Nature Blog

Stories from programs and outdoor ramblings
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Week 3 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday,Sept 22nd, 2020

The Salamanders

The Salamanders spent a fine autumnal equinox together in the sun. There were cattails, flowers, excellent hiding spots behind aspen trunks and so many apples.  At opening circle we all shared our paintings, drawings and stories from a week of sky-watching. We heard stories about sunsets, sunrises, midday brilliance and even the sight of Mars amid the astonishing starfield of the night sky. We also discussed the significance of the equinox, and what astronomical factors might bring it about.  The first leg of our long walk today took us through a field of cattails, where our feet stayed dry thanks to a well-placed boardwalk. Along the way we saw tons of snails climbing the stalks, jewelweed in bloom and birds migrating overhead. The boardwalk led us to the Botanical Gardens and the mysteriously serene ‘Stable Garden’ which we could only glimpse through a locked gate. After climbing a hill we arrived at our home base for the day: a huge, sprawling box elder at the center of an old apple orchard. In the tree’s kindly shade we began collecting materials from which to make hanging mobiles, like sumac blossoms, colorful leaves, stones, apples and thin, straight sticks. We spent the rest of the morning constructing our mobiles and collecting apples. After lunch, as per Salamander custom, we settled into the cool shade for story time. Scott read aloud ‘If You Want to See a Whale’, which fancifully describes the steps one might (or might not) follow to see a whale. After the story, we continued work on our mobiles and the important autumnal rite of collecting vast quantities of apples. On our way back through the forest we crossed (with all 16 feet dry!) a narrow, single-log bridge over a muddy stream, which led us to a sun-dappled grove of aspens. There we played three rounds of Eagle Eye, which involves hiding quietly while keeping the ‘eagle’ in sight. The students loved it, and we’ll return to the aspens for more of that another day. The take-home challenge this week is to collect a few flowers that are still blooming and either press them in a book or draw a picture of them, learn their names, and bring them to share at opening circle next Tuesday where we’ll savor the last colors of summer together.

Mud Slug Survivors
After our morning games we circled up to share our favorite part about fall on the first day of fall and heard an eventful story about a snapping turtle!  As we gathered up to head out to Autumn Olive Lane, Rown began gathering plantain to make a salve with.  This immediately inspired an incredibly focused and enthusiastic plant gathering  morning.  For a full hour we explored the many wonderful green things under our feet, finding all sorts of edible and medicinal helpers.  You could see the kids starting to walk differently as their minds opened to the immense gifts and support nature provides with each step:) SOon we found a nice spot to run and play and hide and seek and plopped down with a nice lunch with our new friend “Silvia” (a wooly bear caterpillar:)  Due to some sore feet in the group, we headed back to base early and played by the creek, building boats and drying our plants.  Next week we’ll put our dried plants in oil and then make them into salve by the end of the session. 
The Eagles 

Skulls!  We started our day with step 1 in a project of identifying and organizing some of the animal skulls in HNS’s nature museum.  We worked on mid sized animals ranging from squirrels and chipmunks to beavers and coyotes, next week I think we’ll work the small skulls.  Also, of course there was a lot of chatting and catching up to do as well as some catch being played.  Once we had a snack and then a restroom break, we packed up and hit the trail. We took a new route which lead to us (Kaia actually) finding a really neat chopping stone which we hope can become a stone hatchet.  We decided to take a long hike and enjoy the gorgeous fall displays, all the way fire mountain to our old camp spot from many years ago.  There we found a great stash of excellent bow drill carving wood and everyone was eager to do some knife work.  Projects included bow drill, spider ball rackets, and of course continued work on spoon projects.  

