Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Winter Feelings February 21, 2011

Just a few days ago I was sitting right in this same spot, all of the windows in the house open, letting the spring air blow in, watching the hardened ice packed along the roads melt away. Today I sit and hear the cars splatter cold slush and watch the snow nestle onto tree branches. All of the grass that peaked out on Friday is covered once again.

I would like to be a person who is continuously thrilled by the things around them, no matter what they are. I am very happy, and love nature, and can always find something good in an outing, but when a close friend recently said the name ‘February’ should be changed to “Self-Esteem-Killing Darkness Home Stretch,” I had to agree!

Many times for my job I am in and out of classrooms and teacher meetings, but sometimes, especially in the dead of winter, I work from home. There are a lot of great things about this, but it can also be lonely. Finally, in an attempt to just get over it already, I moved my desk from a dark area of our main room to the second bedroom (until now still filled with boxes from moving 7 months ago) under a window.  It has made a world of difference and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner! I feel closer to the world and out of my own head. I sit in the sunlight and can see how it changes throughout the day.

One of the things I loved most about visiting southern India was that there was always something happening. People riding by on scooters and bikes, older aunties out for walks in their saris and running shoes, people selling snacks on the beach, a movie set going up, a game of cricket with a ball made from old bike tires.

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You might think that someone who loves nature and was raised as far from crowds as possible wouldn’t like being in the middle of this, but I really enjoyed the activity and still miss it just over a year later. My husband had different views of growth and expansion than I did and it’s been a great experience to consider different opinions and evaluate where I stand. I think I have a deeper love of people now than I used to. After all, people are nature too.

I recently read this post from a blog of a couple called “Married with Luggage.”  It is about a couple who ended up selling their belongings and are currently 143 days into traveling the world for as long as their money will let them. I like the post best, though, because they do not start off as people who don’t think they need a lot of things or don’t want a house or car, etc. They got to the point they are now over a few years by thinking carefully about what they really wanted, making lists, and working towards those things.

I am working on my list now. What do I really want? This Mary Oliver quote from “The Summer Day” poem gets around a lot on nature and inspirational blogs, but I have been thinking about it recently–

“…What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

What do I want? I want to live in both worlds–quiet dark forests and bustling streets, lonely stony outcrops and crowded shops. I want to dare to be happy. I want to make and write and teach. I want to see the great natural spaces of the world and I also want to know the habits of the bird living outside my window and the leaves fallen on my sidewalk. I want to be okay with feeling the cold now because next it will be warm and then it will be hot and then it will be cold again, and each is worth experiencing if only because it is my life. This is my only life! I will not have another.

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Sunrise

…”the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.”

– Mary Oliver

 

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Fox in the Snow – Reader Submission February 2, 2011

*Edited to include more photos*

As you may have seen scrolling across the green screen maps on your local news station, the east coast of the United States has been locked in snow for the past week. The area where I live had it a little easier than some places–in the morning I planned on writing about the branches encased in ice and the snow turned hard and sharp overnight, but by afternoon could have written instead about the bright sun glinting off a thousand reflective surfaces, the ice dripping away into the gutters.

The home of today’s reader submission, however, is in an area that has been repeatedly buried in snow, resulting in school closings, treacherous roads, and power outages. Regardless, reader John G. knows that magic is around every corner, and has sent in the following pictures of winter wonder in his backyard.

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The first is this great sighting of a red fox walking along a forest path just past his backyard–he could see this from the window of his house! Red foxes are such beautiful animals, and I like that this one is getting a break from the tough travel through snow and brambles by walking on the same path as people, dogs, and horses.

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Here is a close-up of the same fox. What a wonderful animal!  Love the coloration and its small pointy face.

Next, he sent a really beautiful picture of a place in the snow where a bird must have suddenly taken flight.

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Can you see it?

