The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Learning about the Natural World

Please Don’t Screech!

Please tell me I’m not the only one! Please reassure me that you, too, let out a yelp or a screech when you are startled by something out in the woods. I’ve done this forever, even when a moment later I KNOW there is actually nothing to be afraid of. But, when I’m leading other folks on walks to more deeply connect with Nature, I’m going to have to change this pattern of screech-first-think-later. Let me explain…

As a guide, I am learning to use language very carefully. It is important to let our guests know about possible challenges without causing fear. As part of our standard practice, in our introduction to the guided Forest Therapy Walk, we talk about “awarenesses” rather than “hazards.” A great majority of the time, simply being aware of our surroundings and of how to avoid problems is all we need to stay safe.

photo by Anabell O'Neill

However, they didn’t talk to us about controlling the involuntary screech when startled. I wonder why this didn’t come up in our training classes? After all, I suspect this reaction might scare the walk participants far more than using the wrong words in my introduction! (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this?!)

Here are a few examples. I’m not sure I will believe you if you tell me you have never let out a screech (or at least a little whimper) when you unexpectedly face critters like these:

We used to live on a farm. Most evenings I walked out to the barn before bed, making sure the sheep and chickens were safely settled until morning. Some dark, moonless nights I would open the door and almost drop my flashlight when a glowing-eyed, pointy-nosed “demon” was sitting on top of the feed bin, hissing at me like a crazy thing. I always let out a loud, high-pitched “SCREECH!” followed by a muttered “Stupid possum!” And that furry creature sauntered away, snickering at winning round number 372 in the scare-the-critter game… (Photo taken by a friend when a possum was on their roof. I wonder what game it was playing?!)

photo by Susan Heino

Daughter Andowen and I take weeks long backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. All hikers need to be very aware of black bears. (Read a story HERE about the trials of hanging food bags to keep our supplies away from bears at night.) We tend to talk or sing while we walk, so we rarely see bears during the day. (They prefer to avoid humans, if possible.) Last fall, however, daughter was standing silently under a large tree, waiting for me to catch up. She heard the noise of a hiker coming up the trail, then was started by twigs, leaves and a young bear falling out of the tree, landing right at her feet! She let out a “SCREECH!” and the bear took off running into the woods. She wasn’t sure who was more startled, her or the bear!

please don't screech and scare the bear!

When we are backpacking, the first one hiking down the trail has the pleasure of seeing scenery with no other humans in view. However, they also have the “joy” of clearing the spider webs that were built across the trail during the night. On beautiful crisp, cool, fall days, that front person sometimes finds a snake, warming itself in the sun. It really isn’t a problem when the reptile is just sitting there. It is easy to see what type of snake it is and what type of response is needed. (Often, if it is sunning itself on the trail, just banging trekking poles together will cause the snake to mosey on its way.) But sometimes, as the first hiker is walking along quietly, mind wandering, there is a rustling in the leaves beside the trail, and a long black slithery-snake darts across, almost under one’s feet. After a loud “SCREECH!” the hiker laughs, knowing the snake was harmless. (We actually like the non-poisonous snakes which keep the mouse population under control at shelters.) It still takes awhile for the heart to start pounding though!

actually black rat snakes are harmless

Most of the time when we sleep in the open fronted shelters along the Appalachian Trail, we are happy to see spiders sitting in webs high in the rafters. This usually means there are fewer pesky bugs to bother us. But one rainy night, there were tiny glowing eyes every direction we looked. Our headlamps highlighted what felt like a million spiders who had us surrounded. We could ignore the critters keeping to their own private corners, but when one walked toward us and couldn’t be scared away, the other hikers and I convinced my terrified-of-spiders daughter to kill the intruder. She shuddered, flinched, and let out a few yelps of fear. (Okay, so it wasn’t full-fledged SCREECHES! But I’m still counting it as a similar reaction.) She unsuccessfully tried to swing at the spider several times. Finally, she gathered courage, yelled “For GONDOR!” and flipped the spider with her shoe. Lord of the Rings to the rescue yet again!

sorry, I have to screech!