We had lunch there, I left briefly to find hand hold materials for the bow drill and when I stepped away the kids all got to see a red fox up close.  They yelled “fox!” and I ran back thinking they were yelling “wasp”…..They were all really excited about the fox and told me all about, I left again to get the material and then they yelled “fox!”.  Lucky kids got to see the fox again!! There was some tree climbing and story swapping but soon we headed over to our “spider ball court”, this has become a HNS classic and we had a great time playing.  We also wove a ball hoop in a ironwood sapling and shot some hoops.  We hiked down and made our way to the creek to cool off, there we played a story game called “trickster transformer”  which is supposed to be a animal based narrative full of interesting naturalist facts and knowledge, today it digressed into more chaotic but hilarious ideas lead by the kids. We ran completely out of time and had to rush back, actually arriving 7 minutes late!  Sorry again about that.  Take home challenge from last week continues this week, TRY TO SPOT A BUCK (Milo did spot a buck and I did spot a buck last week) but an additional bonus is to find deer tracks, scats, trails, and signs, students are encouraged to bring in sketches of what they found.
 Snail Pigeons :

What a beautiful day. The Snail Pigeons started by exploring the plants down by the creek. We decided to collect different plants at different ecosystems in the commons today. We gathered at put them into a flower press for our project for the day. We strolled up the the woods behind the commons and practiced balancing on logs while we gathered some ferns and leaves. After the mosquitos pushed us out we headed to the big open field, this walk took us through some low lands and woods where we could gather more flowers and leaves. It was so nice to take a break in the field for lunch, there are not many hot fall days, so we took time to enjoy it out there. To cool off we took a walk to the rope swing creek. Everyone had fun splashing and exploring around the creek banks. To dry off we headed back to the big lawn to work on our bookmarks. We used paper, our plants that we gathered throughout the day and markers. We can not wait to keep exploring and working on more projects!

Week 2 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays, Sept 17th, 2020

Carries Group (group name coming soon)
Carries Group started this beautiful fall day with a small hike up to Unicorn Spring, this is the term that Gabby and Sylvia refer to the natural spring in the commons. While there everyone had fun watching and manipulating the movement of the water down the hill. Many built bridges, sent items down the water shoot and just climbed around the water. We moved over to the pines for lunch and were greeted by a small, yet plump, chipmunk. This was the highlight as this chipmunk did not seem to have any fear and proved that by sitting on Gabbys foot for a short rest. We all had to stay on our toes watching our lunches, but this gave us a wonderful laugh. After lunch and a story we began to gather natural materials to help decorate our group flag. Each youth was given a section of cloth to use as the canvas and was encouraged to gather different types/colors of plants to “press” into the cloth. We had fun experimenting with the technique, jumping, rocks, sticks, all these had varying degrees of success, but eventually the rock pounding was the way to go. We also took time to gather a one matching plant that was on someone’s canvas to add into a flower press. We are excited to see what the pressed flowers look like next week, and if we can match them to the plants on our flag. Everyone ended up with a beautiful cloth and will be on display next week during drop off! Once we were packed up we had to take a pit stop at the rope swing. Everyone had fun trying out the rope and swinging over the water, attempting to cross the creek by a handmade bridge, and just jumping in the cold creek for fun! At the closing circle we talked about our favorite things from the day, and shared a picture that we drew in our nature journals.
Blue Beavers : 
We began with games and coloring and circled up for a nice morning circle as the sun began to find its way through the cloud cover.  After sharing a gratitude for something we could sense in the moment,  Kriya shared an epic sit spot story with the group.  Once we got out the woods, it was non-stop adventure and play the whole day.  Fort building, log climbing, creek romping, worm and salamander hunting, jumping, more building, beaver damn mud and stick building, autumn olive and apple snacking, sneaking, running, hiding, seeking… it was a big day!  A few in the group got into crafting with yarn and finger knitting.  The kids literally knit through every inch of yarn in 4 spools, creating a record long, 50 ft finger knit length.  We played hard, worked hard and had an absolutely lovely day!
Take Home Challenge: FInd a sit spot in your yard and watch the surnrise!
  Matt’s Group (Name coming soon:)

Our day started with playing “atsina stick” which builds focus and hand-eye coordination.  Then the group wanted to play some “500” which was pretty fun as well.  We circled up and everyone had an opportunity to share stories from the last week and to catch up.  We then talked about the goals and logistics of the day.

