On Tuesday we had another small group, this time of nine explorers. Seven of them were experienced either through Woods and Wetlands or past years’ Firsts in the Forest. We began by visiting the Secret Fort Tree via the tunnel we have created which requires most of us to crawl at some point. Mind you, there is a much easier way to arrive at the Secret Fort Tree but it takes the, “Secret,” out of the title, so the tunnel is much more challenging and fun. The kids took turns climbing up and O. found a new way to get up into the tree since her usual way was being used by other kids. I love seeing the problem-solving creativity that kids will use when they are allowed to take the time to think about it. Different kids approach problems in different ways based on their individual personalities and experiences. For example, some explorers didn’t immediately find a way up and asked for help right away. Others, like O, don’t give up and ask for help at first; they try different options and accept failure as a learning experience that ultimately ends in success after effort. My goal and hope is to teach that approach to kids who haven’t yet learned it.
A. was new to Woods and Wetlands and I was delighted to see that she already possessed a valuable skill; she knows how to fall! It is wonderful to see kids climbing and balancing, but of course, they do fall from time to time. We all do. But what I didn’t learn as a child myself was how to fall! I remember being so afraid to fall, both literally and figuratively, that I didn’t always try new experiences. But A. went fearlessly up and forward and she did fall a few times. She landed, looked surprised, laughed, and got up to try again. She didn’t fight the fall, but she did learn from it. I admire that quality and wonder if it, also, is teachable?
Later we went to the swamp which is most definitely not frozen solid. Beneath the snow and ice there are still treacherous muck holes and most of us discovered that very quickly! I pulled my own boot out with a tremendous sucking sound as the muck reluctantly released me. One explorer wondered how deeply the hibernating frogs were buried and whether we might accidentally step on them.
J. and B. teamed up as usual and then came hurrying with great excitement to find me, wanting to show me something they discovered. They had such an air of mystery, wonder, and delight in their faces! They found tracks in the snow that were unlike the deer or rabbit tracks we have previously discovered and they wanted to know what sort of animal made them. We followed a line of the tracks to a tree where they appeared to end at first. We looked up into the tree but it was a small one and its branches were empty. Then the boys called out urgently that they found where the tracks picked up again just a short distance from the tree. Using questioning and discussion worthy of well-trained classroom collaborators, they concluded that whatever it was must have climbed up the tree and then jumped some distance from it to the new trail of paw prints. We followed these for a while too and then, after guessing at what could make those tracks, climb a tree, and jump from it we remembered that we have a ring of laminated cards with pictures of animal tracks and animal scat back in our storage container. B. flipped slowly through the cards as J. and I looked on. We discussed each possibility and compared them to the photos I had taken of the paw prints. We noted the triangular, pointy shape of the heel and the number of toes. The boys had noticed right away that they showed actual claw marks too. We took into account the size of each track printed on our identification cards. Finally, we concluded that it must have been a squirrel. Satisfied with their work, they went to roll snowballs.
Meanwhile, K., who was our only 5th grader this time, had climbed up the Tilted Tree all the way to the tree that both holds and intersects the Tilted Tree. She perched comfortably way up in its branches and grinned down at the rest of us. I recalled the powerful, cozy, magical feeling I used to have, (and still do!) when I climbed a tree and found a spot to just sit and be by myself. It was never a lonely feeling, even when I was alone. K. looked like she had that feeling.
Some of the smaller kids marveled at how she got up there. The Tilted Tree is still steady, alive, and strong enough despite part of its roots having been pulled out of the ground, but parts of it have died so it is missing bark on a crucial section toward the bottom where any smaller climbers might need to grip. I remembered that I had some narrow rope in our storage box and began wrapping and tying it to the tree so that climbers could grab it for support as they began their ascent. It wasn’t ideal as it is slippery and narrow, but it is strong enough for the purpose and is better than nothing. Several kids looked on and advised me on where they thought the rope should go. Upon reflection, I should have let them try doing it first. But it helped A. get up into the tree, though she slipped off and had another skillful falling experience. Once again, she shook it off and tried a second time.
We ended earlier than usual since darkness falls sooner now. The kids couldn’t believe our time was already up. O. walked back beside me and recounted her memory of last week when we were wading through deep snow to get back. We smiled our way to the front of the building and said good-bye until next time.