Every family experiences nature in different ways. Today felt soft, gentle, and quiet. I was already acquainted with this delightful family and I knew the older boy, from past summers of Woods and Wetlands, to be a thoughtful, bright, and curious person. It was really nice to get to know his mom and brother a bit better as we explored Brower Lake Nature Preserve together.
Though I walk or run these trails almost daily, there is always something that inspires my own sense of wonder, a phrase I frequently borrow from Rachel Carson’s 1956 book, The Sense of Wonder. With this quieter family we were able to hear and see more wildlife without scaring it away. I hadn’t really dared to hope that we would see “my” owl in those morning hours, but we DID! This magical creature regularly shows up for my late afternoon or evening walks and runs, but to see her swooping across the meadow, driven by the ever raucous blue-jays protecting their own, gave us quite a thrill! I turned, grinning, and looked behind me to see the mom’s and boys’ faces mirroring the same joy that I always feel, regardless of how many times I have seen this owl.
There was so much to taste today! As always, the sassafras trees got the most mention with their lemony leaf scent, their three, unique, leaf shapes, and root-beer flavored roots. I also tried to convey how beautiful their leaves are when fall comes. In just one sassafras leaf one can see all shades of autumn like a stunning sunset that lights up an entire tree.
We took our time getting to the wetland, as this was a two-hour session, and our little group got to enjoy wild, black, raspberries, wild blueberries, tiny, sour, green apples, wild blackberries, and wintergreen leaves. Now that the sun can reach the center of the preserve, new plants are thriving there. Purple bee-balm (bergamot) is blooming beside black-eyed susans and pokeweed.
As we walked, there were pockets of peaceful silence in which we could hear a diversity of bird calls. From somewhere behind us a male cardinal chirruped incessantly, while the rest of the woods was alive with songs of rose-breasted grosbeaks, finches, and birds I could not identify by sound.
I often find myself torn between my inclination to keep talking and teaching as we walk, and falling quiet so that we can hear nature and our own thoughts for a while. I want to model the silence of an observer, while at the same time I see, smell, and hear so much that I want to share.
When we reached the wetland there was the usual thrill of enjoying the Vine Playground, and then the younger boy carefully and quietly approached the water with our net and I could see immediately that his instincts were spot-on if he wished to see or capture an aquatic animal. I showed him how to use the net to scoop from the bottom of the swamp and then to gently tip out the contents just on the edge of the water. In doing this, we found a nymph of some sort and we guessed that it might be that of a dragonfly or damselfly. I enjoyed conversation with the boys’ mom about the incredible adaptations of nature as we both shared our stories of discovery. We all viewed the nymph in my 2-way magnifier before returning it to the water.
On our way to try wintergreen we had a brief discussion about snakes. While I offered my thoughts on these necessary but often misunderstood creatures, a slim ribbon snake startled awake and darted away from us so quickly there was little chance that I could catch it, and though it would have been a perfect teachable moment, it was too fast for me. I was so encouraged to hear N. talking about how she uses self-talk to help herself feel more comfortable with snakes. This is such great modeling for her kids! If only everyone could be so aware of and motivated to change their unfounded fears! I am also a huge fan of using self-talk for any number of life’s challenges.
Though we weren’t getting over-bothered by deer flies, the boys nevertheless wanted to try my accidentally-discovered method for repelling them. Before leaving the woods they each donned a fern for their heads, amusing their mom and me. When we were nearly back to the entrance we laughed at the idea of wearing the ferns for their dad to see when he gets home.
Our walk back was just as pleasant as the hike there, though we moved a bit more quickly since we weren’t stopping to taste and look at everything this time. As we neared the entrance both boys noticed landmarks and signs indicating that we were almost back to their car where lunch was waiting. Despite all of the “nature snacks,” we’d enjoyed, they had worked up a healthy appetite and were more than ready to relax and eat.
Another beautiful adventure in the books. Next week I get to meet a friend with her family and explore their own property with her. I can’t wait!