Monthly Archives: June 2011

Small Adventures: Moonlight and Horseshoe Crabs

A mating pair of horseshoe crabs heads into deeper waters. Sean Donohue©2011

Around the full and new moons in May and June, a strange phenomenon occurs all up and down the Atlantic Shores of the US: the spawning of the horseshoe crabs. Sean and I first discovered this event about 8 years ago when we set off on an evening paddle to watch the full moon rise over a nearby bay. As we paddled close to shore, we noticed piles of horseshoe crabs in the shallows and along the beach. On closer inspection, we realized they were mating, and thus began our fascination with these strange prehistoric animals. Where we go we’ll often see a dozen or two mating pairs in a single trip, but there are places where the crabs are more abundant, and hundreds of pairs pile up on the beach.

Horseshoe crabs look ancient, and in fact their origins predate most species on the planet. These living fossils are covered in spiny body armor and have a long, spike-like tail that they use for righting themselves if they become flipped upside-down. During Mating, the male clings to the females back, and they stay linked for  hours. The female will then dig a hole in sand or mud, and the male will fertilize the 60-120,000 eggs as she lays them. These eggs are an important food for at least 11 species of migratory shorebirds, as well as many other small shore animals. After mating, the male and female separate, and head off into deeper waters.

The mating of the horseshoe crabs is a great natural event to look for with kids. The crabs themselves are fascinating with their spiny armour and long spiked tail, and the presence of so many in one place can be awe-inspiring. Add in some moonlight and an expedition that involves flashlights, and the event becomes even more fun. It’s also a great chance to show kids how to observe nature without touching (and potentially disturbing a special moment for the crabs). If you are doing nature journaling with your kids, this is an exciting observation to write about.

Image via Creative commons

If you want to find popular spawning locations near you, the University of Delaware’s Horseshoe Crab Spawning Website  has a great page with an interactive map  that will help you plan your trip. I particularly like their tip about using a red filter on flashlights and camera flashes when doing night observations to avoid blinding the animals for an entire tidal cycle.

Categories: Ideas, Outdoor Life, Preschoolers, School Age, Toddlers, Trip Planning | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspiration: The Crawfords Hike the Wonderland Trail

I’ve always been a bit of an insomniac, but with this pregnancy I’ve often found myself up late at night, wandering around the thicket of the interwebs. Among other research, I’ve been searching for examples of familes who have managed to maintain an adventurous lifestyle with their children. One of the first family adventures I came across is the tale of Ben and Kami Crawford, who backpacked the 93 mile Wonderland Trail with their 4 children ages 2,4,6 and 8. It took them 12 days to hike the trail, which loops around the base of Mt. Ranier, during which time they gained and lost around 20,000 feet in elevation. There are a few hairy moments; morale flagged during the constant rain mid-trip, a few dicey suspension bridge crossings had me squirming a little, and I can’t help but think about what I would do differently in terms of preparedness for extreme conditions. But overall, they had a great trip and I find it heartening to see an example that negates all the comments I’ve been getting about how we’ll never be able to leave the house again after we have kids.  You can watch all 9 narrated slideshows of their trip here.

Categories: Backpacking, Inspiration, School Age, Toddlers | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Tarantula Snacks and Wilderness “Norming”

I’m a big fan of nature documentaries in general, and  BBC Nature  productions in particular, so was excited when I stumbled across this clip from the new BBC series Human Planet. The clip shows very young kids in Venezuela foraging for tarantulas to grill up for snacks. Of course, these tarantulas are among the most poisonous spiders in the world, with long fangs and stiff body hairs that cause an itchy rash when they come in contact with skin. There are no adults present during the scene, and it is clear that these kids are experienced spider hunters who know the jungle landscape like an old friend.