I haven’t noticed any of these myself yet in my search for animal tracks in the snow, but I will definitely keep my eye out from now on! What a great find. It’s amazing how each wing tip is so distinct in the glimmering snow. I wonder if this type of print look different depending on if the bird is landing or taking off? If you are interested in more pictures like this, I would recommend just google image searching “bird wing prints in snow.” There are some really neat ones, like this and this.

Finally, he sent in these pictures of the ice-covered brambles, pine trees, and other plants near his house–a result of the most recent snow/freezing rain storm. You can see just the kind of gray low-hanging weather we are dealing with in the background in some of them. They are great photos, so I will just let them speak for themselves:

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So how is this season treating you, readers?  Are you frozen solid in snow like John G., and myself? What kind of things are you doing to stay happy? What kind of plants and animals are making themselves known in your neighborhood? For our friends in more tropical or southern hemisphere-ical (I can make up words, right?) locations, tell us something bright and warm about your day!

Many thanks to John G. for sending in his backyard wonders! I love seeing what people all around the world are finding in their backyards, so please send pictures toaskbackyardsafari@gmail.com or post them on the Backyard Safari Facebook wall to share.

As always, I’ll see you out there!

 

The Moon, The Snow, and Getting Unstuck December 21, 2010

It is 1:51 am, do you know where your nature blogger is?

Well I will tell you. I am sitting in my apartment, in my pajamas, awake and periodically checking on the moon, which is transforming slowly in a solstice lunar eclipse. I am waiting for the unbelievable moment when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned in Space, and the moon is surrounded by a glowing red “sunset” of light refracted through Earth’s atmosphere.

I haven’t posted in too long–truthfully I have been having a hard time coming up with the right things to say. I started a few posts, but my sentences were all jumbled and my metaphors too complicated. I knew what I felt but couldn’t quite make the transition into words. I wanted to write about pine trees and the idea of Work. I wanted to draw beautiful scenes in my paper journal. I wanted to go walking in crisp winter air, feel the snow kiss my cheeks. But here I am instead, my apartment in the middle of the night, feeling sleepy at all the wrong times.

The view out my window is a bit lonely–it doesn’t translate well in my iphone camera.

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But really right now it looks beautiful to me. The snow is gently, silently falling, covering the ground in this unifying blanket of white. The grass, the roads, the sidewalks are all blended together into one unbroken landscape. It feels like I am the only one here, but I know that in fact there are many people around the world, huddled under blankets and rubbing bleary eyes with me, waiting to see the shadow of the earth cross the moon.  In the mean time, I have made some hot chocolate for company.

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And yes, it has mini-marshmallows AND whipped cream.

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Just checked outside again, slippers on my feet and a blanket tucked around my shoulders. The moon is a half crescent gleaming in the sky. According to NASA, the last time there was a total lunar eclipse on the solstice was December 21st, 1638.  I wonder what the people looking up that night thought? A sign from God(s)? The end of the world? An omen? Just a beautiful sight? Who was more mesmerized–them, struggling to grasp how such a thing could be, or me, knowing what it takes to make it happen?

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2:14 am. The moon is just a fuzzy sliver of light, but the clouds are thick and rolling, obscuring it after just a few seconds. They seem to be on the move so I am hoping to have at least a few moments of visibility when the show really starts at ~2:41.

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2.23 am. Someone just came out of their apartment and walked outside. Perhaps I am not the only one waiting for the eclipse?

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2:25 am. Hmmm.. only thick clouds as far as I can see. Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Starting to get sleepy.

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3:17 am

For a long time the sky seemed intent on holding onto its covering of clouds. I stood out on my balcony for a long time, my neck craned up searching for an opening, but none came. I was afraid to look down or go inside, sure that during that brief moment a window would open and I would miss it.

I did happen to meet some neighbors–they had just gotten home from the bars and wanted to take a look before going inside. I love moments like these, seeing people’s curiosity about nature in the unlikeliest of places. We need to fuel the partying sophomore’s love of nature as much as anyone else’s.

