Woods and Wetlands 2022

Something I know now that I did not know yesterday.

Nature Adventures with Cannonsburg Elementary

A few weeks ago when my (retired) dad was ranting about how miserable it is for a person to have to go to work, thus interrupting their enjoyment of Life, I responded cheerfully that I actually really love both of my jobs and enjoy going to them. He paused, just barely, and with hints of both mock horror and admiration tucked into his smirk, he exclaimed, “Well, you must not be doing it right!” I beamed at him. It’s true. Woods and Wetlands continues to evolve and I learn ways to improve it with every single program, but the senses of purpose, joy, and meaning it gives to me are full and shining. Even in moments when I notice that I am being too hard on myself, wishing I had said or done something different, I catch those harsh thoughts and reframe them. Now I know this. I did not know it before. I will try again. I return home feeling like what I do matters, and it’s getting better all the time.

I also try to remember to ask the students at the end of their program, “What do you know today that you did not know yesterday?” (I frequently do forget to ask this, or I run out of time because time management is evidently something I will have to work on for the rest of my life.) Last week I got to take two classes, each, of kindergarten, first grade, and second grade out into the beautiful, hilly woods behind Cannonsburg Elementary for an hour and a half per class. It is a lovely little space, though it would be much better if it wasn’t split off from the creek in the wilds of Townsend Park by a loud and somewhat busy road.

Before today I did not know that nature could be peaceful.

I did not know that there are tiny things that eat dead stuff and turn it into soil, and that new things can grow in that soil.

I did not know that we should get our hands dirty to protect frogs and toads if we hold them.

I did not know there was this bad plant we should pull out because it is pushing out plants that are supposed to be here.

Now I know what poison ivy looks like.

Now I know it’s okay to get my hands dirty.

I did not know that some bees live underground.

I did not know there are flowers people can eat.

As for me, now I know that if I want the students to really explore and get curious about the diverse array of nature, I should wait until later in the program to show them how bizarrely satisfying it can be to pull out garlic mustard plants! Because once they knew, it was all they wanted to do! I also now know that just a few classes of children can fill massive bags with this terribly invasive and aggressive plant in a short amount of time! Of course, I was pleased on behalf of native plants and animals, but somewhat aghast that I had inadvertently short-circuited my own program plans. Oh well. Now I know.

The kindergarten classes chose to keep their scheduled day and time despite the rain, and I allowed the kids to pick (not pull) just one May Apple leaf to use as an umbrella, just as I loved to do in our lane when I was their age. We had a grand time playing in the rain.

One boy accidentally pulled out a plant that was not garlic mustard, nor did it resemble it in the slightest, but as I began saying so, it hit me that I must remember that to one who has no experience, one plant may very well look very like another. I also recalled that pointing out what has been done wrong should be done kindly, with credit given for good intentions. This was a chance to teach and learn. So we found a spot of soft soil and used our hands to dig a little hole. I showed him how to gently set the plants roots down into the hole and we tucked them all back in again, patting the soil tightly at the base of the plant. Now he knows how to plant something. A day later, another student did the same thing, and I was ready for it. Now I know exactly how I want to handle this in the future. We should all get such do-overs whenever we can.

I adored every single one of those K-2 class programs. The kids were enthusiastic, respectful, engaged, and brave. If I could have stayed there with them all day, I would have. I will never tire of seeing kids transformed by the magic of our beautiful, one-and-only, Earth.


Uncategorized, Woods & Wetlands Family Format

A Taste of Wild

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.

Though this photo was taken on a different day, this is the owl we saw today as it flew away.

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.

Checking out the wild apple tree and watching for poison ivy.

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!