 18 inches long and place them all over the shelter about one to two feet apart.

Step 5: Take a break and have some hot chocolate. It’s not an actual step but you do need to wait for about 30 minutes or more (depending on the snow conditions) for the snow to settle, a process called “sintering” where ice crystals begin to bond to each other. If you wait too long, ice will form and the quinzee will be more difficult to carve out.

Step 6: Next we carved out the inside of our quinzee! “So what are all the sticks for Daddy,” asked Maya referring to step 4. “Well Maya, as we are removing snow from the inside, how do we know how to judge the thickness of the walls of the quinzee?” Maya carves and hits the tip of stick. “Oh, I see the tip of the stick. and another one.” “As you’re moving snow and see the tip of a stick, don’t dig in any further; this guarantees that your walls will be as thick as the length of your sticks.”

Important tools for carving – you can use your gloves, a pot and even a grain scoop. The best thing to use is a compact shovel with a short handle. When Maya was inside she was using her whole body; her feet, her hands, and even her head. She was covered in snow!

Caution: When carving out a quinzee, keep in mind that this is a snow dome not a tunnel. Make sure to carve out the sides and top evenly. You don’t want a heavy top that might collapse in on you. And it’s always a good idea to have a buddy to pull you out if you need it.

Step 7: When we finished carving, we stepped back and admired our hard work. “Wow, we did it!” exclaimed Maya. “Can we bring a candle and a sleeping bag out here?” Maya and I went back to the house and came back out when the moon was up. We walked quietly through the woods to our quinzee. Maya got down on all fours and scrambled in. “Okay, give me the sleeping bag and the candle.” Maya made a little nest and we lit the candle, laying in the darkness. “Did you hear that? Daddy, that was an owl,” whispered Maya loudly.
My heart brimmed with pride and joy. Here we were having some quality daddy-daughter time; hanging out together in a quinzee we built and listening to the sounds around us. Life can be this good!

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. His daughter Maya is an adventurous nine year old who is the creator and star of the series, “Maya and the Great Outdoors”. Visit Frank and Maya and Earthwork Programs at www.earthworkprograms.com Immersed in Nature, we reconnect you with the earth.

Spring Is Awakening All Around Us

Look, Listen, Feel, Touch and Taste

Deep Listening, There Is More Going on than You Think

Kids InvestigatingThe sounds of spring are all around us. There is a BIG difference in hearing and listening. Hearing can be passive. Listening causes us to reach out with our senses to become more present in the moment. We may hear the chorus of frogs calling in the Vernal pools, flooded meadows, temporary ponds and sometimes in roadside puddles. Usually the first songs we hear are the spring peepers, tiny tree frogs identifiable by the “x” on their back. Their most common call is a long drawn out P-E-E-P, but this year listen to the other call that is a type of whistling trill, which is a sound signaling that these frogs are agitated by something. In order to find out what, we need to get closer and be quiet, slowly stalking over to the edge of the water to get a closer look. This trill may mean a couple of male peepers are competing for a female; it could also mean there is a predator in the water, overhead, or it could be you.
Also listen for wood frogs, the ones wearing the black mask.  Though they are frogs, their call may be confused with the call of ducks – “quack, quack, quack”.  Wood frogs are predators of spring peepers so if you hear the quacking, investigate to find out if there are peepers in the pool also.

Listen for the S-I-L-E-N-C-E. This speaks volumes to what is happening as you approach or if you happen to walk by and everything stops. If you are quiet, you can get really close and observe this behavior that you might not otherwise be aware of. The gift you could be rewarded by is seeing the natural rhythm of this place. A red fox could be observing your approach or perhaps a raccoon could be dining on frogs’ legs.

Deep observation is another way to develop a rich relationship with the land and your wild neighbors, the frogs and salamanders and everything that is connected to this strand of web of life that takes place here.

 

Blossoming

It’s Spring Time, It’s Spring Time
There’s a certain feeling in the air. Everything is waking up, blooming, blossoming, hatching. Smells are wafting on the winds, and the leaves are unfurling and are becoming fully developed. This is the perfect stage for them to be edible. There are many edible trees that are around and available; basswood, in particular, is one of my favorites. It’s like having salad greens, and you just pick it off, like our wild neighbor, the deer…no processing necessary—just pick and eat (and don’t forget, give thanks for the bounty, like our ancestors have shared since the beginning).