We headed out towards the creek and gathered some autumn olives along the way.  Once we arrived, we set to task to gather and prep some “cane poles”  which we made from willow and boxelder suckers.  We readied everything then learned how to tie a fishermans knot and tied our own lines.  We gathered Golden Rod galls to use as bobbers and gathered worms and grubs for bait.  We sited along the creek and spotted some trout passing by, we targetted an area around the bridge and soon spotted a very large fish which got everyone very fired up.  Several of us got good bites but no one was able to hook anything, unfortunately.
After a lunch break, we broke down our poles and set them aside for next time, everyone is excited to give it another go in the future.  We made our way the forest from there and found ourselves at a great spot to play some “grounders” which is a balancing game with some tag thrown in and some quirky sound effects.  By popular demand, we also played a few rounds of “spider ball” as well.  Some of us took some time to do some knife work on our ongoing projects meanwhile others were heaving logs around and practicing some stick fighting.  We ran out of time and had to head back, while we awaited the pickup folks to arrive the kids made up their own version of capture the flag.
 
Take-home challenge this week:
  • Fish ID: Research which types of fish might be found in Kids Creek this time of year?  Best guess at what kinds of fish we saw?  
  • Knot practice:  Practice the fishermans know

Week 2 of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday,Sept 15th, 2020

The Salamanders
Today was our second day together as The Salamanders, and it was a fun one. There were grapes and elderberries, autumn olives, a giant salmon, box elder beads, wind through the willows, and lots of laughter. At opening circle, we all shared the leaves we had collected for last week’s take-home challenge and got to hear some fantastic names for the colors, like violet, banana, sunshine, fire, jade, brown, etc. We shared stories from recent adventures as nearby as West Bay and as far-flung as Beaver Island.
Our first stop of the day was to collect grapes, autumn olives and the last few elderberries to make into ink later on. Some of the fruit made it into the containers and some into our bellies. We had great opportunities to learn the difference between Virginia creeper (not edible) and wild grape (edible but so sour), and saw a bunch of birds and insects along the way. At the bridge over Kid’s Creek along Autumn Olive Lane we put down our backpacks and set up camp for the day. We found plentiful fallen box elder branches from which to fashion simple ‘pens’ and set to work mashing the fruit into ink. While the students worked on this, Scott carved beads from thin pithy twigs, which looked really cool dyed with the grapes.
During lunch on the bridge, we spotted a huge salmon swimming upstream, which steered the rest of the afternoon toward making fishing poles out of branches and yarn, hooks from twigs, sinkers from pebbles, and improvised bait from leaves and goldenrod blooms. The salmon weren’t biting, but as any angler will tell you, the pleasure is in the pursuit. Midway through the afternoon, we gathered in a sunny spot and Scott read aloud ‘The Night World’, which is about a child and their cat who wakes up early and gets to watch a beautiful sunrise.
After the story, fishing continued and some of the students made necklaces from yarn, leaves, box elder beads, and painted paper cut-outs. The results were really cool. Our walk back to the lawn took us through patches of goldenrod and aster abuzz with honeybees, weeping willows streaming in the warm wind and more autumn olives.
The take-home challenge this week is to watch the sky, and when you see it turning a pretty color (maybe at sunrise, maybe at sunset, maybe at high noon!), to draw or paint a picture of it if you have art supplies handy. If not, bring a colorful description ready to share next week. Until then!
Mud Slug Survivors (Kriya’s Group:)
We had a lovely windy, sunny day!  After games and morning circle, we headed out towards the open meadows for wandering, exploring, hiding, seeking, lunch, and some nature napping.  The kiddos got learned how to give space to the bees, bull thistles, and burs as we sought out cattails and grapevines for weaving and autumn olives for snacking on.   After lunch, we headed to the White Pines and Maples for climbing on and then headed back to base a little early.   We played freely in the open fields, with the kickballs, made homemade kites to fly in the wind, colored and drew vibrant pictures on giant paper, and eventually settled in for a little sit spot out of the wind.  
The Eagles 

We began our day with slacklining and tossing a frisbee until everyone had arrived and gotten warmed up.  We circled together for a snack break and everyone had a chance to share a personal story and or something about pets at home.  We talked about our goals for the day & everyone had a chance to add-in.  After a restroom break, we headed out.

