I love coming across stories that show teens being resourceful and inventive. This video showcases a group of teens who started a “bike to school” movement in their town. The kids in their club get up extra early and meet to bike to school together for both safety and educational reasons. While it isn’t particularly “wild”, it’s kids getting outside and pushing themselves to think about the environment and the world beyond their bedroom and classroom walls. Awesome.
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.
The footage above is from an 2009, when Jaistemay Marquez, 17, became the youngest kayaker to run El Toro, a 25m waterfall in Mexico. For the most part, I think this falls into the category of, “Don’t try this at home, kids.” However, I intend to share this footage with my high school students because I think it is so important for them to know about teens who are out there performing at elite levels. Often it opens a discussion about what it takes to do a drop like El Toro without getting dead, or hike that tall mountain, or sail that boat solo around the world. I hear them say,”I could never do something like that.” To which I ask,”Why not?”
These kinds of extreme examples start conversations that sometimes end with the student coming back to me with a story about a kayaking lesson, or a trip to the local climbing gym. A few years ago, I took 26 11th graders on a camping trip; for many, it was their first time sleeping outside. At the end of the weekend, they were planning larger hikes and trips for the future. I hope one of them will climb Denali, or Everest someday, and think back to her first campout in a small clearing in the White Mountains. So I’ll rephrase my disclaimer to, “Don’t try THAT at home, but try something like it. Take a first step, kids.”
A few weeks ago, tropical storm Irene blasted its way through New England. Part of its path directly crossed some of our favorite wilderness areas around the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, and a number of roads were closed for a few weeks while crews repaired washouts from the storm. People were getting concerned, since we are approaching leaf-peeping season and the state desperately needs the tourism activity to maintain livelihoods. Over the past few days these roads have re-opened, and we took a little jaunt north to see how things were looking along the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We are planning to do a little backpacking trip with the kid in this area in the next few weeks, so were anxious to see what trailheads are re-opened, and if our planned campsite has washed away.
While the roads seem to be repaired and back to normal, a few areas are lower on the repair lists, including this path along the Swift river. We discovered that a number of key bridges have washed out on the trails we were originally planning to trek along, so we are going back to research mode and looking for another spot to head out to next week. For the backpacking trip we need a trail that will bring us a few miles in, provide access to water and tentspace, and be an easy enough hike that we can do it with a baby in a carrier (me) and an overloaded pack (Sean). More on that later…
You may have heard of Jordon Romero-he’s the (then) 13 year old boy who summited Everest last May. He has a goal of summiting the highest mountains on each continent. So far, he’s racked up an impressive list of ascents in addition to Everest: Kilimanjaro at age 9, Elbrus and Aconcagua at 10, and Denali at 11. Now only one summit remains: Vinson Massif on Antarctica. He has faced criticism, most of which revolves around the idea that he is too young to attempt climbs at such altitudes, mainly because there is little research about the effects exposure to extreme altitudes has on children. I initially disapproved of it because I wondered if he was being pushed too hard by his parents, and was possibly in danger of being exploited by them. However, looking at his enthusiasm, it seems that he has grown to want this achievement very badly, and is the one pushing for the adventure to continue. I wish him luck.
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.
Today’s edition of Adventure Journal contained a short article by British adventurer Alasdair Humphreys about the importance of finding opportunities for small adventures, even if you don’t have the time or money to go far from home or stage a large-scale expedition. According to Humphreys, “Adventure is only a state of mind. Adventure is stretching yourself; mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you don’t normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability. And if that’s true then adventure is all around us, at all times. Even during hard financial times such as these. Times, I believe, when getting away from it all and out into the wild are more invigorating and important than ever.”
I’m finding this to be so very important, especially when I’m at a time where I can’t really go off on long treks or paddles, or any outing that can’t accommodate a tiny baby.Trips to the local parks become adventures. So do macroexplorations in the backyard, and dramatic encounters with smaller local wildlife. We are exploring new neighborhoods and trails, and beginning to know our local territory much more intimately, something we had not done before because we were off pursuing the larger goal. I know that the time will come soon when I can return to the wilds more easily, but sometimes, like tonight, I feel a little itchy for the great unknown. It’s nice to read a piece from someone else who values the small worlds that deserve exploration, and reminds me how much I still have to learn about that which was near me all along.
You can read the rest of Humphreys article here.
I met Jane Goodall once. I was an eager student of anthropology and had been devouring every book on primates and paleoanthropology I could find, including all of Goodall’s work. Miraculously, she came to speak at my college, and I planned to skip out of my favorite class to hear her presentation. In the week leading up to her appearance, I busily wrote out all the questions I wanted to ask her, just in case there was a chance to talk one on one. I tried to come up with complex questions, not ones that just anyone off the street would ask, oh no; these would be questions that showed I not only read her books but could offer deep insight into her findings. I was certain it would lead to a lively and stimulating exchange of ideas, and that this would be one of the better networking moments of my anthropological career.
