Art in Nature

IMG_20151114_203954273

At our last fire, we decided to make some drawing charcoal. We took dried willow twigs and stripped the bark (stripping the bark should really be done when the willow is green, because it peels very easily then) to make a soft charcoal, and we split some thin strips of cedar to make hard charcoal. Each stick was about 8 inches long.

IMG_20151127_074146537

We wrapped them tightly in tinfoil. This allows the gas to escape, but prevents oxygen from getting into the sticks and actually combusting them. We tucked them down in the coals, let them sit for an hour and a half, and then fished them back out. 

IMG_20151126_183721392
A groundnut blossom
IMG_20151127_074040066_HDR
A yellow lady slipper orchid blossom

With everything outside reduced to greys and browns, and the darkness setting in so early, drawing is a great way to experience  and study the wildflowers. Often, the brilliant colors of summer overwhelm me, and I don’t notice the more subtle structure of the flowers themselves. Meanwhile, mother nature has been creating her own artwork.

IMG_20151121_145442583
The wind draws in the snow with little bluestem
The snow melted, the ground is not yet frozen, and the temperatures are vacillating between warm and chilly. We witnessed a rare phenomenon on some goldenrod stalks. Though the stalk is dead, it is wicking moisture out of the ground. The moisture then freezes in the air, creating an iceflower at the base of the plant.

When a Walk in Nature Goes Wrong

When a Walk in Nature Goes Wrong -- pocketmousepublishing.comHow do you handle it when a walk in nature goes wrong? I don’t mean “Drama in Real Life” wrong. Breathe easy — no cougars attacks, rock slides, or poisonous mushrooms will be featured in this account.

This is about the small frustrations that occur when you’re trying to get yourself and your family away from “the electronic paradise” as the S’More Outdoor podcast so succinctly describes it. This is the red crayon in the dryer, the burned dinner, the waiting in line at the library with a whining toddler to pay the (huge) fine – so you can check out your fifty book stack.

We’ve all had these types of frustrations in our daily lives. And they aren’t absent just because we want to take our children out to experience the joys of nature.

Earlier this week we headed out for a walk with the dog to the woods. I was in high spirits because two of my older children were able to come along – between working and their college/highschool classes, they do not get the same quantity of outdoor time the rest of us do! Off we went, the little didn’t even where a jacket because it was such a spring-like day.

First, I slipped on the wooden walkway leading across a drainage ditch. Initially my knee hurt dreadfully. But after standing up and testing it, I realized it didn’t hurt to walk (much). So on we went, with me and my oldest chatting about the importance of soil and the neat collection of monthly soil activities I found (more on this in a future post!).

We finally arrived at the creek. The 9yo had gone on ahead and was out of sight, but I wasn’t worried, we had a meeting place.

With all the melting snow our little creek was running fast and quite cold, so big brother offered to carry 5yo across.

You know what is coming, right?

When a Nature Walk Goes Wrong - Creek

He slipped and into the icy water she went.

Was she hurt? Not at all.

Did she cry? Not at all.

Was she cold and wet and needing to go home right then? YES! I took off my coat and wrapped her in it, picked her up, instructed the other three to locate 9yo and come home. So much for family time out in glories of nature.

Then I headed home with a bum knee, a shivering 5yo in my arms, and a very unhappy dog who didn’t like her family heading in different directions.

Halfway home, coming down a rather steep hill, the dog stopped and looked back. She wouldn’t budge. Then over the hill came the dejected 9yo. My initial (horrified) thought was he had discovered no one was following him and came back to look for us, somehow missing his siblings…who were now wandering the woods looking for him!

But no, they had found him and were not far behind. He was unhappy because he hadn’t gotten his nature walk.

We all finally arrive home. And swore off walking in the woods forever.

No, actually, we didn’t. Think about those small frustrations. After the crayon in the dryer incident, did you take ALL your family’s dirty clothes to the dry cleaners henceforward? After the burned dinner, did you only eat in restaurants? And have you never returned to the library simply because you were embarrassed by a fine? Of course not!

We move on, we overcome, and maybe we can even laugh about such incidents in the years to come. When the immense bruise on my knee fades, I may laugh.

In the meantime, we’re still walking in the woods and on the paths and to the park…anything to get our daily dose of nature, no matter the weather. It has been 33 days since we started. I think we’re on the way to a habit!

