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How to Register for Homeschool Programs (VIDEO)

Time to Register for Heron and Swift Eagle Homeschool!

Our Homeschool Programs run from September through June…3 sessions: Fall, Winter and Spring. Heron is for ages 7+ and Swift Eagle is for 11+.

Mother Nature brings something wonderful and amazing to each session.

  • Fall is filled with colors, roots, acorns, animals preparing for winter.
  • Winter starts out brown and becomes white, and it’s a great time to practice tracking, ice safety and learning to prevent hypothermia.
  • Spring is, of course, the awakening of the woods with so many shades of green.

Here’s a short video to help you navigate the registration process:

homeschool wilderness skills registration western ma

The Mystery of Moose and How to Find Them

Moose are the ghosts of the forest

Moose are these amazing creatures that can be really close to us, and we would never realize it because they can blend into the landscape even though they are over seven feet tall and can weigh up to a ton (2,000 lbs.) and have antlers that can reach six feet across!

The odds are stacked in our favor 

moose 5

How do we notice that they have been in an area? According to research by Sue Morse of Keeping Track, “An estimated 80,000 moose live in the Northeast, which practically guarantees an opportunity to see one.”

Where can I find moose tracks and sign?

The key word here is “habitat.” This is the natural home or environment for an animal to live in.

Moose habitat is an area that has lots of brush exposed overgrown fields and meadows and also transition areas where different forest types meet, i.e., field into oak hickory forest. There is also a lot of activity of feeding and bedding in wetlands that are regenerating after a family of beavers has left.

Another place to see moose is where there has been a clear-cut or some sort of break in the forest, like a harvested plot or logged area in regrowth and has been able to have pioneer species of low growing plants, trees and shrubs.

An important step is get to know your trees

moose 4

Animals often have very special relationships to plants, trees and shrubs, and by understanding what moose feed on, you improve your chances of moose sighting and study. Do you know what a Red Maple tree looks like—we are surrounded by them; they are one of the top 10 trees in Massachusetts. The ones were looking for are between 3 and 10 inches in diameter, they have a smooth gray bark, opposite branching and bright red buds that are clustered. This is probably the tree I see that is affected by moose more than any other.

Striped maple is a shrub that is very common and is green; that’s right…the tree bark is green with white flecks and stripes in it. This is a favorite of moose, hence its nickname–moose wood maple.

Moose feeding sign

moose 2

Moose have this incredible ability to be able to reach up to 10 feet, sometimes higher when they get on their hind legs or depending upon snowpack but what they’re most known for is “walk over’s”—this is where they straddle a young sampling and walk over it while feeding; then the mass of their body lowers down the tree and they just feed while they’re walking…sometimes the branch breaks off at the tip. So think about how many times you’ve walked by these and wondered; now you know that this is the sign of the moose, especially if you look at the ends of the branches and they’ve been chewed off (a deer would suckle off the ends and pull, leaving a tattered end; since moose are in the same family of deer, they also don’t have top teeth).

One of the most exciting things I have experienced is being so close up to them and not even knowing it until I pick up the movement in my peripheral vision that alerts me to seeing their ghost-like movement through the forest.

moose 1

Always remember moose are wild animals and like any wild animals, can be unpredictable; it’s important to be careful when interacting with the wildlife.

Enjoy the outdoors,
Frank

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

F&M Great Swamp FallAs we walk into the forest, we see all the different types trees, and we know, somehow, that they all have a purpose in life, just like we do. We notice many have lost their leaves this time of year, and the forest looks completely different—kind of empty because you can see so far, and it is very open. However, that is just the surface; let’s look closer.

The conifers take center stage with their deep green and contrast to the snow; while they do shed their needles, they are primarily green all year, which is why they are called “evergreens.”

Using touch—reach out and feel the needles

hemlock branchWhen we reach out and feel the needles, and when we rubbed them in our hands and smell, there is that amazing pine scent reminiscent of a Christmas tree—that strong aroma that can remind us of the holidays.

Visual things to watch for

As we look even closer, we notice really short needles (less than an inch) that are flat and on the underside, there are distinct white lines like racing stripes; this is an excellent identification characteristic. It also has the tiniest little stem you can barely see. In botanical terms, when you look it up in your field guide, this is called a “petiole.”