We chose to go by way of autumn olive lane where we discussed ID features of autumn olives and virginia creeper and we sampled most all the autumn olives along the way.  We also gathered some apples as we went.  We steadily hiked towards our fort area, stopping to rest as needed, and stopping to investigate an abundance of porcupine quills which were spread across the trail (no other evidence was found despite our effort, we noted that the quills were in the location we noted last week for having feeding signs from a porcupine and also that there was not a very large tree nearby that had recently fallen).  
We arrived at our fort area and dispersed into interest groups, some worked on the group shelter, others attempted to make blowguns using quills as darts, others swapped stories.  After lunch, we did some focused carving time, several students are attempting to get level 3 knife certification, its been nice to see the progress and skills developing!  Today I did introduce the use of the hook knife for making rounded cuts.
After carving time,  we played a few rounds of a sneaking and scouting game called “eagle eye”.  The spot we played was perfect and the game was super fun for everyone seemed to enjoy the nice solo sit spot time that’s built into that game.  We realized the day had flown by and we had to rush back for pickup.  Fortunately, we made a good time and ended up with just enough time to review last week’s Bio Region Quiz as a group, I was impressed with how much the kids know!  
The take-home challenge this week is to ‘spot a buck’ and report back to us about what it was doing and where it was located with as much detail as possible.  To accomplish this I encouraged the kids to start paying attention to the landscape when they are riding in the car or glance more frequently out the windows at home and they will be surprised how much wildlife they will find, maybe even an elusive buck.
 Snail Pigeons :

The snail pigeons started the day by making our own personal collage. It was fun to look at old magazines and find photos that fit each of our personalities. After we completed our masterpieces we headed out for our hike. Our mission for the day was to make some fresh applesauce out at the orchard. On our way out to that old orchard by the barns, we stopped for a snack of autumn olives and take a look in the secret garden at the barns. We have loved this spot for the wonderful flowers and the nice peaceful space. After gathering apples and eating lunch we decided to head back towards the woods to get out of the wind and heat up the apples. We found a perfect rest stop at eagles nest in the fairy forest. As the applesauce was cooking some kiddos created a new fairy house while the others had fun just taking it easy. We were able to enjoy our fresh applesauce before we headed back to the commons for pick up. Each week we have added some fun art projects and next week we are looking to add some more drawing as well as explore a new place in the woods, hopefully by some water.

Above: Virginia Creeper

Above:  Autumn Olive (Edible).

First day of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Thursdays, Sept 10th, 2020

Carries Group (group name coming soon)
Today after introductions the whole group decided we were going to go out on a nice medium hike. This was a great time to walk the trails, that many of the kids have been on before and talk about past times they have been out in the commons. After a snack break on the side of the path we ended up in the cedar area where we took a look around for all the different kind of leaves that we could find. We ended up with 17 different types, we were surprised at all the different shapes and textures of leaves there were in that area. After we had lunch and heard a story we hiked on. We meandered by the spring where we challenged ourselves to catch grasshopper in the field. We ended up with 100 points easy as we have quick hands in our group. The next stop for our hike was on top of Cistern hill where we chatted about what our group name should be and some friends played follow the leader with gabby.  We headed back to the commons where we tested our jumping off of the old oak tree that was cut down in the lawn area. We were surprised by how good some group members could jump. We ended back at the green balloons for a group scavenger hunt for more leaves, a close look at a Pileated woodpecker on the tulip tree, and some fun with the green balloons. We are still working on agreeing on our group name, but we all are looking forward to more adventures next week.
Blue Beavers (Kriya’s Group): 
We had a lovely first day together!  After morning games and circle, we headed out into the woods and found a cool area to explore and begin fort building near a mighty Hemlock that could keep us dry on rainy days.  We found all sorts of cool mushrooms, fort-building materials, bark, leaves and hills to run up and down.  We headed over to the spring for lunch and did a lot more building, this time with mud and clay as well.  This is when the name Beavers came to mind!  The whole group worked, played and built really well together, like a little Beaver family:) After lunch, we climbed the branches of some White Pines and played hide and seek in the meadow.  Soon it was time to head back.  We took an adventurous way back along a deer trail through the Cedars and had a wet and muddy creek crossing.  Once we returned to base, we played some games and worked on some art projects as the sun came out.  It was a beautiful day!
Matt’s Group (Name coming soon:)