Finally I decided to embrace this experience for all it was worth, moon or no. I put on some socks and my winter jacket, gathered up a blanket and my beach chair and set myself up in the front yard.

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Note: For the record, I didn’t actually sit under this light, I just needed it to take the picture.

I arranged myself in the lawn and leaned back, breathing in the cold air. Snowflakes fluttered down around me as I watched the thick mass of clouds hover in the sky. I decided that I would not get a chance to see the moon, but I did get to see a few stars glimmering brightly through slips in the clouds. I did watch the tree branches dance with the wind. I did inhale the night and the wonder of  Outside. And suddenly, as with so many things in life, the moon appeared right where I least expected it. I had been looking close to the spot I had last seen it around 2:15, but there it was, lower down, balancing right above the tree branches. The sighting was brief, but look! A large parting in the clouds. I sat silent, perfectly still like a hunter waiting for its prey to approach. The space came closer and closer to where I had last glimpsed the moon.. closer.. only to change shape and veer up at the last minute. Perhaps that brief moment of clarity was all I would get. The cold was seeping into my toes, swirling across my back where my shirt had ridden up.

And then, at long last, a strong wind blows the clouds, scattering them, making its way through them like a river through stone. The clouds push across the sky, and eureka!

The glowing red orb lit by a thousand refracted sunrises. The round, pregnant sphere improbably lined up in space with our turning Earth and the life-giving sun. The moon!, which has hung in the sky and pulled at the tides over all the people who have ever lived.

It was beautiful, the way everything else I saw was beautiful. I had been stuck, unable to find the words, unwilling to venture out into the cold, but tonight changes that. I went out, I sat in the snow in the middle of the night–just me, the trees, the fluttering white flakes, the clouds, and the moon. I searched for it and I found it. But I also found the reminder that everything else is worth seeing and experiencing as well. That red candy moon is just the cherry on top of the great boundless dessert of the earth, the night, the stars, the wind, the cold, and last but not least, of getting my voice back.

 

 

Backyard Tree Changes November 6, 2010

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The brilliant colors and swirling leaves of Fall are starting to fade now as the trees become bare and Nature’s works of art are raked into quiet piles along my street.

The tree I studied for my submission to the Backyard Transition Challenge is now empty of leaves, and I have compiled all of the pictures together into a short video showing how the colors changed throughout the season.  I took pictures of this same tree every 1 – 3 days from August 2nd until November 3rd. Over these 93 days I watched as my tree began to turn red, first in small blushes on the ends of a few branches, and finally blooming across the entire tree in a grand finale of sorts, as all of the leaves fell off just a few days later.

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(Note: I recommend making this video “full screen” so you can see the pictures clearly. You can do this by pushing the button with 4 arrows in the far right of the YouTube screen)

The video goes through the pictures once quickly, and once more slowly so that the smaller changes are visible.

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I did some research and learned that the red color in the leaves comes from a chemical called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is a pigment that acts as a sunscreen of sorts for the leaves, and as the production of green chlorophyl slows in the leaf in Autumn, this pigment (and the pigments that make yellow and orange colors) becomes visible. Not all leaves have anthocyanin, and some scientists think they might help trees hold on to their leaves longer by reducing the freezing point of the leaf.

I noticed a few different patterns while watching this tree.  First, the north facing side of the tree, which I didn’t take a picture of, turned red long before the south-facing side (the side I photographed). In this hemisphere south-facing slopes tend to get more sun, so I wondered if maybe the south-facing side changed slower because it had more access to the sun than the other side of the tree. I looked around at other trees to see if this was a trend, but I couldn’t really find one so my hypothesis is untested for now and it could have just been a coincidence. Have any of my delightful readers ever heard of one side of a tree changing faster than the other before?

I also noticed that a few branches started to turn red first. Before starting this project I wondered what the order was–did all of the leaves start to change at the same time, or did one branch at a time, or did leaves change from the inside of the tree out, etc.  It seems that at least for this tree it did in fact start in different branches.