There’s a lot going on as it starts to get warm…as the snow melts and the streams start to overflow. The waters are intense with the spring freshet from the thaw from up in the mountains where the snow is melting, coming down all the way into the valley and pushing out into the ocean. It’s such an amazing display of Nature’s power. The wetlands and flood plains in the fields and forests are bursting with life. During this time, the frogs and turtles are becoming very active. Watch for the turtles as they line up on logs and bask in the sun.  Observe the red-winged blackbirds filling the cat-tail edges of the wetlands; notice the red and yellow field marks on the wings of the male as they display their dominance for prime real estate.

The birds are singing their springs songs. The wildflowers are growing up and coloring the landscape. The insects are hatching. In the stream, watch for mayflies, dragonflies and caddisflies emerging.  And watch for those red-winged blackbirds ready to snatch up a flying meal.

Snake

Snakes aren’t slimy…”they have scales, cool!”

The snakes are coming out of their hibernaculum–the place where they spend the winter…sometimes it’s under a culvert or in a pile of rocks. We see them moving around, sometimes 12 to 14 snakes all at once, soaking up the sun and basking. They’re endothermic, which means they’re cold blooded, and they cannot generate their own heat like we can; they need the warmth of the sun.

 

What the Mammals Are Doing
These warm days are great opportunities to be able to see the animals raising their young; fox and weasels have kits while coyotes and bats have pups; rabbits have leverets; porcupines have porcupettes; bobcats and beavers have kittens; bears have cubs and deer have fawn.

In their multiple color phases like sandy and charcoal gray, red fox kits are developing their black boots, black ears and their white-tipped tail (which distinguishes them as a red fox); they begin to learn how to adapt to their forest home with their amazing camouflage and all their senses being fully developed.   The young bears are learning how to forage, turning over logs and feeding on insects, and they are learning how to use their new claws as they learn to climb trees for safety and fun. Have you ever seen a cub climb a tree—it’s very cute to watch!

Red Fox

Wow! there it is

A leveret (baby rabbit) found stuck in bushes and released by earth stewards.

There are so many things happening:  squirrels and otters, coyotes and beaver–they all have young to raise and feed. Some of these animal babies are born with their eyes closed and their ears not being able to hear and the only thing they can do is smell, while others are born with their eyes open, furred and are ready to go, like a snowshoe hare.

So off you go “into the outdoors” either by yourself, or with family and friends, to connect deeper to where we live in this exciting explosion of activity…the springtime.  See you in the woods.


Nature Connection and Cultural Mentoring

Nature ConnectionThe Transformational Power of Nature Connection and Cultural Mentoring

Nature connection is not just important but wildly important! The last Valley Kids was packed with several stories on nature-based learning with some powerful evidence to share about Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods, and his work about Nature Deficit Disorder and what is happening locally and internationally.

What the Research Shows on Nature Deficit Disorder
Nature deficit occurs in kids, adults, families and communities. A study found that young people could identify 1,000 corporate logos but fewer than 10 plants or animals native to their backyards.

Nature is not just important; it is like an essential vitamin for all beings, for our development mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Nature learning is part of our genetic makeup; it is in our DNA—we are related to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We are specially designed for this type of learning. Our eyes can pick out the subtlest movement without looking directly at an object.

OWL EYES is a Routine for Seeing More in Nature
Exercise: Look at this magazine by setting it down in front of you. Allow your eyes to relax, not focusing on the words but a soft look. Next, bring your hands out to your sides, arms extended and wiggle your fingers without looking directly at them (move arms forward a little if you do not see movement). When you see movement, notice your fingers are just on the edge of your vision (this is called “peripheral vision”).

This is a way of seeing more in nature. This is how you spot the hiding deer on your walks through the forest, a spider making a web and you see a strand dance in the breeze glistening from the sun’s light reflecting on it, or the pumping of the tail of a phoebe (fly catcher type of bird) right above you in the canopy as it hunts for insects and snaps it’s beak ever so quietly. Things like these are constantly happening around us.

