Every other week, Everyday Wild will post a review of a book related to wilderness adventure, outdoor life or exploring the wild with children. Reviews will highlight books for both kids and adults, and will focus on finding and sharing those books that are particularly useful or inspirational to families looking to be more connected with the wild.
“If you go owling you have to be quiet and make your own heat.”
I decided to begin this series of book reviews with one of my favorite classic books for children: Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. Those of you who read my first post about watching a porcupine with my father will understand why this book resonates so strongly with me.
Jane Yolen spins a carefully crafted tale of a family rite-of-passage. The narrator , a small girl, is finally old enough to go out owling with her father. “Long past her bedtime,” she bundles up into winter clothing that hides all but her eyes, and follows her father through the deep snow and out into the woods. She understands the ephemeral nature of wild animals from the stories of her older siblings, “My brothers say sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there isn’t”. It’s a beautiful story told in the softly lyrical language that Jane Yolen is known for.
When I finish reading this story, I am left with a yearning desire to go into the woods in search of owls; I imagine most children will be too, and this makes it a perfect tie-in for a nightime walking adventure, particularly in winter. Grab a flashlight and some snowshoes, and tramp along a winter path. Be careful to take the time to be still, and perhaps you will be lucky enough to hear an owl calling to you from deep in the woods.
School In The Forest from dantv on Vimeo.
When we were looking for daycare for the Kiddo for when I go back to work in a month or so, one thing we tried to find was a center that had access to a great outdoor play area. Unfortunately, it seems that trees and walks in the woods aren’t really a key focus of daycare design. I have yet to find a center that has a playground with trees in it, let alone access to a garden. Most were clustered in shopping districts and business trade centers, surrounded by metal and cement, and with play yards carpeted with rubberized “safety” mulch. I know he will spend most of his days inside, and it breaks my heart to think of him tucked away in a stuffy room with a line of cribs and bouncers rather than taking walks outside in the fresh air and looking at the trees he loves so much. We’ll have to work overtime to make sure we get him outside in the evenings and weekends as much as possible.
I came across this video highlighting an outdoors-only preschool, and wish we had something like this in our area. Heck. I wish I had something like this when I was a kid. Cedarsong Nature School is located on Vashon Island, just off of Seattle Washington. The kids are outdoors all day, every day. They have a circle of stumps that serve as a meeting place, and create shelters out of tarps when it rains. Basically, they learn to play in the rain as well as the sun, and become intimately acquainted with the forest around them. The teachers help the kids learn to sharpen their observation skills and pay attention to the changes the ecosystem goes through over the course of the year. They play games, do art projects, tell stories, all the same things a kid does in a “regular” preschool. Except they have “handwarmer” baked potato snacks when it is cold outside. They also have a pretty long waitlist, which tells me that we need more programs like this in our country. Less rubberized safety mulch, more potato handwarmers.
Justine Curvengen has developed a number of great paddling films over the last few years, and has become well known for her series This is the Sea, a thrilling collection of sea kayaking adventure films. She recently expanded her paddling portfolio to canoes with This is Canoeing, and I bought this collection for Sean for his birthday last year. We were excited to find that one of the short films followed Canoeroots Publisher Scott MacGregor and his young son Dougie on a four day trip down the Petawawa River in Eastern Ontario, Canada. Dougie is excited to be on the water, and clearly loves paddling alongside his dad, except, perhaps when his little stuffed animal gets wet during a tricky rapid descent. Scott talks about some of the modifications he has made to his paddling style in order to bring Dougie along on these adventures, and the enthusiasm of both father and son is infectious. This film definitely got us thinking about the possibilities, and gave us some great ideas for keeping kids excitement levels high during uncomfortable conditions.
Check out the whole film collection by clicking on the picture below.
Lately, I’ve noticed the subject of kids and adventure sports has been appearing with more regularity in the magazines and websites I visit. I think this is great, and hope it signals a trend towards understanding and encouraging independence in kids and a move away from the culture of fear that has been present in America for the last few decades.
Recently, Outside Magazine got in on the game with its Father’s Day issue. In typical Outside Magazine fashion, the series tends to lean a little heavy toward what gear to buy rather than how to actually get kids on the trail, but it’s great to see more mainstream magazines encouraging folks to seek adventure with little ones, rather than championing overprotective parenting. Check out their tips and recommendations for how to become an Adventure Dad here.
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.
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.