I had a blast today with 2 different families in 2 different locations. My morning began at Rogue River Park where I have never explored prior to a brief check-in last night. Getting to meet a new family in a new location was really fun and a novel experience for me. I asked the 13 year old to lead the way since he knows this place so well. Often parents think it is better to explore a new place, but I actually often prefer a familiar place for the kids because with familiarity comes a sense of ownership and pride. When we feel ownership of something, we tend to take better care of it. So maybe if we all felt like the entire planet belonged to us, we might make better choices for it. In any case, he was more than happy to show us one of the many paths he has explored before today. As soon as we set out we encountered nature discoveries!
I was sad to see this turtle nest had been raided already, but it was still an interesting thing to inspect. The kids were able to feel the leathery texture of the eggs and the artist in our group began sketching the eggs and nest right away. This was an opportunity for me to explain about how many turtle species are facing significant loss of their numbers due to over-predation of animals like raccoons. As humans made this their home, we destroyed habitat and killed off top predators that might have kept the raccoon population in check.
Mom bought 3 of the whistle/compass/magnifier combos I have and the magnifiers were great for looking at flowers up close!
When we stopped for a poison ivy identification lesson we also noticed all of the white fluff that is floating all around in the air. Looking up, it seemed to be snowing in the green treetops. The kids got out their magnifiers and looked for the tiny cottonwood seeds in the fluff while I talked about various ways plants spread their seeds. Later I noticed similar fluff on a willow tree, so I have some new learning to do, myself!
There was so much to notice and learn along the path, and when we came to a tiny stream we stopped to check it out. No one wanted to take me up on a close-up sniff of skunk cabbage for some reason. A little while later we came upon a swampy area where beavers had chewed down many trees at some point, though the work didn’t appear to be recent. The remainder of our time we spent swamping about with our shoes on in the muck and having a grand time balancing, slipping, trying again, inspecting horse-tails or snake-grass, and admiring blue-flags.
We got very muddy and wet but everyone was having so much fun, it didn’t even matter! I was extremely impressed with mom’s laid back attitude about all of it and the way she laughed off the various swamp shenanigans her children were into.
My afternoon group was a family I know from my days of teaching at Lakes Elementary. We explored near and in the swamp at Brower Lake Nature Preserve where there are lovely, huge, wild grapevines to climb and swing on. We spotted quite a bit of wildlife such as leeches, a spring peeper, and a wood frog. We tasted wintergreen leaves, sniffed sassafras leaves, and chewed on a sassafras root. Wading in the swamp we were unable to get very far because that swamp gets a little deeper and is protected by some very fierce, wild rosebushes.
When the littlest boy got a bit tired out, I was pleased to have in my backpack one of my all time favorite books from when I was a kid. Mom sat right down with him and cuddled up to do a picture-reading, since these books are wordless. They are a wonderful way to introduce young children to the love of books and of animals because the pictures tell a detailed story. I smiled to hear his mom making up words for the book, just as my dad used to do for me. (Though her version was much cleaner than his, as I recall!) The series is drawn by Mercer Mayer and this particular book in the series is called, A Boy, a Dog, a Frog, and a Friend.
While they read, one of the other boys joined me in an effort to find salamanders. We didn’t see any, but we did capture (with muddy hands) a tiny spring peeper and a wood frog. It was very exciting! After carefully viewing the peeper in our 2-way magnifier, we returned it to the same place we found it.
I was impressed by how careful and respectful of nature this family was. I can tell that their mom is being very intentional about this and it shows!
Using familiar landmarks, the two oldest kids led us back to the path and out to “civilization.” See you later, Swamp!