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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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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.

Amherst Bulletin | Weekend hiking accident shows rescue challenges

We’ve been doing Emergency Preparedness Talks as well as hands-on Emergency Survival and Self-Sufficiency Skills Workshops for several years now. This story is a great example of why it’s important to prepare! Frank recently held the hands-on Workshop in Vermont, and here’s a quote from one of the attendees: “The biggest thing I brought away from the class was the importance of having a complete car survival/readiness kit.”
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Weekend hiking accident shows rescue challenges

By Scott Merzbach

Staff Writer

Published on January 14, 2011

A weekend rescue of a woman who broke her ankle while walking with her family on the Robert Frost Trail in the Notch area highlights the importance of being prepared, emergency responders say.

Carrying a cell phone and maps, dressing for the weather and letting friends and family know about the hiking itinerary are some of the ways to make a rescue more successful should something bad happen, Fire Chief Tim Nelson said.

“Those are all simple things that will go a long way to effect a good outcome,” he said.

The call to emergency dispatch about the injured woman came Saturday at 3 p.m. when her husband, who was accompanying her and their two children, walked about a mile to get to the Notch Visitors Center parking lot. There, he borrowed a cell phone and made the call.

While the man identified the location where his wife had fallen, based on markers along the trail, he left the parking area to return to her. This made the rescue more challenging, Nelson said, because firefighters were uncertain what equipment should be brought in, the medical supplies the victim might need and how long it would take to reach her.

“We’ll find you eventually, but we need to find you as quick as possible,” Nelson said.

When firefighters finally reached the woman, who had apparently slipped on ice and snow, they placed a splint on her foot and bundled her up. Then they loaded her onto an all-terrain vehicle and used chain saws to clear obstructions from the path. Eventually they abandoned use of the all-terrain vehicle, carrying the woman a distance before placing her in a pickup truck and finally getting her to the waiting ambulance. Firefighters cleared the scene around 6:30 p.m.

The woman was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for treatment, Nelson said.

Nelson said even though the woman and her family were experienced hikers, they should have planned better.

“These folks were familiar with the trails, but they didn’t have a map, they didn’t have a cell phone,” Nelson said. “If you’re going out on these trails this time of year, you need a way to get hold of us.”

Nelson praised the six permanent firefighters and the members of the student and call forces who responded.

He singled out Steve Chandler, a firefighter and paramedic, for excelling in the first time he has been acting officer on the scene of a response.

via Amherst Bulletin | Weekend hiking accident shows rescue challenges.

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!

Into the Outside with Fireflies

Photinus by Don Salvatore

Photinus by Don Salvatore

I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey in the 1970s. As a child I remember summer nights filled with fireflies in the back yard. I was so transfixed by these little creatures! They had little flashlights on their tiny bums and they would dance in the nighttime breeze, flashing their little lights to some silent tune, as if only they could hear the waltz.

Now, every June I await for the fireflies to begin their summer ritual. Frank and I have so few where we live so sometimes, to get my fix, we travel all the way to Montague where I know of some choice fields where the action goes on for hours.

Did you know there are two dozen species of fireflies in Massachusetts alone? I sure didn’t; not until I took a citizen science class on fireflies at the annual Massachusetts Environmental Education Society (MEES) conference this year. I knew there where at least two, but wow, two dozen? Twenty-four species of fireflies was phenomenal news to me. And each specie that does flash has its own special signal.

Now before I get into the natural history and science of fireflies, I just want you all to know that becoming a citizen scientist for firefly counting can be done, not just by adults, but by kids as well. What a great reason to stay up just a wee bit passed bedtime – “Mom, Dad, can’t go to bed right now. I have an important duty to perform as a citizen scientist; I am going outside, to count firefly flashes.”

Firefly Science

Of the twenty-four firefly species in Massachusetts, there are three that flash. Yes, you read right, not all firefly species have little flashbulbs on their bottoms; only three (that we know of thus far) do. So that firefly-looking insect you saw during the day earlier this spring was probably the Winter Firefly.