Fortunately, the most common hazard (ahem, “awareness”) along the woodland trails in Ohio is poison ivy. I am confident I can help participants become more aware of this plant—both how it is high energy food for deer and other animals and how to avoid touching it as humans. Whew! No worries about inadvertent screams when I unexpectedly see this plant!

biggest hiking hazard

So what’s the point of these stories (beyond entertaining you)? I’m reminding myself that I need to curb my instinctive tendencies to SCREECH! I’m working to finish my certification as a Forest Therapy Guide and it is apparently not professional to scare your walk participants. Wish me luck!

(Wondering about our encounters with wild animals while backpacking? You can read a summary of the real hazards of hiking HERE. You can see photos and descriptions of critters we see HERE and HERE.)

8 Discoveries in a Children’s Garden

When your kids are bored by the local park and you don’t have energy to take them to wilderness areas, look for a Children’s Garden. We discovered a delightful garden play-area hidden in a corner of our small town. (Don’t know where to find such a place? Check HERE for a list of botanical gardens around the world. Many of them have an area especially designed for children.)

Spending time at a Children’s Garden is not just all about fun. (…although that’s obviously an excellent motive to get out the door with a bunch of kids!) Spending regular time outdoors is also important for our children’s development. There is growing clamor from “experts” who remind us that children need connections with nature to thrive. According to Andy McGeeney, allowing our children to explore outdoor areas in a free, unstructured way “enhances children’s social relationships, confidence in risk taking and exploration, as well as connections to nature.”

“Reports concluded that being in nature was important to childhood, as much as a healthy diet and exercise.” (Gill—London Sustainable Development Commission)

Here are 8 things to look for on your next outing to a local Children’s Garden:

Welcome: Hopefully, the Children’s Garden is a welcoming place that offers a safe space to wander and many beckoning corners and hidden patios to keep the attention of young ones (and caregivers, too!)

(gates and hidden spaces at the Children's Garden)

Walkways: Following a path is intriguing, especially if an interesting destination is visible. Even better are trails that twist and turn, letting children imagine what might be around the next corner.

(oversized adirondack chair is a fun climber)

Wacky: The best gardens have wacky “rooms” that make fun of the real world. Tiny fairy houses or GIANT oversized tools are both fun to explore.

(Oversized tools are wacky at the Children's Garden)

Wander: An excellent Children’s Garden will have space for children to safely wander on their own. Opportunities for free-exploration are important for building self-esteem and a sense of competence in the world.

(Wander the paths and find the Covered Bridge)

Window to Another World: Window-views add an extra layer of enjoyment. Those openings frame Nature’s “art” and offer glimpses of new worlds to explore.

(Tepee play area at the Children's Garden)

Water: I know, I know, water gets messy. But that is part of what makes an outing memorable! Opportunities to play in water are a wonderful addition to any play area. Just bring some towels and keep a close eye on your kids, of course.

(Tepee reflecting in a tiny pond)

Whimsy: Why have boring, “normal” play equipment in a Children’s Garden? Choosing unique climbers, play houses, and benches adds a whimsical touch rather than just feeling like a typical playground with a few extra plants and flowers.

(Whimsical playground climber)

Wonder: Any time we step outside our doorways, there is an opportunity to allow our children to experience the wonder of the world around us. All of us are happier when we “take time to smell the flowers!”

(Little girl closely inspecting flowers in the garden)

We all need to get outside regularly. But let’s not forget the children. Let’s teach the next generation to love Nature as well!

See a list of a few of my favorite books, articles, and websites about the importance of connecting with nature HERE

Find activities and printables for getting kids outside HERE  Participate in monthly outdoor family challenges HERE

What a Wildly Wonderful World!

On our Epic Road-trip, we have enjoyed seeing the poetry of the Psalms illustrated as we travel through this Wildly Wonderful World! Here are some examples from our wanderings:

God, my God, how great you are! Beautifully, gloriously robed, Dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent.

banff, canadian rockies, wonderful world

You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors.

Prairie, Lone Tree, Devils Tower Tipi Camping

You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters; Then you roared and the water ran away—your thunder crash put it to flight.

Banff, Lake Minnewanka, Mountain Reflection

Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded.

Grant Kohrs Ranch NHS, Pasture, Mountains

You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills.