Feel the texture of the bark

These trees have really smooth bark when very young, and as they get older, it becomes stiff and deeply furrowed (creating indented grooves). Look at many different trees—young and old—and compare the feeling of the bark, and how the young ones are really tender and the older ones are like a rock.

hemlock 2Natural history viewing our past

In the 1800s, Eastern hemlock (Tsuga Canadenses) was used heavily; these trees would be anywhere from 250 to 800 years old. They were harvested in great numbers and were sought after for a special quality they possess: great amounts of tannic acid—up to 12%—used for tanning hides and preserving leather; the outer bark was used and soaked. Some of the hides were kept in vats (barrels of soaking tannins) for up to six months in order for them to turn the dark tea color and create a preserve and coloring for the produced leather. Hemlock tanneries were all over the Northeast, and they shipped the hides from here all over the world.

What I have personally seen, and you can too!

hemlock 1In the picture, you can see the needles and the bark. You can see underneath the very outer light brown bark, there is a dark purple color; this is a great characteristic for being able to identify Eastern hemlock.

What use are these trees now? They are a tremendous resource for wildlife: the needles create shade to give animals and birds cover. So they are used for nesting, denning and protection from the elements.

I often find many deer and moose in these areas…tracks, signs and tons of “browse” (feeding sign). This is where deer “yard up” (all stay in same area communally); this helps create safety in numbers and helps avoid being surprised by coyotes. It also makes it easier for them to move, because they pack down the snow to conserve their energy during these hard winter months.

I’ve also found coyotes’ beds, which look like circles; the heat from the coyote’s body melts out the impression of its nose where he/she is melting snow with the breath.

Outdoor challenge and scavenger hunt you can do with your children

See if you can find the interior bark that is purple. Hint: When you look around at the base of the tree, you can see the flakey bark chips; look under there.

Tracks and sign: if you look on the very tops of the branches, close to the trunk, you will often see squirrel territorial teeth marking sign, or going up a mature tree, you can see the claw marks and sometime bite marks of our black bears climbing since they use Eastern hemlock as babysitter trees (mama sends her cubs up them in times of danger or when she is away for long periods).

And at the bottom of the hemlocks, underneath the dense needles protecting from the wind and elements, you can find deer, fox, moose and bear beds. Let’s not forget the calling cards of raccoon and porcupine too—scat!

If you find little holes and black powder on the ground and through the roots, it’s possible you have found Truffles (fungus).

Can you find the little Hemlock cones that look like little tiny pine cones—about ½ inch. Can you find the racing stripes on the underside of the needles?

In the News!Wilderness Survival, Primitive skills and Nature with kids

Earthwork Programs is grateful for all the press we received this Summer! The Recorder and the Daily Hampshire Gazette visited our At Home in the Woods and Way of the Scout Summer Camps and captured the moments…

“Research shows that kids can’t identify many common plants or trees in their environment, but they can identify 500 corporation logos,” Grindrod said. “Imagine what they would know if learning about the environment was instilled in our culture rather than learning how to be good consumers.”

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Hitchcock Center, Earthwork Programs connect children and environment

By FRAN RYAN Gazette Contributing Writer
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
(Published in print: Wednesday, August 6, 2014)

On a hot summer day in mid-July, Rainier Jewett, 8, of Florence rose up from the underbrush in the woods of Conway covered in mud and forest debris and sporting a broad, sly smile.

Then several more young campers, including Caleb Schmitt 13, and Ari Benjamin 10, both of Williamsburg, also emerged from the forest. They were all participating in a summer day camp run by the Earthwork Programs.

Frank Grindrod, is director and founder of Earthwork, which offers wilderness education programs and teaches emergency survival and self-sufficiency skills. Grindrod described how his programs help people of all ages learn to broaden their ways of seeing, in order to understand, survive, and thrive in the natural world, and along the way he paused to talk about plants that were native to the area.

…click here to read rest of the article…

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Honing skills that work beyond the wilderness

By TOM RELIHAN
Recorder Staff
Sunday, August 24, 2014
(Published in print: Monday, August 25, 2014)

CONWAY — Frank Grindrod has noticed a trend that disturbs him deeply. To see it, he said, all one must do is compare a child’s ability to recognize corporate logos to their capacity for identifying wild plants and animals.

“You show them a ‘Hello Kitty’ logo and they’re like, ‘Oh, I know that one,’” he said, as we walked through a dense pine forest in Conway. He stopped to bend down and examine a patch of leafy green plants on a plot of land, which had sprung up under a rare, sun-soaked gap in the canopy. Cupping the leaf of one plant in his hand, he said, “But you show them one of these, and they say, ‘Uhh … a fern?”

That trend — one he defined as a decline in knowledge of and appreciation for nature among young people — is one he is determined to change.