Don’t give up on getting out into nature just because it isn’t idyllic every time you venture out!  Check out this encouraging National Wildlife Federations Health Benefits page and get back out there with your kids!

Do you find getting out into nature with your kids frustrating?  Have you ever had a nature walk go wrong?

5 Reasons to Walk in the Woods this Winter

5 Reasons to Walk in the Woods

Need a reason to go for a walk in the woods this winter?  I have 5 for you today!

  1. You can hear more. Ever walked in the woods when it was snowing? Remember the hush? Even when it isn’t snowing, a winter nature walk is quiet. No insects are singing, so you can easily distinguish the bird calls you do hear.
  2. You can see more. When you do hear a bird call, you can find the source easily. You can point it out to your children before it disappears among the leaves. You can see more than just the flash of a fox, you can watch it run – flaming orange against the white snow. And the tracks! So many tracks on the new fallen snow.
  3. You can go farther and to new places. You can leave the trail. We have walked through parts our woods that just weren’t accessible to us in the summer. We’ve been able to turn right at the creek, instead of always turning left to follow the trail. We have found a young bamboo forest, and an old well, and
  4. You don’t have to worry about poison ivy, ticks, or thorns. This possibly should have been #1. As the mom who has to remove the ticks, bandage the cuts, and prepare the soothing compresses, I love not having to worry about what the children will bring home.
  5. You get more exercise. Breaking though a foot of snow can be hard work. Your body warms up, and you feel good! And because you’re hearing more, seeing more, going farther and discovering you things without worry, you don’t want to stop.

As Jean said we are on the cusp of spring, less than a month until the Vernal Equinox (March 20, the first day of spring). There is still time to walk in the woods in winter though. Remember these 5 reasons when you’re wondering if all the bundling and preparation to “go outside” is worth it!

What is your favorite thing about walking in the woods in winter?

On the cusp of Spring

A great way to be in nature this time of year is maple syruping.

IMG_20150221_141115732_HDR (2)
Annie taps a silver maple tree. Silver maples usually grow along creeks and river bottoms.

When winter is still firmly entrenched but the change in the birdsong indicates spring must be playing hide and seek just under the snow, we take our power drills, our 7/16″ drillbits, our sapsacks and spiles, and head into the sugarbush.

IMG_20150221_143108542
All maples have branches that come out directly opposite each other, in pairs. Look for young twigs to see the branching pattern, as older branches may be broken.

All maple trees, including the sugar maple and the box elder, have opposite branches. Its one good indicator that the tree is a maple tree–the only other large tree in this area that has opposite branches is the ash tree.

Jeff hammers in the spile, which spills the sap out of the tree, and hangs the bag to collect the sap.
Jeff hammers in the spile, which spills the sap out of the tree, and hangs the bag to collect the sap.

If you don’t have a maple tree, plant one! Maples grow quickly, which will allow you–or someone who comes after you–to enjoy harvesting the sap, boiling it into syrup, and living directly off the land.

IMG_20150221_140652311_HDR
Hole tapped by a pileated woodpecker, hunting for insects. Unless a dead tree is threatening a path or building, they create rich habitat if left standing.

Being in the Sugarbush is a great way to see who else is spending time in the woods and what they are eating. As soon as it warms up a bit and the sap starts running, we’ll be back every warm day over the next five weeks to gather it. The repeated trips to the forest over the next five weeks will give us opportunities to explore the gradual shift into spring, as well as collect gallons of sweet sap. Visit www.indiancreeknaturecenter.org to learn more about syruping.

Pileated woodpecker by Gabrielle Anderson, from Hunting Red.
Pileated woodpecker by Gabrielle Anderson, from Hunting Red.

Walking the Nature Talk

Walking the Nature Talk
Walking the Nature Talk

Starting a Nature board on Pinterest isn’t enough. I can’t just believe nature to be important, I have to walk the talk. Literally.

Wednesday I wrote the original draft of yesterday’s post on noticing, knowing, and being in nature. I knew I had to take the children and myself outside. I can’t just believe nature to be important, I have to walk the talk. Literally.

We bundled up. Extra pants, hats, scarves. As it turned out, 23 degrees and sunny isn’t too cold.