Our first day of class was a ton of fun!  We tossed the frisbee while we waited for everyone to arrive and then kicked off our day.  We took some time to talk about the session and COVID protocols, then each person introduced themselves.  With that, we were off and heading to the woods. We bushwacked up a to a windswept hill that has lots of good sticks and logs from blown down trees. There we set up a rabbit stick tournament, got into teams of 2, and played several rounds.  Rabbit stick may become an ongoing skill we practice, perhaps we will carve some really nice ones.  From there we went in search of an ideal “spider ball” tree, we ended up having a long hike up fire hill where we took our lunch break. After lunch, we set up an activity called “spider ball” which was a huge hit. We played for a solid hour.  From there, we hiked out towards the spring by way of otter slide hill. Of course, we took the opportunity to run and jump down.  At the spring we went over knife carving safety rules and certification, everyone had the opportunity to do some carving.  Also at this time, we were experimenting with Chipmunk traps and there was some fort building.  Then it was time to head back.  We arrived with a little extra time and used it to play some ultimate frisbee which concluded our day.

First day of Fall Session!

Story of the day from Tuesday,Sept 8th, 2020

The Salamanders (Scotts Group):

Our group had a great first day together! On our way out into the forest we turned over a few wet logs at Clara’s recommendation and found a number of red-backed salamanders living amid the moist duff. So many, in fact, that we decided to name our group after them. We will from here on be known as ‘The Salamanders’.
Our first stop of the day was the stream just downhill from the spring, where Nori searched for colorful pebbles, Sylvia discovered that day lily leaves make excellent string, Maya built a miniature raft and we all had an improvised scavenger hunt. After lunch, we moved up to drier ground in a natural ‘amphitheater’ filled with young ash and beech trees, where we listened to Scott read aloud a book called ‘If You Want to See a Caribou’. It’s about learning to sit still as a tree, and the opportunities such a practice might afford. We’ll give it a try ourselves soon and report back with the early results.