“A lot of the nature education is on the surface,” he said. “Some of the kids are good with their hands, and that’s great, but for the ones that aren’t, we feed them stories that they can then share with the group. That way, everyone gets a specialization and it grows exponentially.”

…click here for the whole article…

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“I began to wonder why some kids weren’t out in the park or playground and needed to have everything spelled out for them and facilitated,” Grindrod said, noting that when he was growing up, that type of thing wasn’t as commonplace. “We spent most of our time in the woods, and everyone just had a special call or bell when it was time to come home.”

Learning naturally: Nature programs take the classroom outside

Story by Tom Relihan & Fran Ryan
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
(Published in print: Saturday, August 30, 2014)

As he crested a densely wooded, moss-covered hill in the middle of Conway’s pine forest, Edwin Anderson, 13, of Greenfield yelled, “Wow, come and look at this!

At his call, a half-dozen other kids scrambled up the hill. Some dropped to their knees as they examined a huge brown mushroom protruding from the pine needles on the forest floor. Moments later, Frank Grindrod of Conway knelt in the middle of the group and began to inspect the fungal wonder.

“See how it’s all shaggy on top and on the stipe? This is called ‘The Old Man of the Woods.’” he said. “Oh, and look at this one!” he said, picking up a piece of bark with a couple of fuzzy, pink mushrooms growing on it.

“It looks like the Lorax!” exclaimed one of the campers.

That day, the kids were out in the woods as part of Grindrod’s Earthwork Programs summer camp, which he runs to teach children about nature and develop skills that they can use in their everyday lives.

…click here to read more of this article…

 

Exploring a Vernal Pool

By Arianna & Frank Grindrod

Yellow Spotted Salamander 1

Yellow Spotted Salamander

Spring is in the air; in the yellow spotted salamander’s feet marching across the snow; in the trill of the Spring Peeper announcing his space and his availability as a mate; and the quiet patience of the Fairy Shrimp waiting between the mud and ice for their home to thaw.

What Is a Vernal Pool?

A vernal pool is a small woodland wetland that is created by melting snow in an earthen depression which has no inlet or outlet; basically a “wicked big puddle”. These “puddles” are nurseries for several species including mole salamanders such as the yellow-spotted salamander, wood frogs, spring peepers, fairy shrimp, and fingernail clams. Vernal pools are usually temporary and dry up as the season progresses. For the animals who them as a nursery, it is essentially a race against time for the babies to grow up enough to be out the pool before the water is gone. Some pools are semi-permanent but that is not a guarantee so ether way, the salamanders and frogs are crawling or hopping away come summer. The invertebrates, those who cannot fly or crawl away, but are obligate to the pools such as the fingernail clams and fairy shrimp must squiggle down into the mud and wait until next spring to emerge again.

Who Might you Meet at a Vernal Pool?

Mole salamanders live underground which is why you don’t tend to see them any other time of year…except for the Marbled Salamander who lays her eggs in the fall in autumnal/vernal pools. She hoovers over her eggs until the rains fall and then she leaves them. These little ones are the first to hatch and will eat other species of mole salamander eggs in the spring when the pool has then been filled with Jefferson, Yellow-Spotted and Blue-Spotted Salamander eggs. All mole salamander species eat invertebrates and will use mole-excavated tunnels, hence why they are called mole salamanders. In the Spring, when the first rains tickle the ground and when above ground temperature reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the Yellow-Spotted, Blue-Spotted, and Jefferson all come on down to their home pools. The males arrive first, forming what is called “congress”, a group of salamanders. They may travel up to a half mile away from their upland forest underground homes to mate in these vernal pools. After they mate they return to their woodland homes. Watch for them on rainy spring evenings as they cross the road.

Spring Peeper in driveway

Spring Peeper

If you live near a vernal pool you may hear a din of sound that is caused by two vernal pool visitors – the Wood Frog and the Spring Peeper. The Wood Frog is one of our black-masked bandits (can you guess the other two? One is a mammal and the other is bird.); a woodland, territorial amphibian that has a very distinctive call – the singing males, who are calling out to alert everyone in the vicinity that this is their space make a “qua-ack” sound, vaguely reminiscent of duck. The Spring Peeper is a very tiny tree frog who bears an “X” on his/her back. The callings males make a high-pitched “ree-deep” sound.

Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp

Fairy Shrimp

There are a host of invertebrates that you can find in a vernal pool – from Predaceous Diving Beetles and Whirligig Beetles to Damselflies to Backswimmers and Water Boatmen to Mayflies to Amphipods, Isopods, Daphnia and Copepods to Fairy Shrimp to Fingernail Clams to Caddisfly larvae. These are species worth getting down and dirty with as each sport their own unique adaptations of locomotion, feeding and general survival. For example, Whirligigs have split eyes so they can see up and down at the same time; handy when watching for predators. Mayflies have fanlike gills on their abdomen to take in oxygen from the water. Predaceous Diving Beetles have their own scuba gear so to speak; they carry an air bubble at the base of their abdomen as they swim through the water. Caddisfly larvae make their mobile homes from debris they find in the pool and their silk. They have a little hook on the end of their abdomen so they really do hitch up to their home and crawl along the bottom of the pool. They keeps their soft bodies protected and camouflaged.

Exploring a Vernal Pool

Vernal Pool 2 2004You and your youngster can gently explore these nurseries using a simple dip net and a holding pan. Fill the pan with water from the pool being careful to obtain the clearest water so that your temporary holding container is not muddy. Now gently slide your net through the pool and along the edges to catch a critter. Gently put it in the pan using a plastic spoon. If you have a magnifying lens and an identification guide book so much the better. Watch how the creature moves. It is recommended not to place predators and prey species in the same holding container at the same time else you will be setting the stage for the prey to be on the losing side of the chase. Please also do NOT collect eggs as this action may destroy the embryos.

When you are through studying these amazing creatures please return them to their home in the pool. To emphasize to your young naturalist the importance of respecting wildlife you can end with a simple “repeat-after-me” releasing ceremony such as this one that I (Arianna) learned from Kim Noyes at Northfield Mountain Environmental and Recreation Center many years ago.

“Run away, crawl away, swim away, hop! You are free to go. I am not going to stop you from living your life. You deserve to be free; but thank you for spending this time with me.”

Suggested Field Guide: A Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools by Leo Kenny & Matthew Burne.

Amphibian Etiquette
Amphibians, including frogs, toads and salamanders, breathe through their skin. Their skin is very sensitive to many things (salt, chemical toxins, soap, bug repellant, chlorine in our drinking water, sunscreen, etc.) When handling our wild friends, please remember to create a micro-habitat between you and them. Create this layer by putting your hands in their water source (vernal pool, pond, bog, stream, etc.) if they are aquatic or by using soil and leaves if they are terrestrial. When holding an amphibian make sure you keep them low to the ground and be mindful that the temperature of your hands can raise theirs, and this can create stress for them. Always return them where you found them. Or, if you are helping them cross a road, always remember their direction of travel and place them on the proper side of the road according to their direction of travel.

Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids While Creating ADVENTURES in the Winter Wilderness!

tracking familyThe winter is such a fun time—sledding, skiing, building snow forts and taking wanders in the woods.

The winter wilderness holds so much mystery. From that first moment that each unique snowflake drifts down from the sky, there is a certain awakening that happens…an inspiration that we have as we are curious of what’s happening outside of our walls. There is a pull—as one of my mentors, Joseph Campbell, would say: “A call to Adventure!” As we venture out of our comfort and embark on that calling, we leave the house—whether it is to go for a walk or even more daring, heading for the trails in wild nature.

As a family moving through the land, we hear the snow crunching under our feet and we see our own tracks, and we cannot help but think of the wild animals leaving clues of where they have been traveling, hunting, playing and sleeping and ultimately, surviving. So, as we continue on our way, we notice that first break in the pure white glistening expanse of snow and excitedly approach our first set of animal tracks.

As we get closer and see the trail left behind, we wonder what it is. There is a primal spark growing in us, and this connects us to our ancestors who lived close to the earth. This is like being a detective and we have our first clue.

mentoring tracking snowWhen the children of the indigenous cultures in the far north (like the Sami people who live their lives by the Caribou and take care of the herd) see a set of tracks, the Elders would not tell them what they saw. They would mentor them by helping to foster a relationship with the animals by asking questions and getting them in their senses. “What do you see?” the Elder might ask. The child might say, “Animal tracks.” The Elder would then kneel down and look closer and say, “Hmm.” The child would then copy and also kneel down. Then the Elder would say, “How many toes do you see?” The child might answer, “Four.” The Elder continues, “Are there any claws visible in these tracks?” Child would then reply, “Oh yeah, right there!” (pointing) Elder, “Can you point which direction it is heading?” Child points and says “That way!” Elder, “What direction is that?” Child, “North…?” (questioning)

This is an example of a similar dialogue I often have with my students. This is so they put the “quest” back into “question” and build upon the knowledge they have, not only as trackers but in their lives.