Finally, I also realized that the reason why I often felt like trees were green one moment and in full color the next is because it’s kind of true! The tree had only small amounts of color for a long time before finally exploding into its full red. Not only that, but all of the leaves were gone from the tree just a few days after it turned its brightest colors.

The series of pictures below shows how the tree looked over time:

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08/02/10

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09/07/10

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10/07/10

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(10/26/10)

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10/27/10

The day after the above image!

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Of course the transitions my tree experienced won’t be the same as the ones other trees are going through! Different tree species probably change at different rates, some may hold on to their leaves longer, and of course the colors will be different. Even so, it was really interesting to track the changes going on in my backyard and see what I could learn from them. Taking notice of this one tree enhanced my view of other Autumn changes, and I was much more aware of them than I have been in the past. I already have plans for next year–I’d like to take a zoomed in picture of the same leaf every day, to see how the color spreads within it. I would also like to take pictures of multiple tree species to see how they are different. Finally, I might just keep taking pictures of this tree to see what it looks like when it snows, and when the leaves start to grow back again in the spring.

What kind of changes are going on in your backyard? Did the trees around you change color? Do they still have their leaves? Are some changing faster than others? Take a quick look around and see what you can find. I promise it will enrich your life for the better!

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11/03/10

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If you documented any changes as part of our Backyard Transition Challenge, or have any thoughts or questions, I would love to hear from you! I can be reached by e-mail at askbackyardsafari@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading–I hope we can all be active participants in the natural world around us and take notice of the many wonders growing and changing all over Planet Earth!

 

Fun Fall Colors October 26, 2010

I have a lot of big blog post plans coming up that I hope to share with you soon, but in the meantime I wanted to take a moment to share some of the wonderful fall colors I have been seeing near my backyard.

Lately it seems like everywhere I go I am struck by the unbelievable colors swirling around me–vivid reds, greens fading into yellows, bright oranges, and sometimes all at once! Anytime I go for a drive I just want to pull over and take pictures of what I see to share with you. I am drinking it all in, and decided that at least a stop at a local farmer’s pumpkin stand was begging to be documented! So here, for your fall viewing enjoyment, are just a few of the colors and textures I saw there. I hope you will all take a few moments to see the changes going on around you and appreciate the beauty in the natural world!

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I admit to not always loving the cold in the winter or a soaking rain, but I also know that there are beautiful things to find in those places if I look for them. Writing this blog has really helped me slow down and take notice, and I am interested to see what my attention will focus on this winter.

Sometimes people feel silly saying out loud that something is beautiful, or for wanting to kick leaves around, or splash in a puddle. These are considered “kid things,” and once you become an adult you are supposed to be serious, keep your head down, and just get through the day. One of the biggest things I hope to accomplish with this blog is to give everyone permission to shrug off these rules and follow where their interests lead. Think that bug looks funny? Linger just a moment longer to see what it does! Feel the urge to have the wind in your hair? Stand outside after checking the mail and let the leaves swirl by. Think the colors around you are brilliant and beautiful? Take pictures of them even if people look at you funny and make a slide show to share!

There is so much to see and do–as always, I’ll see you out there!

 

Fall Changes in your Backyard October 8, 2010

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All across the eastern United States trees are exploding into a collage of color–red, yellow, orange, sometimes all on the same leaf! The daily commute to work, to the bank, to the grocery store has become an expedition seeped in color and change. Wasn’t that oak tree green just yesterday? When did the air start filling up with all of these blushing leaves?

When I was younger my brother and I used to run around the backyard trying to catch leaves as they fluttered down in their erratic descent to the earth. I still remember the feeling of looking up at those trees–so tall, towering high above me, swaying with some kind of ancient rhythm, sending their leaves down upon us in a shower of treasure. Seeing the leaves change color and start to fall still fills me with excitement all these years later (and if a leaf happens to flutter near my while I am walking, I would be a fool not to try to catch it, right??). This excitement and wonder is something I hope to pass on to the kids I work with in the schools.