Glacier NP, stream

All the wild animals now drink their fill, wild donkeys quench their thirst. Along the riverbanks the birds build nests, ravens make their voices heard.

Glacier NP, riverbank

You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns; earth is supplied with plenty of water.

Banff, Johnston Canyon, Waterfall, Rainbow

You make grass grow for the livestock, hay for the animals that plow the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt NP, Bison

Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy, Their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty.

Happy Friends

God’s trees are well-watered—the Lebanon cedars he planted. Birds build their nests in those trees; look—the stork at home in the treetop.

Hiking Trail, Glacier NP, tall trees

Mountain goats climb about the cliffs; badgers burrow among the rocks.

Badlands NP, Big-horn Sheep

The moon keeps track of the seasons, the sun is in charge of each day. When it’s dark and night takes over, all the forest creatures come out. The young lions roar for their prey, clamoring to God for their supper. When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens.

Devils Tower Tipi Camping, Sunset

Meanwhile, men and women go out to work, busy at their jobs until evening.

Ft Union Trading Post NHS, fur trader

What a wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

Devils Tower NM, red rock canyons

Oh look, the deep, wide sea brimming with fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. Ship plow those waters, and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.

Badlands NP, sea bed, ancient ocean floor

All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time. You come, and they gather around; you open your hand and they eat from it.

Devils Tower NM, prairie dog town

 

If you turned your back, they’d die in a minute—Take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud; Send out your Spirit and they spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, flowers on prairie

The glory of God—let it last forever! Let God enjoy his creation! (Ps 104: 1-31)

Banff, Canadian Rockies, Castle Rock

You can see more poetry illustrated by photos from our wanderings through this Wildly Wonderful World by clicking HERE or HERE

 

 

“Our Holiday” — Celebrating FORESTS!

You already know how much daughter and I love to spend time in the woods. After all, that’s the reason I started this blog to tell stories about our adventures! I discovered that “our holiday” was yesterday. On March 21, 2012 the United Nations declared an annual International Day of Forests. This day is a global acknowledgement of the importance of forests and a celebration of the ways in which woodlands and trees sustain and protect us. Woohoo! Folks around the world enjoy the woods as much as we do.

I just discovered a fascinating book: “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. The author, a forester from Germany, makes audacious claims about life in the forests. Even better, these assertions are supported by new research being done by scientists around the world. Here are a few of the most intriguing facts I’ve read so far:

1-the “Wood-Wide-Web”

We have all heard about the interconnectedness of life. There is actually fierce competition between species—plants, insects, birds and mammals. But in fully functioning woods, deciduous trees of the same species are connected at the root level by soil fungi. This network allows sharing of both information and goods. These interconnected trees support young seedlings and saplings, share nutrients with other trees that are sick or struggling, and warn each other of impending danger from insect invasion or grazing critters. Occasionally, different species of trees network in similar ways for mutual benefit. Individual trees or man-made forests do not have these types of connections, and they live much shorter, sicklier lives.

2-Smart Trees

Scientists have discovered that trees learn from experience and change their later activity based on what they have learned. This was so unbelievable that I read the chapters more than once! One example: younger trees tend to slurp up huge amounts of water every day and in every season. However, after experiencing the trauma of a significant summer drought, in future years, these now more experienced trees take up less water in the spring which leaves more water available for use in the summer months when there might be another drought. In addition, they stockpile extra water during the winter months to be used in drier months.

3-It’s COOL to Walk in the Woods

It is literally cool to walk in the woods…research shows that on a hot summer day it can be up to 50 degrees cooler on the forest floor that has full, undisturbed bio-mass! Natural woods create their own micro-climates. Thick tree cover keeps the forest floor in deep shade. (This is one reason “parent trees” share nutrients with young trees, as mentioned above.) Masses of tall trees also slow down winds. Calmer air means less evaporation, keeping more moisture in the local area. Higher moisture levels in deep shade lower temperatures which keep the cycle going.  Again, individual trees and man-made woods with carefully spaced trees do not benefit from the microclimate effects of a healthy natural forest.

Let’s CELEBRATE the forests!

Trees are far more amazing than we ever imagined. Next time Daughter and I go to the woods, we will take time to stop, listen, ponder, and imagine what is actually going on around us. Will you join us?

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