Mind Workout and Scientific Study
Exercising the power of our senses…sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste…can change your biochemistry. Every time you engage the senses fully, this creates little electrical impulses in the brain and creates new pathways for brain activity. Imagine the possibilities of learning if you are constantly engaging the senses and creating more brain use. Inside our brain, areas are firing that have never been stimulated before when you interact with a plant you recognize, and feel its texture and notice its inside is mucilaginous (slimy); this is a new little electrical storm in your brain.

This electricity can be measured and gives us another reason to be immersed in nature. Having these transformational experiences on a regular basis changes the capacity of the brain and the mind. This provides a holistic way of perceiving reality and perceived reality.

A Walk Alone in the Woods
I was walking barefoot, moving slowly with full awareness, feeling the earth in between my toes as I moved like a heron with such grace and balance and free flowing like the current of the water rolling over the rocks in the stream. As I moved through the tall grass, frogs were still and let me pass, then my eyes noticed movement of a very small bird in the dense thicket. I froze and in that moment, saw a mink, which is a small weasel, on the bank of the stream moving like a shadow gliding along. The bird was the messenger for me to pause and listen. This bird’s body language and movement was erratic and seemed nervous to me. That was all it took, then that magic moment happened, seeing the mink…relaxed and in its natural rhythm, not running from me or hiding.

Powerful Storytelling
As I share this story and describe it in detail, there is a curiosity that is awakened—something primal. This may cause a response of wanting to experience something similar. It gives a reference point of possibility. There is a fire sparked through the power of storytelling and imagination that the listener could be the one who experiences an intimate encounter in nature as well.

Our Role as Mentors
Let’s ask ourselves powerful questions that will foster our relationship and create a powerful culture with nature and people and unite us together. “COME UNITE WITH ME!” This is what the word COMMUNITY is. Here is a question: how do we have “QUALITY NATURE CONNECTION?”  What is the secret to integrating nature into our lives on a regular basis?

We are gardening all the time. Everything we focus on with intent, we can help create. Every time we share nature, we plant seeds.
Are you planting seeds?

Enjoy the Summer!

Create Your Own Nature Map

There’s a real power in naming places in Nature. This transforms your yard, back woods, special hiking or camping area into a magical land of possibilities!

Raccoon TracksIt’s one thing to be in the woods by that tree over there, but it is quite another to share a story about a place you have had a rich experience in where you saw raccoon tracks. It creates a hook of wanting to know more about the raccoon’s habits and life, and discover if there are more of them and if they had kits this year. The power of imagination and our deep connection to place can really awaken. This can be a way to bring magic, mystery and excitement back into our daily routine.

We live in a world full of changes and notice the technological advances that are happening–the power of TV pulling us all in where we can just sit there for a few minutes which turns into hours. I have noticed there seems to be this need to be constantly “plugged in.” This is embedded in our culture now. It is difficult to go through the day without being plugging in or seeing someone else having “screen time.”

It is believed that our environment shapes us; that what we are surrounded by consistently and our mind focuses on and our senses take in becomes our reality. So what do we do about this culture of which we are a part? Make it a habit to get into the outdoors and plug into Nature!

Nature has its own “screen time.” When you go out in nature, there’s a potential of experiencing a theatrical play. The story of the sharp-shinned hawk who visits your feeder daily may be seen as the dark force; however, the hawk is there waiting for a song bird to drop her awareness so that he can feed his young. The next day, there are cardinal feathers found right near where you see that bird retreat to when you walked outside your door. You may ponder, “What happened?” Now a story is born; one that reminds us of the delicate balance of life and death. Maybe it is as simple as what you learned from the cardinal at your house. In that initial story, we may feel the pull to go out and watch the birds at the feeder, noticing things completely differently.

Insert Nature Mentor

Then Dad or Mom starts asking questions –
Dad: “Did you see those feathers? What color were they?
Daughter: “Red, bright red.
Dad: “What birds are red around here?
Daughter: “Uh, yah, a cardinal, maybe?