Let’s look closer at this. The Elder does not GIVE answers; they are earned. There is a place for children to have their own unique self expression and for them to think outside of themselves, which creates deeper knowledge. The Elder then may explain the depth of what they saw. “This wolf is traveling alone early this morning, and you see here, where the tracks are slightly melted out, it stood here to gather information, and then headed north in a faster gait of a trot. There is a herd of Caribou that was crossing the open plains up there about a quarter of a mile north.”

The Elder knows the land intimately; his/her survival depends on it in the home of the wilderness. He is bestowing the wisdom to this child so that he, when he grows up, can contribute to the health and well-being of the land, the herd and his family. This also creates self confidence and understanding of how life is around him and their deep nature connection.

So, as we go back to our wilderness adventure, we want to ask important questions to create an “experience.” Experiential education is one of the highest forms of engagement…of learning—not rote memorization of what we think someone might want to hear, but actually reaching down and picking up the snow, looking at the tracks and allowing our imagination to dance with our physical reality.

The best way to do this is to build your own skills to start learning together and be able to take someone from the edge of his/her knowledge further. This is the ultimate goal of a mentor through self empowerment and self awareness; we ALL grow in our experiences and what we can contribute in our lives.

See you on the trail,
Frank and Arianna Grindrod

Ancient Times and Early Humans: A View of the Past

Let’s look at early humans and how they and their tools changed over time.

We need to see through the eyes of archeologists and anthropologists to learn the specific skills and tools for dating artifacts and linking them to specific time periods.

This means we need to use our tracking skills! Lets get started…

hunter gatherer diarama

Hunter-Gatherer

Imagine you are taking a journey back in time to 2.5 million years ago. There was fuzzy creature hunched over with a large extended jaw and human-like form with long arms and a long trunk breaking rocks. This animal is our ancestor hominid (human-like creature). They were a primate that could walk upright but still had trunk and arm adaptations for climbing trees. They also slept in trees for protection from predators. Our distant ancestor stood only about three feet tall.

How do we know this? Clues left behind that have been preserved. Archeology is the scientific study of historic or prehistoric peoples and their cultures by analysis of their artifacts. By studying their bones and tools we come up with ideas about them and their culture; it is like putting together a puzzle.

The bones become stone over time by a process called fossilization. These fossils can last for millions of years. Wow! Archeologists have also found pieces of various stones that have been chipped in a predictable manner with significant controlled force for a similar result. Tools!

Enter the Age of the Tool Maker

1-stone tools

Stone Tools

Look at the picture of the projectile points pottery and resin on an animal skin that was tanned for use of clothing, bags, etc.

These artifacts – the three on the left with 2 that are broken and all lightly colored are great tracks left behind that I share during our classes where we make stone tools and teach about ancient civilizations. Its one thing to read about it, but to actually MAKE it gives a deep respect for the artist and craftsmen these people were.

1-making stone tools with resin

Making Stone Tools with Resin

From an atl atl, a tool designed to throw spear shafts, the point can be seen on the far left with the upside down v that looks yellowish, is from the archaic period. According to my good friend Charlie Paquin, an Experiential Archeologist, which is someone who does not just study things they find but they also replicate it by making it themselves, this artifact also has a worn point which could be from hitting something hard like bone or a rock when launched from the atl atl, or it could have been used as a drill.

Here is a List of Exciting Finds We Continue to Discover

Africa’s Olduvai site: discovered hominid bone remains dated at 2 million years old.

Shanidar Cave in the Zagaros Mts of Iraq found eight prehistoric people over a 100,000 years old.

Oldest fire remains, evidenced by a ring of rocks, big ash deposits and stone tools, indicate habitation. This 790,000 years old site was discovered along the Jordan River in Israel.

in Beaches Pit in England, Archeologists found fragments of stone around fires dating back 400,000 years ago. These were flakes hit in a precise way with pressure that would break stone in a predictable way to create an edged tool.

Clay-fired vessels from 18,000 years ago were found in China. One of the first containers was a steatite-type soap stone that could be shaped with stone and set directly on the coals of fire.

There is so much to learn from our past that can help us understand our future.
Enjoy the outdoors.

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.

Seeing WILD Life…Who Is Watching Whom?