The way leaves change is an amazing process and, like all things in nature, one that we should understand and appreciate! I was recently asked by a 3rd grade teacher to come up with an activity that helped explain fall transitions and I have since done it with a variety of elementary school ages.

I am going to explain the way I do this activity with kids, but I hope you will read on even if you do not have any just to learn more about why leaves change color and fall every year! Also if you are working with kids, keep in mind that you might have to make this more or less complicated depending on your age group!

I recommend starting this activity–and your own learning process!–by giving kids a few minutes to search through the leaves and find one that they really like. I then have them come up with one thing they find beautiful about their leaf, and one question they have about it. I learned pretty quickly that just starting out with a complicated explanation of the process does NOT capture kids’ hearts and imaginations. Anyone can learn facts, but the most important thing you can give someone is a Love of nature, a Passion for it, and a Curiosity about what makes it work. If people have the Passion, learning naturally follows. The idea of having them examine the leaf first is that eventually they will start to ask questions about what made it the way it is, and will want to know what I am about to tell them, rather than me just telling them they should.

It is difficult to explain why the leaves change without first explaining the very basics of photosynthesis. I like to do this using a small whiteboard I can carry around outside–I started using this a little over a year ago and now always take it with me–most kids find it helpful to have a quick picture drawn to explain concepts and I like having that option no matter where I am.  First, I draw a tree with one big leaf, explaining that what I draw for that leaf represents what happens to all the leaves on the tree.

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Next I ask kids how we, humans, get energy–by eating food! Do trees have mouths to eat food? They do not, so they have to make their own energy.  I explain that they use the sun for energy, and also water, drawing as I go. I show that water can come from the roots of the tree, and also can move in and out of a leaf.

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I explain that the part that makes the leaves green (chlorophyll) uses sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugars (glucose). The tree can then use these sugars as food! To help them understand this (and tie into the game we do next) I colored a clothes pin green and glued a magnet on the back so it sticks to my board. I put it in the center of the leaf, explaining that it represents the chlorophyll.

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I then show the sunlight coming from the sun as a yellow strip of paper, which I clip in the clothes pin.

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Next, I show a blue strip of paper coming from the trunk of the tree into the leaf to represent water and also clip it in the clothes pin.

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I explain that the chlorophyll has turned this little “packet” of sunlight and water into energy, which can move back into the tree for it to use as food.

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Now comes the really exciting part of how trees lose their leaves!  If you google search “why do trees lose their leaves?” you almost always get the answer “because there is less sunlight for photosynthesis.” Over and over again this answer is given. This is true, but it is only part of the truth. Ask yourself, if it is just the sunlight changing, why don’t evergreen trees lose their leaves too?

The change in sunlight helps trees know that it is time to lose their leaves. It is a signal to them that the seasons are changing and soon it will be winter. This is the same signal that is used by birds to know to migrate and mammals to know to hibernate! How cool is that??? In most cases, it isn’t even the sunlight that tells organisms things are changing but actually the amount of darkness in between, or how long the nights are. I find it truly remarkable that so many different organisms with very different ways of living all use the same cues to know winter is coming.

So why do trees lose their leaves? Well, we already talked about how there is water moving in and out of a leaf. What would happen to the leaf when all of the water in it froze during the winter? It would be destroyed! The tiny ice crystals would puncture through the membranes and cell walls. So, instead of wasting all of its nutrients and water on a leaf that will be destroyed in cold weather, the tree starts to remove everything useful from the leaf. This means the chlorophyll also goes away, and once the green color is gone you can see all of the yellow and orange colors that were always there in the leaf, but hidden beneath the green! After most of the nutrients are removed, the tree builds a layer of cells between the branch and the leaf called the “separation layer,” which once complete causes the leaf to fall off.