When the presentation ended, I hurried to the back of the auditorium to line up for her book signing. Along with every other person there. The line wrapped around the room, and it became clear to me that I was going to have about 30 seconds to impress Dr. Goodall. I was doomed. My hands got clammy and started to shake. As my turn approached, all rational thought deserted my brain. I reached out with my sticky hand, and barely managed to choke out a strangled, “I liked your book,” before receiving a cursory thank you and being guided away by the handlers. I had choked.
All of this has little to do with today’s post except to emphasize my long-standing science crush on Jane Goodall.
In 1967, Jane Goodall brought her months-old son into the field with her at Gombe in Tanzania. Her careful observation of the reserve’s chimpanzees had shown her that they hunted, and often killed the young of other primates in the area, and she was concerned about the safety of her young son. In order to protect him from both the chimps and the many other wild animals in the area, she built him a cage. Both she and her son slept in it at night, and though it was painted a cheery blue and decorated with birds and stars, she received heavy criticism from a number of people about her child rearing methods. But she always maintained that “Grub”, as she nicknamed him, had led an extraordinary childhood. She took her parenting cues from the chimpanzees she studied, and noticed that, “chimp mothers… that were affectionate and tolerant raised babies that had good adult relationships and were successful community members”(Quote from Jane Goodall by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallan). She took six years away from direct fieldwork to raise him, and he accompanied her in her research travels around the countryside.
Grub grew up running around the forests and plains of Africa, and in the process learned firsthand the value of the wild creatures surrounding him even when they were a direct danger to his family. Goodall has since formed the Jane Goodall Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting humanitarian, environmental and animal protection efforts around the globe. As part of the institute’s efforts to reach out to youth, Goodall formed a program to help children become actively involved in influencing the world around them. Roots and Shoots encourages youth-led campaigns to effect positive change in the three focus areas of the institute, and helps kids identify how they can make a difference. Anyone can form a Roots and Shoots group, and there are thousands of children now working on service projects related to the program. For folks looking to not only get their kids out into the woods but also teach them to preserve those things they love, this program seems like a great way to get started. You can search for local groups, or learn how to start your own here.
Video: Freya on a flooded trail in the White Mountains National Forest
This whole baby thing has been a rough transition for our dog. She loves nothing more than the opportunity to roll in smelly mud, but she hasn’t been able to do that as often as usual. I’ve been hiking with the baby a lot of mornings, but I haven’t been bringing the dog with me because she’s not real good on a leash, and it’s a lot for me to handle while I’m getting myself back in shape. It was especially tricky in the first few weeks when I was afraid the dog would pull me sideways and re-injure my stomach muscles. So she watches me pack up the baby and head out the door, and I hear soft whimpering as I go down the stairs. It’s awful.
Fortunately, we can take her when there are two of us, so she gets a few exciting adventures a week. I know that the moment the first cheerio hits the floor she and the baby will be best friends, but right now she isn’t real thrilled about the newest member of the pack.
This video is from happier days.
Perhaps I should have been suspicious when I saw that there was a prime spot still available at the park so late in the day. It had everything we were looking for: an oceanfront setting, a big shade tree, and a barbecue grill. I pushed a stroller full of picnic supplies over to the table, plopped down in my folding camp chair to nurse the Kiddo, and waited for Sean and our friends to arrive.
A few minutes after I got there, I discovered that the site had something we weren’t looking for: a resident groundhog. He (or she?) popped out of the large boulders that marked the beginning of the rocky shore, and gave me a steely glare. And then charged straight at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but some concentrated googling later that evening informed me that groundhogs are actually very aggressive creatures who will fight to the death to protect their young or their homes. There was no clear reason for this one to find me threatening, unless he just didn’t like babies, but he very quickly violated what I consider my safe wildlife proximity zone. I figured if I had to I could probably manage to jump on top of the picnic table, even while nursing, or perhaps scoopkick him back over the rock wall. I too am a fierce creature when defending my young.
Fortunately, it didn’t get that far. I managed to turn him around by vigorously waving a cloth diaper in his direction, and he scurried back to the wall, where he proceeded to munch on some deadly nightshade. It was an uneasy truce for a while, but he finally moved off down the park when the rest of my group arrived.
It sounds funny, to talk about being threatened by something that appears as harmless as a groundhog. People have all seen footage of Punxsutawney Phil being lifted out of his burrow to make friendly predictions about the weather, and assume groundhogs are cuddly little creatures. Though they can be “tamed”, it takes a lot of work to do so, and they are wild creatures with powerful claws for digging burrows and teeth sharpened by gnawing on vegetation. Not something I want to tussle with. I tried to imagine the life of this particular groundhog. He had to endure harsh weather along the seashore. His burrow likely flooded during the recent storms, and I wonder where he went during the storm, if he had to huddle in the woods at the edge of the park waiting for the waters to recede. In the winter he hibernates, but the soil on the coast must be rocky and hard to dig. A few moments after he left our site, some kids from another table started to harass him. They threw watermelon rinds at him, and dared one another to try and get closer; they laughed and screamed each time he charged them, oblivious to how deadly serious the creature was taking their “game”. I imagined day after day of this. No wonder he tried to scare me away.
We barbecued quietly and enjoyed a great evening of fine conversation as the sun slipped down behind the trees. After a few hours we left the groundhog in peace to reclaim his territory.