At this point your children are on a journey OUTSIDE even though they are in the house talking with you. This is the power of mentoring! They are going back in their “mind’s eye” and trying to picture the event. This is a very common practice of how native cultures mentor their children. They create associations and a compelling desire of wanting to go back and look. The human nature of wanting to figure out a mystery is deeply embedded in our psyche. We just have to piece it together, take it apart, have it make sense, have a connection to it. To strengthen the connection, together come up with names of these special places in your yard: “Hawk’s Spot,” “Dinner Plate,” “Raccoon Trail.” As a mentor, you can encourage your child to map the yard with all the adventures and mysteries you both find there.

The next step is going out together and letting your child find the area and become a detective while you serve as observer and questioner. This allows you to put the “quest” back in question. This allows your child to feel like it is his/her discovery. There are so many other layers you can integrate too.

In just this story, can you see the power of influence to create nature connection and fostering an understanding of place? This in itself is transformative. Try it; see what happens, and share with us your results and learnings.

Another Story and the Effect of Seeds Planted over Time

Often people ask me, “How do you help kids connect to nature?” I usually tell them it is about establishing core routines; a special place and time in nature over and over where it builds on itself.

Bare Feet CircleOver five years ago, during a class, we were off in the woods, exploring while on our way to the camp where the students loved to spend their time. We stopped to take off our shoes, going barefoot to feel the earth under our feet. I shared a little story and described a natural way of quiet-moving called “fox walking.” Everyone slowly rose to their feet and started to practice this way of movement and awareness.

There were background sounds of trees rustling and birds singing and the soft sound of leaves under our feet. The sound of a call was off in the distance to our north then it stopped. No one really noticed but then a few minutes later it screamed above us in a high-pitched voice. We were all shocked, but in a good way. We looked up and saw a giant silhouette of a bird; a huge wingspan just above the tree line. It cast a big shadow then circled to the south. The call repeated. Everything seemed to stand perfectly still in that moment; as I looked around, I saw the children mesmerized by this majestic brown bird with white head and tail—a Bald Eagle was visiting us. As the one eagle flew with such grace, we all noticed we were sharing a special moment, for some had never seen an eagle before and this marked that special day. Others never saw one this close. The look on their faces was awe and inspiration. Then I noticed there was another eagle flying over to the first, then another, and another, until there were six eagles in all circling this small group of barefoot children of the earth. Everyone was even more amazed at this miracle.

Eagle

Photograph by Tom Ricardi

This place was then named by all of us present that day. It is now “the place of the soaring eagles.” Now whenever we return to this land, the children often say, “Let’s have snack at the place of the soaring eagles.” When a new student joins our community class, the kids share this story which not only introduces and includes the new child into the story and our community, but also deepens the connection of place for the storyteller. The kids also bring their parents to this spot and share the story with them, which helps foster and deepen the parent-child relationship.

One last thought: I have been practicing this core routine with many children over the years, my own daughter included. One of my magic moments, just recently, was driving down Route 116 with my now teen-age daughter and her saying “Bear Pass,” which reminded us both of seeing a bear crossing at that place and watching it together many years ago. It made me quite the proud Papa to know that what we shared years ago is still retained in her memory. This is the lasting impression of mentoring and the power of naming.

Hope you enjoyed our stories and now understand the power of naming places in nature. Until next time, enjoy your journey into the outdoors.

Nature Mapping

Maya Quest Map (2)How do we get to know our place? By exploring it! Do you remember as a kid creating a treasure map? You and some friends may have had a can of special objects that you decided to hide together. The question, after deciding where to hide it, was how to find it again. You had to create a map. What did you put on your map to give you clues on how to find your treasure? You may have drawn it out and labeled, “41 paces to big rock with eye.” “Bear right at the messy grey squirrel nest in old sugar maple tree.” “Turn left at big oak tree with the large woodpecker holes” “25 feet to muddy stream with raccoon tracks.” You may have created a key with symbols you made up to equal what something was. A wavy line was a stream. A pile of dots was a large sand mound. A connected line of circles was stone wall.