Evergreen needles (which are leaves, by the way, they just look different!) have a smaller surface area and are also protected by a waxy coating, so they don’t have to worry about water in the needle freezing the way deciduous trees do.

When I was trying to come up with a hands-on activity to go along with this rather complicated explanation, I saw mention of a “photosynthesis tag game.” This is a pretty cool game you can read more about here, but I wanted to make sure kids understood that it wasn’t just the change in light that affected the leaves. I made up a new game where the class was divided into 3 groups. One group all got green clothespins, like I used on the white board. They were leaves, and the green clothes pin was their chlorophyll. One group got the yellow strips of paper, and were sunlight, and the last group got blue strips of paper and were the water moving through the tree into the leaves. I explained that each time I said “go” represented one day, and in that time each “leaf'” had to get a piece of blue paper and a piece of yellow paper from the other students and clip them in their green clothes pin. This meant that together they had made one piece of energy for the tree to lose. After each round it would have it be nighttime and collect all of the clothespins into a pile. To represent the beginning of fall, I had students tear their pieces of paper in half, showing that there was less sunlight and the trees were providing less water to the leaves. Eventually, students were only clipping tiny pieces of paper in their clothespins and then I had them all fall down to represent the leaves falling. We gathered back together to examine our pile of clothespins with paper strips, and I explained that now that these leaves were gone, the tree could use this stored energy all winter long, the same way a bear uses the fat from the food it ate in the summer while it is hibernating.

Note: the next time I do this activity I will use pipe cleaners instead of strips of paper–the pieces blow around a bit too much so it is hard for kids to hold on to them, and once they are ripped up you can’t use them again. Instead I will have kids fold their pipe cleaners in half, so I can just unfold them later to use again.

The story of why some leaves change color and fall and why others don’t is a fascinating one, and one that I hope we can all learn and share! I did not understand this process very well myself until I was creating this activity, and it really increased my enjoyment of the fall leaves around me! What a difference it makes to look out at a hillside blooming with color and understand how the trees “know” to make this change and why it is happening. How interesting to realize that those trees standing bare in the winter are just like the hibernating mammals curled up tight with their tails covering their noses! How unbelievable to know the geese honking overhead are feeling the same drive to fly south that a tree does to lose its leaves.

In short–what an amazing world we live in! Soon it will be winter here and we will be covered in snow, but for now a cacophony of pigments, chemicals, and changes are swirling around you, just waiting for you to stop and ask the question, “Why?”

 

Backyard Festivals September 7, 2010

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What is better than a community coming together?

I’ve been to a few festivals in the past, mainly in cities where they sometimes pop up unannounced, but this was my first time volunteering for one.  This festival was put on by the organization I work for, with the goal of raising money for the environmental education program. The amount of work the volunteers put in for this cause is staggering, and I’m so grateful for it!

Festivals are a great way to get outside and see something new without having to travel too far. At this one I was able to spend the entire day outside interacting with local children and getting their hands dirty. There were also plastic duck races in a nearby stream, animals to meet, workshops about using cold frames, growing your own food, and identifying wild herbs, and lots of great local food.

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All of these tents are put up early in the morning by a slew of volunteers–the one on the far left had local musicians playing throughout the day.

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This station was run by a family who lives in mountainous (by East Coast standards) Pennsylvania, almost completely off the grid. They have a variety of animals, and brought many of them down to the festival, which were a big hit! The man in the overalls also built a compost-able sawdust toilet complete with hand-washing station just for the event, which he carried to and from his property.

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I ran the kids’ activity station. I came up with three options to choose from: nature journals, butterfly magnets, or a scavenger hunt with a prize. Kids could choose to do any or all of them, and some made multiples of each craft.