A lot of people I’ve shown this clip to are horrified that these kids are allowed to “run wild”, or express pity that they don’t have the levels of education and protection that kids in western society have. Very few make the connection between how capable these kids are and how they were raised to become so independant. As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s important to take away the idea that kids “norm” to what their upbringing allows them. A child who is taught how to survive in the jungle from an early age will become an expert at it. Place that same child in a city, and that confidence may disappear. At the same time, if we give our kids the freedom to explore the natural world around us, along with some instruction about the dangers of that world and how to avoid them, then they will “norm” to it, and become fluent in the language of their own environment.  If we overprotect them and don’t give them the chance to develop critical leadership and independance skills, they will “norm” to a lifestyle where they aren’t able to make important decisions for themselves. I’m not saying encourage your children to play with poisonous spiders; maybe start with something smaller, like what’s in the backyard, or a local tidepool, or on the hiking trail. Learn together what is safe, and what is not, and let the kids lead us for a while…

Click on the picture to check out the rest of Human Planet.

Categories: Ideas, Outdoor Life, School Age | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

5 ways to prepare for an outdoor baby…

On the river, only a few more weeks to go...

So much planning goes into preparing for a new child, and preparing to bring that new child into the outdoors is no exception. The following is a list of things we are doing to get ourselves ready for the biggest adventure of our lives.This has been a really helpful process for us, and I’ll be expanding on a lot of these ideas in posts that will appear over the next few months.

1. Educating ourselves

Though we both have a lot of experience with introducing older kids to the outdoors, this whole baby in the wild thing is pretty new to us. We have lots of questions about what makes sense developmentally, what the baby can physically handle, and how to ease the transition between what the baby perceives as the safe and familiar, and the aspects of wilderness travel that might be scary and upsetting to a very young child. This has helped us to develop a rough idea of when we can plan to do certain kinds of trips. Before researching, we didn’t know you couldn’t put a baby in a backpack carrier until at least 6 months, because his neck muscles aren’t yet strong enough to hold up his head. Good to know.

Though much of this will vary from child to child and will be something we learn along the way, we are trying to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible. Some of this comes from books, many of which we’ll review and present to you, some of it comes from looking for mentors or interviewing people we know who have managed to be successful in raising outdoor kids. We’ll also be beefing up our safety skills. For example, I’m planning to upgrade my Wilderness First Aid certification to a Wilderness First Responder in the next year, just to hone my emergency preparedness skills in case things go wrong somewhere along the way.

2. Researching local kid friendly trip options

Over the past few years, we’ve focused our explorations on the more wild locations around us; we’ve island hopped our kayaks along the Maine coast and up into Canada, and done a lot of longer hiking trips into the more untrammeled corners of our part of the country. Right now, we are still pretty mobile, though as my belly has grown bigger and my feet have swollen my pace more closely resembles a toddler than a through hiker. We’ve been taking advantage of this mobility to scout out local trails and parks for good kid-friendly excursion options. We’ve discovered a few new gems and now have lots of options for short day trips that we had not known about before.

3. Prepping the family

We aren’t quite sure how many of the people we know will react to our philosophy about raising our children. While many of them will likely think it’s great to expose kids to nature, we are expecting some criticism about how young we take our kids out, and how challenging we decide to make our trips. We have a short camping trip planned at about the 6 week mark, and have already had some head shaking. Critique is one thing; we have thick skins and can handle it. But we are trying to minimize concern from our family and friends by having early discussions with them about our plans, and reassuring them that we have our son’s best interests at heart. Hopefully these early discussions and reassurances will lay the groundwork for good communication that will help us bridge the differences between our own ideas and those of the people who care for us.

4. Gearing up

As I’ve mentioned, our first big baby purchase wasn’t a crib or a car seat;  it was a bigger tent. Sean is the resident gear expert, and has been busy taking inventory of our supplies and figuring out how to streamline and re-purpose what we have to suit our new style of travelling. He’s added a bug tent and a set of portage wheels for the canoe, and done some research into baby backpacks. We want to outfit our new family without breaking the bank, and he has spent a lot of time learning how to make gear, such as dry bags for paddling trips, that fits our specific needs and saves us money.

