The forest has held many adventures for our Nature Explorer group. This past week, we gave back to the forest by planting some native plants from Nith River Native Plants. Josh Shea, City of Kitchener's Natural Area Coordinator, told us about periwinkle - an invasive plant that likes to take over forest plants - and showed us how we could care for our forest by planting some native species.
The forest has nurtured us - here is one way that we can nurture the forest. We set off to plant!
We love to get to the know the different creatures that share the land and water at Huron Natural Area. Sometimes we just watch them quietly, sometimes we carefully catch and observe them before letting them go, and sometimes we talk about whether to catch or whether to just watch.
Our urge to catch is so strong! It seems to feed something primal within us... to have and to hold.
Here is a tent caterpillar nest that we've been observing this spring. Watching, each week, as the caterpillars grow bigger and bigger in their nest.
Each week brings new wonders: babies growing into teenagers, sunlight bringing out herds of turtles, rain and moisture revealing snail cities. Our play always leads us to the land, and as explorers, we have the amazing opportunity to observe and take in the growing and changing life that is all around us.
What a privilege!
Here's what we were up to with our Thursday Polliwogs last week: some show and tell to start us off...
Quite a variety of interesting nature things! L brought in some toad tadpoles, and showed us the life cycle of a frog/toad. G and C brought in a wasp apartment building and a nest with a broken egg. And I brought Tikki Tikki Tembo, our pet hedgehog.
Then we set off to plant some flower seeds for the butterflies to enjoy this summer.
Giselle read us a story about how seeds are spread - there are so many ways! Birds, squirrels, the wind, even animals' poop! :)
Then we played The Seed Game and blew ourselves across the lawn on our way down to the pond. What could we see at the pond today?
Then we were off to play in our forest play area. Lots of bugs were flying around today, baking yummy things in our big kitchen.
Our Dive Into Nature group was keen to explore the pond. So we donned our rubber boots, and set off for an adventure. We took a secret way through the woods, down a new path to our forest site - which meant crossing some water to get there. We helped each other across, and started to build a small bridge.
On the way there, we passed the Hiding Tree.
For some of us, it was quite an adventure to get through the water/quick-mud!
But we made it! Then we did some exploring of the water and the creatures that live there. We found frogs, a minnow, pond snails, a mallard duck, red-winged blackbirds, and even a cute little jumping deer mouse (not in the water, but in the cattail area by the creek).
Some of us kept on building the shelter that has been developing over the weeks - with intricately laid sticks, bark, and leaves to cover it.
A lot has happened in the last 6 weeks with our Nature Explorers program!
Each child has chosen a special "tree friend" (or two or three). We begin each session by spending time with these friends. Some weeks, it is their birthdays, and the trees are offered small gifts. Other days, we sit quietly and listen to and look at what's around us. It's a quiet time where we can relax.
Each tree is unique - just like us!!
After some games in the meadow, we're off on an adventure in the forest!
Here's a favourite place, with a log bridge and a climbing tree.
Then it's off to our fort village! A lot has developed over the weeks as we've made that place home: building, protecting wildflowers, working together, climbing, gardening, plant ID. Here we are in week 1: look at the layers of clothing we're wearing!
And here we are in weeks 5 and 6: look at all of the green on the forest floor!
We've also had the opportunity to watch different plants spring up as the earth bursts with new life: jack-in-the-pulpits, wild ginger, apple blossoms, trilliums, and morel mushrooms!
Our first Forest Friend Friday with Kindergarten classes was a great success! The weather sure helped: a beautiful 20 degree day! Turtles were basking, sun was shining.
For this 2-hour Kindergarten program, our theme is "Home Sweet Home." We spend half of our time walking the paths through the forest and by the pond. It's a time to be scientists, detectives, and naturalists, looking for clues. We talk about who makes their home at Huron Natural Area: what creatures, plants, trees.
Before entering the forest, some said, "I'm scared!" or "Oooohh!! Spooookyyyy! The forrreesstt!!" so we talked about how the forest is a home for many animals - not a scary, spooky place - but a place filled with lots of exciting life. We brainstormed animals who live in our forest, and came up with long list: beavers, spiders, birds, squirrels, pandas, snow leopards, raccoons, coyotes, geese, monkeys, tigers, bears, deer, turtles, frogs, ants. We talked about how our forest isn't the same as a tropical rainforest or the African savannah, so there would be some things on our brainstormed list that don't fit the climate and ecosystems that we have here in Canada.
We make time for a short "sit spot", where we sit quietly in the woods for 1 whole minute to listen and watch things around us. It's amazing what we can hear and see when we're quiet!
The other half of our time is spent in the new playscape area. It's a time to be builders, designers, movers and shakers. It's a time to pretend to be animals who make their homes in the woods - digging, climbing, building. And a time to play!
We're looking forward to hosting more Kindergarten groups over the coming weeks!
Reflections on listening to the dawn chorus, International Dawn Chorus Day, May 1, 2016
Voice #1: Grandma JS, farm near Elora, 5:00am, May 2, 2016
It seemed ridiculous to wake up before 5 on a morning free of commitments but it didn't take long before I clued into why I awoke so early - International Dawn Chorus Day, only one day late!
I got my winter coat and a blanket and went out to the quasi-deck out back and I sat.
At first nothing, save the spring peepers in the swamp and the distant drone of traffic on Wellington 18 and Arthur St north.
And then the first peep - a tentative peep, and then perhaps it rolls over for a few more winks of sleep.
A raccoon/groundhog/rabbitty thing slinks from the field to the red currant bush - or maybe it is just the floater in my right eye. It's hard to tell in dawn's early morning.