After storytime, we set to collecting colorful leaves and pebbles, which we arranged into miniature villages and mandalas. Miles discovered that beneath the bark of a fallen beech trunk the decomposing wood had turned a rich rusty red, which yielded a fine pigment to add to our creations. The results were beautiful, and perfectly captured the delicate hues of this season between seasons.
The take-home challenge this week is to find a few early autumn leaves and think up a fanciful name for each color. We’ll share them at opening circle next Tuesday. See you then!
Kriya’s Group (Still coming up with our name, likely to contain the word Dragon:)
After morning games and circle, we were ready to head out on several days worth of explorations.   We kicked off our journey down Autumn Olive lane and took some time exploring the differences between Autumn Olives (edible), Grapes, (edible),  Elderberries (medicinal), and Virginia Creeper (poisonous).   We continued to hike and explore through the wetlands all the way up the Eagles Nest for lunch.  After a good rest up and refueling session, the kids were back at it, running all around the nearby woods to check out every single fairy house they could find (built by the botanical garden folks:)  The joy was tangible:) After a time we shifted gears for a sit spot, the kids all got their own journals to take to sit spot and were tasked with choosing their own nature names.  After this restful time, we started looping back around toward the building.  On the way we munched on blackberries and took a play break at otters slide hill.  Lots of running, jumping, rock collecting and sliding occurred down the sandy/rocky hill.   Our last stop of on the way back was at the creek where we all washed our hands real well with the SoapWort plant and played by the creek for a bit.  It was a big hike and a big full day!  We were all pretty tuckered out by the time we made it back for closing circle. 
The Eagles (Matt’s Group)
We began our day getting to know each other, jumping some rope, and catching up.  Soon thereafter we circled up and discussed some of the ways this fall would be different due to covid.  Also, we each introduced ourselves and shared some things we are excited for this fall and/or things that happened this summer.  After a restroom break, we headed off to the woods.
We made our way across the park and eventually to the spring area where we settled in.  Once there, we harvested a basswood sapling from an overgrown thicket for carving material.  We discussed the ethics of harvesting, ID characteristics of basswood, edibility of its leaves, its medicinal flowers, its bark as a fiber source, and its softwood ideal for carving.  We then went over the carving safety rules and certification process before doing a good amount of knife practice time.  Everyone reached a good stop point then we took a break for some good old tree climbing time.
 Before lunch, we played several rounds of “fire keeper” to hone our fox walking and sneaking skills.  After lunch. We moved on and selected a secret spot at the base of Otter Slide hill to build our camp. We worked on a few shelters, the main structure is really quite impressive.  Other things happening there included stone and rabbit stick throwing contests, climbing and sliding on otter slide, sneaking and spying on Kriya’s group.  With all this going on, time slipped away and we had to skedaddle.
On our way back, we gathered a few blackberries and swapped stories. We got back just in time to brainstorm group name ideas and democratically decide to be called “The Eagles”.  We also squeezed in 1 round of a game called trickster transformer which is a naturalist info infused story game. 
 Snail Pigeons (Carrie’s group):

We began with all smiles this morning.  Being a small group we wandered out pretty soon, to get out of the cold breeze. We decided that we wanted to look around the botanical gardens today as it was a moderate walk and it provided a lot of shelter space in case of rain. 

Throughout the day we wandered around this area, stopping to work on our new banner/flag for our group, exploring the new fairy house path, hiking up the large hill in the old orchard, exploring the underground “tank” (not sure what this structure was), attempting to dye our fabric with various plants, finding and loving the new peaceful garden at the old barns, decided on our group name: Snail Pigeons, Hazel found a wonderful birds nest, and most of all enjoyed telling stories and interacting with each other.
We ended our day with a stop by a LARGE Autumn Olive bush for a pick me up snack, attempting to learn cartwheels or back headstands from Radley and planning for next week’s adventure. 
It was a wonderful relaxing day, full of smiles, creative art projects, cold breezes, and warming friendships. 

Nature Art from the Salamander Group!.

Above: Virginia Creeper

Above:  Autumn Olive (Edible).

Winter Foxes and Coyotes Story of the Day: Crusty Snow and a Fire Burrito

By Jack Hannert on Feb 6, 2019

 We started our day struggling through the snow to play Crack a Boom, and that icy layer over the snow proved to hinder our travels throughout the day. We headed out, stopping for Otter Slide breaks at many a promising snow pile. We entered the woods with the intention of making a Fire Burrito, gathering plants for tea, and gathering fire materials. A Fire Burrito is a method of wrapping leaves, small sticks, and punky wood in bark to transport a coal or ember between areas. We found that our materials were a bit damp to be very effective, but we plan to revisit this technique when the conditions are more favorable.

We then went on a gathering adventure, getting together some cedar, hemlock, and rose hips for tea, and also finding some grape vines to try to make snow shoes! After gathering our plants and trying out our Fire Burrito (the materials for which proved to be a bit too damp to be very effective, but we plan on revisiting this technique when the conditions are more favorable), we were all pretty tired and hungry. We settled on a lunch at the base of Otter Slide. This meant no real fire or tea, but with a little sun and a lot of sliding we stayed pretty warm!