Spirals in the Snow
Spirals in the Snow

My 5yo made large footprint spirals in the fresh snow and then insisted on pretending to be a dragon and travel through the snow on the edge of the road on all fours. I was impatient. Why couldn’t she just walk on the asphalt with me? That would certainly be faster. And my older boys were ahead, out of sight, in the woods already.

That is not walking the nature talk. I needed to stop. Well, I already was stopped, waiting for her to catch up. I needed to breathe. I needed to notice she was being in nature. Her face was inches from the snow as she galumped along.

We did reach the woods. We spent an hour in total outside – looking at tracks, testing the ice on the creek, climbing over fallen logs. It was a good hour, a great hour. It was a nature walk. Not a march, not a hike, just a walk.

We took an evening walk as well, to the park. It was colder then, but we enjoyed it. The clouds had started to move in, but as we walked home, one of the boys looked up and there was the constellation Orion. We all stopped to find his three star belt – the one constellation we all know. There were, noticing the stars, knowing the stars, being under the stars together. Walking the talk.

How many constellations will we learn this year? How many will we be able to name if we stop looking down at our cellphones as we walk under the sky?

Snow Den

Yesterday it was even colder, 11 degrees, and yet we bundled up again and went out. My 12yo checked his snow den and discovered it really was warmer.  We don’t just need quality time in nature, we need quantity time in nature. Even in the cold.

In the woods, by the creek, we saw a bird – it seemed blueish, with a large head and had a kind of crest, and made a very distinctive call as it flew by. Definitely not a blue jay, could it be a kingfisher? When we got home (and thawed out) my 5yo and I searched the Merlin Bird app on my phone. Yes, there is a time for technology!  When she played the call of the kingfisher, my 12yo called from the other room, “That was it!” We noticed, we know!

We are walking the nature talk. Won’t you walk with us?

~Lee

Notice. Know. Be…in nature.

Notice Know Be in NatureWinter’s heavy hand rests on the Eastern Coast. Freezing rains, snow that won’t pack, sullen gray skies, and the toe-numbing cold. What is a mom who believes that “nature is important” to do when the both she and the kids are in danger of turning into screen-zombies?

Yesterday, I pulled out a book for inspiration: Hunting Red.

The young narrator notices nature all around. She hunts with her eyes for the royal catchfly flower, and with her ears for the piercing whistle of the cardinal.

She knows what she finds by name – from the enormous pileated woodpecker to the tiny scarlet cup.

And she takes time to just be in nature – sitting quietly against a dead tree trunk or hiking the tallgrass prairie.

To notice nature we will have to be in nature. To know nature we will have to be in nature, and we will have to do some research. To be in nature we will have to make the conscious choice to go outside.

Notice.

Know.

Be.

This is what I want for my children and myself. It’s time to go outside and walk the talk. Come along for the adventure!

Snowshoeing to See the Woods

The eleven inches of fresh falling snow transformed Bena Brook, creating a magical, monochromatic wonderland

upthebrook

From the exquisite sunlight filtering through the canopy

heaven

To the delicately wrought arched lairs formed by trees bending under the weight of the snow

archway

I had thought that my snowshoes would be the only red to be seen (snowshoeing is a great way to stay warm in the winter), but five red-headed woodpeckers came crashing through the woods in a very vocal territorial dispute

red, unsmudged

Both Two Point Dugout Lodge and the Leaf Tipi remained snug, providing dry cozy places to rest out of the wind and drink tea.

2point

leaftipi2

 To visit Bena Brook, rent snowshoes, or find Two Point Dugout Lodge, visit www.indiancreeknaturecenter.org

Staying warm when it is below zero

A fun way to stay warm in the winter is to build small, all-natural structures that block the wind. That way, whenever you’re out hiking and exploring, you have a cozy den as a destination to snug up inside. This quinzee is easy to find if you’re at the Indian Creek Nature Center. The leaf tipi is also at the Nature Center-you’ll just have to go on a longer adventure to discover it.

Leaf tipi
Leaf tipi
The quinzee mound is made, the door dug
The quinzee mound is made in the shape of a turtle, and the doorway is carved out
Nancy going inside
Nancy goes inside
And digs out a bit more space for us, so a few people can fit inside
And digs out a bit more space for us, so a few people can gather in the turtle