5.  Being outside as much as possible

Finally, we are trying not to lose touch with what we love most about being outdoors while in the midst of all this baby planning. Though I’ve slowed down a lot in the last few weeks, I cross-country skied all winter, took trips up into the mountains and spent as much time as I could fit into my schedule just enjoying being outside. Most recently, we paddled a quiet stretch of water and just talked about our dreams for the next few months. This work to make sure we share the same ideas will be crucial during the upcoming chaos, and we can look back at this time of preparation with fondness.

Categories: How-To, Infants, Trip Planning | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Inspiration: Finding Farley

     In 2007, filmmakers Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison, along with their 2 year old son Zev and their border collie Willow,  set out to explore the landscapes of Canada as immortalized in the writings of Farley Mowat.  To do so, they had to canoe, hike and sail over 5000 miles  from the midwestern prairies of Canmore, Alberta  to the shores of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Along the way they passed through native villages, went north across the barrens to Hudson Bay, and encountered a great variety of wildlife, including one memorable scene where they have to canoe right past a polar bear. The bugs nearly drove them insane and the deep, muddy portages practically sucked the boots off their feet, but all three pushed on to their final destination. Their two-year-old son, Zev, seemed to take the whole trip in stride, and exhibited a calmness throughout the journey that makes me think about how kids adjust to what’s “normal” in their lives. If a child grows up thinking that pulling a canoe upstream through thickets and rapids is how life happens, he won’t be upset when put in that situation. If a kid is raised in front of a television and never learns to self-amuse, he’ll likely shatter under the strain of such a journey. Since we probably aren’t going to do such a long and involved journey,we’ll have to find some sort of middle ground.  It’s this sense of living with the wild as “normal daily life” that we really want to foster in our own kids.

     Finding Farley has won awards at several major outdoor film festivals, including the top prize at the 2009 Banff Film Festival. You can watch the entire film at Heur and Allison’s website,  Neccessary Journeys.

Categories: Inspiration, Paddling, Toddlers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Everyday Wild!

North American Porcupine, Creative Commons

When I was about 5 years old, my family moved from a mid-sized city to a house in rural New Hampshire. There were neighbors in sight of us, but we lived across the street from a wide stretch of open fields, forests and ponds. Our backyard had woods which, at the time, seemed a vast, unexplored wilderness.

One of my earliest memories from that house is of my Dad coming in to my room one night and waking me up to go outside so he could show me something. I slipped my bare feet into boots that felt rough and strange without socks, and followed him out into the backyard, still wearing my nightgown under my coat. At the edge of our driveway stood a tall tree, branches silhouetted against the sky. Halfway up the tree a porcupine crouched in the crook of a branch, his bunched up form dark against the moonlit sky. He moved slowly, if at all, as we stood there and watched him for what seemed to be a very long time, until the air got too chilly and I was whisked back to bed to dream about sleeping in trees.

Thirty-two years later, that moment is still with me as I imagine the life Sean and I will create for our soon-to-be-born son. We want him to know the woods and the water, to spend weeks living in tents and paddling down rivers and coasts, and to wake up in the middle of the night and watch animals come out of of their dens and feed. We want him to problem solve his way out of tricky situations, and grow up into the kind of man who doesn’t hide inside just because it is raining, or the path seems too slippery to walk on. We want to maintain our own connections to the wild world, and see having children as a chance to increase our experiences with nature, rather than a step backwards towards a life trapped inside walls. This blog is our way of sharing both our own experiences, and the information we’ve picked up along the way. Check in with us to find helpful information, stories about our experiences, book and gear reviews and links to other families involved in this same movement. We can’t wait to hear from all the rest of you out there wandering down the same crooked trail…

To learn more about where we are coming from, check out our About page.

Categories: Our Story | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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