WildernessWinter has come and gone, and spring is clearly unfolding: the birdsong, the wildflowers, the bursting of shoots braking through the Earth’s surface in fertile ground, the trees leafing out, the warmer days as frogs sing, and then in the spring, showers are coming as the ice melts off the mountains, bringing it down through the rivers. It’s a powerful time of change.

My daughter and I–with binoculars in hand and our favorite walking stick, backpack filled with food, water and a couple of field guides, map and first aid kit–venture into the forest, as the sun rises, with a goal of seeing wildlife and not being seen. We move quietly through the deep forest, moving like a ghost, invisible as best we can while using the Indian sign language we have been practicing.

We are so blessed to be in the middle of a magical place with such a rich diversity as we are in southern New England…a world where the boreal forest and the northern forest meet, giving us the best place to be immersed in nature. The boreal forest, also known as “the spruce-moose forest,” has mainly evergreen trees and a few select hardwoods like poplar, paper birch, tamarack and others. The northern hardwoods have such a vast amount of trees like yellow birch, sugar maple, American beech, eastern hemlock, white pine, northern red oak, cherry, and those are just a few—there are many more.

As we trek deeper into the forest, we notice the dense canopy not letting in much sunlight as the sun rises out of the east, giving us a sense of direction, but our awareness tunes into a subtle change, and as we enter, there is more light shining down on us than just a minute earlier. This is a track on a large scale that is affecting how much light which helps to make a more rich forest in vegetation and brings with it many animals and birds and the like. With our senses honed, there are signs of the animals all around us. We notice claw marks and bites on trees, stunted growth where it looks like a nursery of Japanese bonsai trees, and when we look down in the leaf litter, there are many footfalls showing worn-in paths on the forest floor, weaving in and out of the cliffs.

Passing through different habitats, we see the many deciduous leaves and all the light that shines creates a dappled look under our feet and in the area between the wetland and the cliffs. There is a lot of feeding sign called browse (little 45-degree angle cuts), taking the end of the branch clean off, almost like clippers.

Place to hide?As we expand our awareness to the area high up on the cliff, we see a good hiding place opposite of the spot we want to watch. Scanning for signs of movement, we hope to get a glance of this very elusive animal who chooses the south-facing, hard-to-access areas in the cliffs. We have already done our research; we know this animal is crepuscular, which means it is active at twilight hours (dawn and dusk). It is diurnal (day) and nocturnal (night).

Another place?Its primary food source has left sign with the angled cut that we found earlier, so we know there is a feeding area in close view. One of the traits of this animal is the ability to be motionless for long periods; even in winter, being able to lay in the snow where you can find a sphinx-like “hunting bed” while it waits to ambush its prey. To discover this body print melted out from the heat that is generated while it remains still as a shadow is inspiring! As we get down low, we find sections of hair frozen to the ice; however this time of year, you want to look for “resting beds;” places where you can make out where it has been laying down, usually under a rock overhang on a pile of leaves insulating from the ground.

resting placeThe forest is so quiet. My daughter and I take turns to scan the cliffs with our glasses. We have been watching, quietly, for almost an hour and a half. We know that patience always pays off. We also know that this animal has a very small heart and it travels a very short range compared to others of its size. By knowing this, we also could watch it hunt as it stalks its prey since it is primarily a carnivore.

While looking near the top where we have been looking all morning, in the best rays of light, we see movement–a very camouflaged tawny color with dark shades and beautiful markings, big eyes and graceful movement as we watch it stretch basking in the suns glow. It has been there all this time…watching us watching for her. So who’s watching whom? While studying us, perhaps, she senses we are not a threat.

It is time to hunt. Her preferred prey, the rabbit, helps to sustain her but also helps raising her kittens. If you haven’t guessed by now, the mystery animal is the bobcat.

bobcat babyAs we watch our cat in her natural rhythm, we are excited because we may be able to watch her hunt. Earlier we mentioned how she lies in wait in “hunting beds.” Once the prey is close enough, there is an explosion of energy–a POUNCE! From her ambush spot, bursting forth after the rabbit who has zigzagging motion to avoid capture. There is a very small window of time because she needs to not burn too much energy; if the hunt lasts longer than just minutes, she will stop rest, find another spot and start again and continue that cycle.

This bobcat needs to eat and feed her new kittens, and when she has the rabbit, she will take it to a place close by to hide it and take parts of the animal and “cache” (cover and save for later) the rest, using her front paws very much the same as our house cats. She will travel back and forth to feed her young if she has gotten a good amount of food. She will continue to hunt this area because of the success.

Thanks for joining us on our adventure into the outdoors.

Until next time happy trails…

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