Brrrrr! This past week chilled up quite a bit and we even had snow on Thursday morning! Mother Nature gave us a bit of a flashback to winter, which only made me appreciate those warm, sunny days of last weekend even more, as I nursed my sunburned arms.
On Thursday, I was excited to chaperone my daughter’s class on their overnight field trip to Ashland Nature Center and Coverdale Farm. As we stood at the farm, we shivered in the 32 degree temperatures and blinked snowflakes from our eyes. It seemed odd to look around and watch snow fall on the blooming daffodils. The kids learned all about Colonial Life, each getting turns to shell corn, milk a cow, churn butter, and plant and fertilize seeds. They also learned about the springhouse that was used to keep foods cool, since springhouses hold temperatures in the 50’s all year round. They liked all of the activities except for thinking about where the compost came from.
We also got a chance to see two recently-born calves taking shelter in a small lean-to, and one was a very curious little guy, coming right up to the edge of the fence to check us out. There was a chorus of “awwwwww!” as we walked past their shelter. When our program was finally over, we were happy to take refuge in the building to warm up and have lunch!
Our afternoon at Ashland was filled with a vigorous hike up a large hill to visit a Lenni Lenape longhouse replica and learn about how the Native Americans lived. The kids felt rabbit, deer, and bear furs and discovered rattles, gourds, pottery bowls, deer antlers, and other artifacts that were part of Lenape life. The Lenape used every part of the animal, and nothing was wasted. The Lenape believed that everything had a spirit, and thus they showed gratitude to everything they needed to use. The spirits of animals and plants were thanked when killed or picked.
Our guide then led us on a hike to identify plants that were used by the Lenape for food and medicine, like spicebush and cherry tree. We picked our way down to the Red Clay Creek, where we could visualize how the Lenape used the creek for food and travel. Tuliptrees were cut down and easily fashioned into canoes, as these trees grow straight and tall with branches that are only present toward the top of the trees. We ended our tour in the marsh, where we found cattails that were used as food in the early spring (roots) and the “fluff” that was used as absorbent material for baby diapers.
The kids had some free time in the afternoon, which was spent running up and down Hawk Watch Hill and playing football. All the parents were amazed at how they had any energy left after the morning and afternoon activities! We sipped on coffee and hot tea while the kids expended their energy, and when they finally decided they were too cold to play outside anymore, hot cocoa was waiting for them.
The teacher then surprised the kids with the opportunity to dissect sterilized owl pellets. Owls eat their prey whole or in chunks, but swallow all of it: fur, bones, and all. They have a special stomach which collects and compacts the undigestable parts and the owl coughs it up. If you dissect an owl pellet, you can find the bones of the prey animals they have eaten. The kids had a great time trying to put together the bones and discover what the owls had enjoyed for a meal!
In the evening, the kids were introduced to nocturnal animals, seeing taxidermy of a raccoon, owl, and possum, and then meeting and touching a live bullfrog, tree frog, eastern kingsnake, and a tarantula. Some of the adult chaperones left the room for the snake and tarantula, but most of the kids were eager to get a closer look at them.
We then ventured out on a night hike, with no flashlights except for mine. Some of the kids were uncomfortable hiking in the dark, but trooped on and found they enjoyed the experience by the end. The kids cooperated nicely and were surprisingly quiet most of time, so we were able to hear an eastern screech owl and a great horned owl way off in the distance. It was so chilly that we were able to easily capture a red-spotted newt who was moving very slowly in the marsh, and we got a really good look at his spots and paddle-like tail while being serenaded by a few “peeeps” of some spring peepers braving the cold.
We returned to a snack of popcorn, and then it was lights out. The adults collapsed onto our squeaky bunks with thin mattresses that felt like we were being cradled in bowls. Being short of stature, at least my feet didn’t hang off the edge of the bed like some other unfortunate chaperones. The children whispered long into the night, despite our urgings of “Shhhh!”. Suffice it to say, we all felt like we’d just had a brief nap when it was time to get up and start a new day. I took a brief shower, which amounted to a trickle in the particular stall I had chosen, so I rinsed and toweled off as best I could and stumbled to the kitchen in search of coffee.
We headed out for a before-breakfast hike and were greeted by the dawn chorus of birds and a frost-covered landscape. We went through the marsh again, and the kids remarked how different it looked at night vs. the day. The plants shimmered in the morning sun, and the kids were excited to see a host of wet raccoon tracks on the marsh boardwalk, and a few wet fox tracks too. After breakfast, we had the chance to look at some pond water under the microscope to see plankton and learn about the food chain. Then we ventured out to the pond armed with nets and cups to see what bigger creatures lived there and fed on the plankton. The kids captured a newt, some bullfrog tadpoles, several fly larvae, freshwater shrimp, snails and snail eggs, and a leech.
Overall, the kids had a great experience learning about the past and how nature provided for the needs of humans. Life then was tough and physically demanding by our modern-day standards, but people appreciated all that nature had to offer. It was wonderful to see our kids spending two days outside, living through cold and damp snowy weather, then greeted by the warming sun, and appreciating the difference. They challenged themselves with the weather and the physical exertion, and kept their spirits high even when things were hard. They moved their bodies, and I do believe their spirits were moved by the whole adventure as well!
Love & Light,