A firefly, also known as a lightning bug, is neither a fly nor a bug but a beetle. To get to know this order of insects look for the 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. Like all insects, fireflies have three main body parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen. Being an insect they also have six legs and antennae. Those that have the light-emitting organs on the lower parts of their abdomen are able to flash because of a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. Ever bite down on a Wintergreen Lifesaver candy and seen that spark in the dark? Same concept; a chemical reaction takes place that creates this “cool light”. Cool, huh?

Each flashing firefly has its own language, or secret code, to communicate with others of its kind. We used to understand that each firefly was just out there flashing to find a mate. We now are learning that it is not just same specie partners that are attempting to match up to mate and make more fireflies. There is also intrigue taking place in those bushes out back.

Trickery in the Tall Grass

While the Photinus male is minding his own business trying hard to attract a female of his own kind, the Photuris female, who is about twice the size of Photinus, has other plans. She is hungry. So to attract a meal, she mimics – pretends to be – a Photinus female by copying the Photinus female’s answering flash. The Photinus male gets all excited, “hooray, I have found my sweetheart!” Only to be set upon and eaten when he alights on the leaf or grass-blade.

To make matters more complex the Photuris male, trying to attract a Photuris female will also mimic the Photinus in hopes that he can lure his own specie by tricking her into thinking she is going to get a meal but instead the Photuris male arrives hoping his affections will be reciprocated by the Photuris female. And that is not all; a Photinus male, after having arrived successfully at the doorstep of a Photinus female, will ward off other potential suitors by mimicking a Photuris female, mimicking a Photinus female, but one who accidently gave herself away as a Photuris. Wow! What complexity! What adventures are taking place outside our windows in the gloaming.

Finding Fireflies

If you want to find fireflies that flash, first you need to head outside at dusk. Yes, when the mosquitoes are descending upon you in hoards. Photinus, Photuris, and Pyractomena can be found in moist meadows and fields. Their larvae need moist soil to grow in and soft-bodied invertebrates to eat, so an ideal habitat for youth and adults consists of a meadow or large yard with shrubs and uncut grass which is surrounded by forest.

If you can even keep just a patch of your grass uncut and some of your garden a bit wild, your chances increase that fireflies will find your yard an appealing habitat.

Games you can play with other families and neighborhood kids on summer nights

Flashlight Tag: Depending on how many participants you have enlisted, you may want to have one or two “it”. In this game only the “it” has the flashlight. Decide upon three to four bases that the participants have to get to, in no particular order. This way no one can just stay hidden but have to find a way to sneak in, tag a base, and leave. The object of the game is for the players not to get tagged with the light of the flashlight while tagging each base. After a player has successfully tagged all the bases s/he can hide nearby and wait. The object for “it” is to shine their flash light on other players. Players who are tagged sit out until the next round. The round is called after there is apparently no one except “it” running around.

Mimickers: For this game, all players need their own flashlight. Half the players are Photinus and the other half are Photuris. Each group separates, decides on specific flashes and what those flashes mean. For example, the Photinus team may decide that two quick flashes mean “come here” and that the proper response would be to flash three quick flashes. Spread out in a large area; this can be school grounds, someone’s backyard, a patch of woods, or a field. The object for Photinus is to find one another again, at least in pairs. The object for Photuris is to figure out through observation, what the various signals Photinus are using and lure in a Photinus. If a Photinus is tricked into going to a Photuris, the Photinus is out and can stargaze through this round.

Learn more about Fireflies
General nature activities, including fireflies: http://www.backyardbiology.net/
Firefly facts, photos, stories http://www.firefly.org/
Firefly Flash Chart: https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/flash_chart
Into the Outside with Fireflies Family Outing, Saturday, June 16, 8:00 – 9:30pm with Arianna Grindrod of Earthwork Programs. For details go to: www.earthworkprograms.com

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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