Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Winter Exploration January 27, 2011

Yesterday I was working out at the school just as the day was ending. The sky was gray and cold and all of the after-school activities were canceled because of the impending snow.  It was just starting to fall as the buses pulled away, and I decided to stay behind and go for an exploration of the woods behind the school building. I changed my fancy work shoes for heavy winter boots, my ruffled button up shirt for some thermal layers, and headed out into the snow.

.

.

There is a special magic in walking when it is still actively snowing. Everything is hushed and tucked in. Snow slowly covers you as you walk, camouflaging you just like the trees and underbrush. You are alone, but you see the tracks of other animals and realize just how much is going on out here when you are not there to see it.  You think about how many animals must cross this path in the summer and you just never know about it.

.

.

.

I love looking for tracks. A few years ago I helped track a woman lost in a national park, and it is was a very emotional and, truthfully, exciting experience. I was actually sent to follow those tracks because they didn’t think it was her, but wanted to look at every possibility–otherwise they would have sent someone with more (any) experience!  She had accidentally followed a wash instead of the trail, and in the desert they do look pretty similar. The amazing thing was that you could see in her footprints the moment she realized she was lost. You could just feel it, and know that she suddenly looked up and saw something was wrong. We followed her out across the open desert, where she eventually climbed onto some rocks to try to get a look at the surroundings. We had to circle the rocks carefully to see where she had stepped off again. In the end, it got too dark to safely follow her into a maze-like area of sandstone and we had to go back, but the next morning they sent a helicopter down and found her. She was fine, and did a great job staying safe though out the cold desert night. I never met her but I think I will always remember her name and feel like I know her just a little because of following her tiny footprints over the sand beneath a darkening sky.

Anyway, I highly recommend looking for animal tracks any time you are in the snow, sand, or mud. It can be a great way to learn what kind of wildlife is around even if you can’t see it.  If you live in a suburban area with snow, check the base of trees lining the sidewalk–you will often find a whole series of tracks from squirrels going up and down the tree.

I walked along one of the paths through the snow, plodding my own tracks through the deer and squirrels’. I am always amazed in the winter how an area that was once thick, dense, and lush is now transparent. I stepped off the path and walked easily across an area that was full of growth just a few months ago, and finally came out of the forest into a neighboring field.

There is something satisfying about stepping from a covered area into a wide open one, and I stood looking across the yellow corn stubble into the gray mist of the snow storm that had come down while I was walking.

.

.

I decided to head back.  On the way I found this adorable set of tracks–I knew that animals often walk across the tops of fallen logs to avoid walking through deep snow or thick underbrush, and I love the way the tracks outline this tree against the rest of the snow.

.

.

I also saw this great arch/magical doorway to nature (read more here!). I took some pictures of arches in this same forest back in May, and it is almost shocking to me to see the color difference now.

.

.

Taken in May of 2010

.

I eventually broke out of the forest and tromped back to my car. I changed out of my winter boots, shook of my hat and gloves, and started to head home.  It turned out the amount of time I spent exploring was the difference between the roads being just-a-little-snowy and treacherously-snowy. I creeped along and came upon an accident almost immediately. Thankfully, the passengers were fine, and mostly embarrassed about how many people were stopping to make sure they were okay.

I was moved by how many people did stop, putting on their flashers and jumping out into the snow to make sure no one was injured and see how they could help. You see a lot of stuff on the news about the state of the world but I believe that deep down most people do care for one another, and they will do what is needed when that time comes.

It was a long, slow drive but I eventually made it home and curled up on the couch inside my apartment. It was warm and dry, but I knew that out there somewhere in the dark forest, the animals were out and moving through their habitat, covering my boot tracks with their own.

.

 

Enter into Nature May 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — backyardsafari @ 8:58 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

My days have been very busy these past few weeks–almost every day I have been taking different classes of children outside to learn about the natural world around them. Most days have a theme, like soil, weather, or ecosystems, in order to assure the activities we do matches what the students are learning with their curriculum. It has been such a wonderful time and I am planning on writing more about it soon. This past Friday I spent the entire day standing in a creek, showing kids the caddisfly larvae and crayfish living under the rocks–what more could I ask for??

In the mean time, though, I wanted to share some more photos of archways in the woods, like I talked about in the “Doorways to Nature” post.

I found these on a recent walk exploring an area I will be taking some students later this week. I’ve noticed that the arches I see now are much bigger than those I did as a child. This makes sense of course–as I mentioned before I can’t always fit through them the way I used to!  But even though most of the arches in this post are large enough to walk through, I still contend that the very best ones are the wild ones, made of a tangle of brambles, that you have to crawl through in order to discover what is on the other side!

These will have to do for now, though, and I hope they inspire you to keep searching your local habitat for those things hiding just under the surface.

.

.

.

.

This last one is a little more like it! Doesn’t it look tempting?

Have a great week everyone! As always, please send any interesting things you find throughout your days to askbackyardsafari@gmail.com.  Maybe there are some interesting doorways in your life just waiting for you to walk through them?

 

Doorways to Nature May 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — backyardsafari @ 2:24 pm
Tags: , , , ,

In my very first post I mentioned that when I was young I used to find small archways of plants in the woods that I would crawl through, pretending they might be openings to another world. I also mentioned that I still do this sometimes, even if I can’t quite fit. I don’t always think of this when I go walking in the woods, but if I see a really nice one I just can’t resist!

On a recent walk I decided to see how many of these I could find. I ended up finding 9 during a ~40 minute hike at a local nature center. I wanted to put some of these up on this blog to show you what I mean by “archways of plants,” so I chose the 5 best to show you here:

The first one is an arch made from a sticker/briar bush reaching out into the path.  Lots of archways are made out of these thorny plants, because of the way they can bend. This makes it harder to go through them, as the thorns might catch you, but as a child this made them even more appealing–by my reasoning if there was a secret doorway in the forest, wouldn’t it be protected by something?

This archway is so perfect I almost can’t believe it occurred naturally. It was created when the tree broke and fell over. Very tempting!

Here is a very small arch made from a vine–there may have been a time when I fit through this, but those days are long gone now!

Here is an arch over a fallen log. The moss and bright green ground cover make this arch especially nice.

This 5th and final arch is my absolute favorite! The carpet of purple flowers leading up to the large arch are so beautiful, and make it very unique.

I had a really fun time looking for archways while on my walk–they can occur anywhere and in all shapes and sizes.  If you need something to get you out and exploring, picking a topic like this can be a great motivation! On your next walk, see if you can find any archways, especially if you have a young child with you.  If you see one, take a picture and send it in to askbackyardsafari@gmail.com and we’ll see how many we come up with!

The magic of the archways to me growing up was really just the magic of nature, and it is a magic that continues no matter how old you get! So get out there and try walking under some of these natural doorways–you never know what will happen!