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The nature journals were a big hit, which I should’ve known because they were the messiest! I wanted to do this craft because, as you probably know by now, I am a big believer in nature journaling! For this craft I cut up old manilla folders for the covers and then 10 pieces of white paper for the inside. I punched holes in the top and tied them together with string. Kids were then able to decorate the cover or the pages using paint and natural materials. As one co-volunteer pointed out, it was fun to watch the kids realize that there were no paintbrushes, and then decide what to do next. I brought some natural materials with me that I found outside my house, like leaves, acorns, acorn caps, walnuts, feathers, and stones, and the kids experimented to see what kinds of shapes they could make with each. Some of them also glued the leaves to the cover itself. It was a lot of fun!

I really enjoyed seeing what the kids came up with, including many things I had never thought of when I planned the activity. I highly recommend this as an activity to do with kids, and as one you could do in a variety of settings. They tried using the different parts of feathers, dipping a stone into three different colors of paint at a time to make interesting blends, rolling a walnut around the paper, and so on. Some of them even went searching around the tent for their own materials.

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Here are some of the materials we used.

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Next, they had the option of making butterfly magnets. I was mainly working with younger kids so for this activity I cut wing shapes ahead of time and then let them decorate them. They also decorated a clothespin and glued it on to the wings to act as the butterfly’s body. A pipe cleaner around the clothespin for antennae, a sticky magnet to the back, and viola!–you have a colorful refrigerator magnet that you can clip important papers in. This was a fun activity but there a few things I would do differently next year. For one, I would like to find more reused materials, instead of going through so much construction paper. One idea I thought of too late was to cut the wings out of old seed catalogs or other magazines people were going to throw away. I also would like to have some pictures of butterflies changing from caterpillars next year, so it is a bit more educational.

One important thing I have learned from working with kids is to always be flexible with what you want them to do! Some of them have their own ideas and I would always rather them be creative and explore their options then make them stick to my original plan. For example, one girl really wanted to make a flower instead of a butterfly. She knew what she wanted and had come up with the idea herself, so I quickly cut a flower shape out of extra paper and she colored that in instead. I poked one of  the extra pipe cleaners through it as a stem and not only did she walk away happy but I got a great idea for a future craft!

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The last activity choice the kids had was to go on a scavenger hunt. Usually when I do scavenger hunts with kids I list items for them to find in nature, like a yellow flower, or a mushroom, or something red. This time, however, I made it more community based and interactive. Kids (and adults!) had to accomplish tasks like: Meet an organic farmer, Meet someone who composts, Find a piece of trash and throw it away, Name 3 signs an animal might leave behind, and Meet someone who eats food they grow themselves.

People picked up a sheet with ten of these tasks to complete, a pencil, and went off. This activity attracted a wider range of ages, which included a few adults and some teenage groups–some of whom made it into a competition! The prizes for completing the scavenger hunt were these animal totem stones:

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I had seen these stones a lot as a kid in American Southwest gift shops. There are many areas with petroglyphs out there, and people make these stones into magnets or sell them in baskets next to the cash registers. A recent post by Marghanita Hughes of The Little Humbugs reminded me of them, and I decided to make them for the scavenger hunt! I especially wanted to do this kind of prize instead of giving out some plastic doodad that would end up in a junk drawer, the trash, or worse, swirling around the ocean somewhere.

To make these animal stones I simply looked up some pictures of ancient petroglyphs for inspiration and then drew on the stones with a sharpie. I also drew footprints of local animals–a wonderful idea from a fellow volunteer.

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I tried to keep track of what type of drawing people liked best. It seems that adults tend to like the footprints while kids like the animals, and everyone likes the swirly turtles!

In the end, it was a wonderful day. One of my favorite things about this festival was the way it used everyones’ strengths to make something magical happen. It was really a convergence and showcase of all of the different skills in the area.

As I mentioned, it was my first time being part of something like this, but I will definitely do it again in the future! It was a great chance to get outside, eat delicious food, and connect people to their local environment. What more could you ask for than that?

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