This morning’s nature adventure was a learning experience for all 5 of us! I absolutely love when I get to learn new things about nature from my students, both adults and children. One of the moms had a wealth of nature knowledge, as well as boundless curiosity that translated into great questions! Every time I get to say, “I don’t know!” I am being a scientist, and I intend to find out. With the two moms and two kids, we explored all the way to the wetland and back. I loved that the girls kept calling out their “noticings” for all of us to take a look.
While waiting for the other half of our party, I showed S. and A. the rocket wildflowers (turns out they’re also called bladder campion!) and demonstrated the use of a compass. We had a brief conversation about the frequent misidentification of poison sumac. The majority of the sumac around here is staghorn sumac, which does not cause a rash as poison sumac does. Poison sumac actually does not look too much like the non-poisonous staghorn sumac, and they prefer very different habitats. Staghorn sumac enjoys dryer soil and tends to spread and form staghorn sumac “forests.” However, the poisonous variety lives near and in wetlands and is likely to be standing alone, rather than in groups. The most noticeable difference is their berries. The poisonous variety has single berries on separate stems, but the staghorn sumac has berries that clump together and become red and fuzzy.
Right away we saw a beautiful flower that is new to me. I snapped a picture so that I could look it up later, and now I know it is dotted loosestrife, or, yellow loosestrife.
As we walked, I realized how much has changed in this woods since just a year or two ago! With the prescribed burns and selective removal of certain trees, there is so much more sunlight which encourages very different plants to grow there.
There was so much to discover! We sniffed sassafras leaves with their deliciously lemony scent. When we visited the wild apple tree, the girls were faced with a problem: how to reach the apples? As much as I wanted to just do it for them, I held back, remembering that when I was a child I was allowed and encouraged to think and problem-solve for myself. When given enough wait time, kids become scientists, using trial and error to learn. Soon they were pulling the entire branch toward them to reach the apples. I recalled that when I was little and my sister and I frequented the wild apple trees along our driveway, we often couldn’t reach them because the deer had eaten the lowest hanging fruit. So we learned to jump and grab a branch, or, we used a stick to whack the apples down, and, while the most difficult strategy was throwing an apple from the ground and trying to hit the desired apple on the tree, success meant great satisfaction with our throwing aim! The girls tasted tiny bites of the wild apples, their faces immediately registering the sourness.
We did a lot of comparing poison ivy to other 3-leaved plants, and we noticed a plethora of oak trees, both small and tall. There were some beautiful, speckled, white flowers on the ground and we picked up up and inhaled their lovely scent. These were blooms fallen from a catalpa tree, which I finally located just above us!
Despite the repeated, helpful, reminders from the moms to their girls, it was predictably difficult for us to social distance, but we did pretty well, all things considered. I immediately fell in love with those two enthusiastic and engaging 8 year olds, and I knew they were going to just love the Vine Playground if we could get there before our hour was up. Thankfully, the moms opted for an additional hour so that we could take our time and make sure there was time to play. Nature play is so important and necessary!
C. was noticing a deer fly circling her head, and I offered a fern for her to wear. This was based on a discovery I made many years ago when I was a child in the woods where I grew up. Quite by accident I figured out that when I picked a fern and put it on my head, the deer flies left me alone! As a result, my entire family has been wearing ferns on their heads each summer when deer flies begin to pester us. She tried it, and it worked again!
Though none of us opted to go in the swamp today, I did scoop up a net full and was immediately rewarded with a snail, a bug of some kind, and a tiny fish! We all took a look at them through the 2 way magnifying viewer before returning the critters to the water.
After everyone tried out some wintergreen and looked at the deer jaw on the Watching Log, it was time to head back. This time the girls felt confident going ahead on the trail and we made it back in record time!