Mapping your yard or a special place with you child(ren) is a delightful activity that, in addition to providing time to explore together, also teaches valuable skills learning directions, map reading, counting, line of sight, and gaining a deeper understanding of place.

The Basics

Winnie-the-Pooh says it best when learning your right from you left; quite an important skill in knowing which way to turn: “When looking at your two paws, as soon as you have decided when of them is the right one, then you can be sure the other one is the left.”

“In what direction does the sun come up?” Can your child point and show you the direction of east? “Where is north?” If they are still pointing straight up then it is time to teach your child direction. When I used to teach map and compass, one of the phrases I learned as an instructor was, “Never eat soggy Wheaties.” Not one for cereal, it wasn’t my favorite but the kids seemed to think it was funny.

Once you child understands direction, it is time to look a map. In fact look at several different types together. Depending on the scale you can find all sorts of variety in the types of information the map is providing. You can look at an aerial view of you property, a town map, a road map, a geographical map. In examining the various maps, look at what types of information each map provides. Some questions to think about are: What direction is north on this map? Can you point to where are you on this map? Does this map provide a key? Does is it give you an indication where people live? Where wildlife live? What do you notice most on this map?

A family that maps together…

Together, go out into the woods and hide an object of value to each of you. Then decide how you will find it again. Be sure to bring paper and crayons or colored pencils. Sit together and draw the area you are in. You can decide together what a variety of symbols in your key will mean. Five green triangles is a white pine stand. A blue circle is the pond and the blue circle with green sticking out of it is the marsh. Allow you and your child’s creativity to really come out. Next work together to how you are going to get back to the spot. Take notes as you back track and the retrace your steps. Ask your child if she wants to count in feet or paces. A foot is one step. Agree whose step – yours or hers? A pace is two steps. Plot out the trail and decide what natural features will help you remember how to get back to your treasure. Make sure your child can get back to the treasure. Then leave it out there, being sure it is protected and hidden and then wait a few weeks and then, creating a special time, go back and see if you can find it again with the map you both created.

Do you know the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd”? Before the Civil War, this was a song-map to help slaves find their way to freedom. If your child is more interested in writing then drawing, mapping out the treasure hunt through a song or story is also a fun way to learn about your surroundings. Together decide on what natural features are prominent and then create a story or song to map out the trail to your treasure. I remember one year while working camp, my co-worker and I created a song-line scavenger hunt, “Follow the Rocky Road” to the tune of “Follow the Drinking Gourd” that led to a special place. Each camper was responsible in remembering a line of the song that provided a hand rail to the next land feature. We told them the order that they needed to sing the lines in and everyone had to be on lookout while the one camper sang the line and repeated it until we found that particular natural feature. It was great fun and the girls were enthralled to discover a kiva as the surprise. We all clambered down into it and sat and sang the song all the way through in the dark.

As your child increases mapping skills

Map reading can provide a sense of empowerment. Next time you are on a family trip, tell your child the destination and ask him to follow the lines on the map to figure how to get there. Let you child know, “As the navigator, you are in charge of plotting out the best possible course to our destination.” See what your child comes up with. Be sure he is looking at the correct lines, else you may be paddling your way along a blue ribbon.

By allowing your child to participate in getting to a destination, you are engaging their mind. Your child is actively looking for markers that help in knowing where and when to turn. They are developing their awareness skills. By practicing mapping skills they develop confidence and competence in trusting themselves. They also learn how to feel safe and comfortable in a variety of habitats, whether traversing a foot trail or bicycling to the ice cream stand or a taking trip to Grandma’s house.

So have fun! Be creative! And see in the outdoors!

“The Pharmacy Is All Around Us”

On November 11, 2013, Frank Grindrod made his first primetime appearance! Here’s the segment from Chronicle, Main Streets episode (you can scroll in about 2:49 minutes to see Frank’s portion about wild edibles; or you can watch the whole segment to see some of our community).

Wild Edibles with Frank Grindrod of Wilderness Survival Training School Earthwork Programs in the Hills of western mass from Frank Grindrod on Vimeo.

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