After lunch and project and free sliding time, we moved on to a different area. We stopped for more sliding as we worked our way toward the wetlands, also pausing to check out the tracks of a possum who seemed to be having as much trouble with the crusty snow the night before as we were today! When we got to the trail leading between the two wetlands, everyone got distracted jumping off into the deep snow there. There were running starts, icey slips, cannonballs, and a distance contest. After the fun, we gathered cattails to be dried and used as torches next week.

Gabby attempts to breathe life into the fire burrito.

Kaya crafting some snow shoes.

Logan cruisin’ the slopes.

Rowan tossing a killer snowball.

The Dickeys in a synchronized slope roll.

The Magic of Forest Kindergarten

By Emily Burke on Oct 29, 2018

Well, it’s official. Today was the last day of Forest Kindergarten for the fall session. We won’t have these kids back in class until the spring session starts back up in April, and I’m surprised by how much I already miss these tiny nature explorers. My time in the woods with them was full of wonder, excitement, and unabashed curiosity. They remind me how to look at the world with fresh eyes and teach me how to let my imagination run wild again.  Naturally closer to the ground, they notice things that I completely miss, like a weird mushroom or a beautiful baby leaf. There were too many memories made this fall to count, but here are some of my favorites:

1) One cloudy day in late September, the kids created an epic obstacle course on a series of fallen logs over the creek that winds through the hemlock grove.  It had rained heavily the night before, so the banks were super muddy, and the small sandbar had turned into a jelly-like quasi-solid.  The kids spent a full 45 minutes testing their balance on the slippery logs and leaping across the creek onto the jiggly sandbar. When Odin The Lava Monster suddenly turned the creek water into hot, bubbling lava, they scrambled to construct a dam from clay and sticks. After working together to defeat The Lava Monster, there were high-fives all around.

2) On a rainy day just as the maples were starting to change color, I crowded around a rotting, fallen ash log with a group of four- and five-year-olds bundled up in colorful rain gear.  The log was covered with slugs, and just as I was about to roll the log to look for some red-backed salamanders, Iris gently plucked a tiny slug that I had overlooked from the log, dubbed it “Baby slug,” and began rocking it in her arms while softly singing. Soon, most of the group was joining in on the sweet lullaby to this slimy critter.

3) On an unseasonably cold day, Amalia, Emily D, and I decided to hike our group to the legendary Otter Slide Hill in hopes that we could convince the kids to climb all the way to the top of this giant sand dune to keep warm. We didn’t anticipated that all 8 kids would spend the entire lunchtime crawling up and running/sliding/rolling down repeatedly. It was hard to pry them from the hill when it was time to head back, but, perhaps spurred on by the thirst they had worked up from all their playing, they collectively pretended that the aspen grove we hiked back through was a vast, hot desert. Dogs we passed became camels, willows were palm trees, and the Greenspire creek was a life-saving oasis.

4) On the last day, we headed to the cedars to play with track molds in the mud. Vowing to get good and muddy while making bear, coyote, skunk, and raccoon tracks after we had eaten, we chatted about various mammals while we lunched in the shelter provided by the cedars’ delicate, fringed foliage.  Just as we were discussing red squirrels, a loud trill rang out from across the grove.  I motioned for everyone to quiet down, and the kids’ eyes widened as they connected that the trill was made by the same animal we had just been talking about.  Excited shouts and pointing followed as we tracked the red squirrel – no doubt perturbed by our presence in its territory – as it bounded along a fallen log across the creek, crossed the forest floor’s carpet of golden cedar fronds, and scampered up a nearby trunk to scold us from the safety of a branch.

The frosts started in earnest last week and the long nights of winter are looming near, but I’m making a concerted effort to hold onto all that the little ones have taught me this fall: splash in puddles, collect pretty leaves, catch raindrops on your tongue, investigate all bugs, and, whenever things get dull, always pretend there’s a lava monster.