A call from the spruce tree on my peripheral left.
A call growing more certain with time - perhaps the robin-imam with the first call to prayer.
An answer comes back from the driving shed roof.
He flies to the washline post and now he calls more loudly, fluffing his wings and stretching his neck high.
I can see his shadow in the growing light.
A rustling in the mac tree and tentative chirps there - "is-it-morn?, is-it-morn?"
Out on the pond the geese are tuning their bagpipes.
"Killdeer, Killdeer", a type A killdeer wakes up, already in protective mode.
I hear the sound of the chickadee and I imagine her cute little compact body bustling about, doing her Monday chores.
The copse of black elder trees awake with a chorus
- some reaching tiptoe high notes,
some trilling the medium runs,
and below it all a percussive beat - is it the bull frogs, or a birdsong I don't know?
But my regal cardinal - where is his voice in the chorus?
Not to worry, he will be by later.
He'll fly in about the same time as Norbert and Nora, the Downys, coming to begin the day of head-banging foraging.
Monday morning, surrounded by nature's sounds.
Voice #2: Daughter ES, 9 years old, Huron Natural Area, 4:30am
This morning I woke up at 4:00 am to the sound of, “It’s time to go!”, ringing through my ears. This was the sound of my mother. Once we stepped into the crisp morning breeze I heard something different. The wind. I heard this wind the whole time we were driving to Huron Natural Area. After we were finally about to start our Dawn Chorus time we heard the magnificent sound of the Spring Peeper frogs. Soon after, we finally settled down right near the pond and leaning against a tree. The perfect spot to hear and see anything that may come our way. First, everything was silent. Then after what felt like the longest time the chickadees started to sing. The sounds started close to us and then moved across the pond. It sounded a lot like an antiphonal choir of chickadees. After them, the ducks and geese moved to the pond, displaying their noises. The crows thought they might join the early morning chorus as well as the red-winged blackbirds. So they did. Then came my favourite sound of all time. “Truffles! Truffles!”, the sounds of the wild turkeys came loud and clear.
It was very interesting watching the ducks float on the water so calmly and peacefully. All of a sudden, when we were watching the geese as well as the ducks in the pond, we saw some white objects disappearing and then reappearing again. We thought for a moment, and then realized that the white objects were actually the tail feathers of the geese! They were searching for food underwater! After a while of the bird chorus, we left in the drizzling rain; heading for home. Getting ready to start this new day.
Voice #3: Mother RS, Huron Natural Area, 4:30am
Early morning. A steady drizzle as we make our way quietly to the forest. Down a muddy path, through the trees to the side of the pond. I choose a tall and sturdy tree - is it hemlock? - to support me if I doze off. I lay down our mat, sit against the tree. My daughter rests her head on my lap. It's not long before she's sleeping. It's too dark to see, but I know that the other women sit near me in the forest. We're holding vigil together, waiting for the chorus. We are quiet, but we are not alone. There is a deep power in silent togetherness.
At first, we hear the sound of the spring peepers, a sweet and steady backdrop of song. The rain falls softly; we can hear drops on the water and on the leaves nearby. There are city sounds in the background too. Something in me reacts - I'm annoyed, and I want those noises to leave. But they are part of this place too. A plane flies overhead. A goose honks, en route.
What if the chorus doesn't come? I wonder. What if the rain strains their little vocal chords? Will this be all that I'm expecting? Gradually, I loosen my grip, allowing nature to just be. To not conform to my wishes, to not be controlled.
In this pre-dawn light, I see ghostly white shapes out on the water - moving together, then apart, moving up a bit, then down. What is it?? I study this for a while, blinking to make sure I'm not asleep. Then it hits me: geese! Bobbing their heads down for an early morning breakfast.
In the dark, my ears are so strong. They are tuned to the slightest peep. I wait, and I listen. And I wonder what will come. My daughter rolls over, wakes up, and listens.
At 5:45am, we are rewarded: the clear call of a chickadee from the right side of the pond. And another calls back. And another. Those sweet little bundles, their song so pure and true. The sound moves around the pond, little by little, as they all wake up.
The crows start their cawing, building in intensity. Ducks and geese, with timing all of their own, add their quacks and honks intermittently.
The funniest one is like a small chuckle, coming from the other side of the pond. A wild turkey! He too marches to the beat of his own drum, making us strain and anticipate his call, smiling and quietly chuckling when we hear him.
Eventually, the chorus surrounds the pond, and we are part of it - not as singers, but as appreciative audience - led by these birds to greet the day.
Human words sound foreign as I break our silence to read Salutation to the Dawn by Kalidasa. Then we gather up our blankets and walk back through the forest. We have witnessed together an ordinary, daily miracle: the dawn chorus of song.
On April 30, we celebrated Earth Day and the grand opening of the new play area at Huron Natural Area. What an amazing afternoon! Beautiful, sunny weather, and lots of people of all ages. It was wonderful!
Here's the Kitchener mayor, Berry Vrbanovic, along with city councillor Kelly Galloway-Sealock, cutting the ribbon with a crew of kids to officially open the new playground.
Local artist Ean Kools was spray painting our storage shed - so exciting to have a wonderful design on this space!
There were so many things going on - like tree planting, and native species seed planting, and a big fire truck dumping water on the new permeable parking lot, and Sarah Granskou leading a felted leaf craft as her artist-in-residence project for the city of Kitchener, snakes and reptiles to see and touch, a live birds of prey show - so many fun things. I was facilitating the evolution of a tent city - made with bamboo and Stick-lets and colourful fabric. Take a look!
Hammers, Huge Swings, and the Freedom to Play