Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November Nature Walk: Highlights of the Forest

In the previous nature trail blog, I focused
on the school children's experience.  Here,
I'd like to share a few closeups of highlights
of our fall walk.

Here are the star-shaped leaves of the sweetgum.
It is often known by the seed-bearing "stickerballs."

The next two shots show the array of
colors of the abundant red maples.

This shot highlights the bumpy texture of
Old Man Poplar's trunk.  How much longer
can it stand?

We also have sugar maples on the trail.
I love this vibrant gold.

The single green leaves among the dried
brown leaves are Cranefly Orchid, one of
the most unusual plants on the trail.  The
underside of the leaves is purple.  These
plants emerge in the fall and die down in
the spring, just the opposite of most plants.

In the previous blog, I showed students
viewing this moss-covered trunk which
spans the creek banks.  Here's a better
view.  I wouldn't walk on it; it's been
decaying here for two decades.  On the
other hand, I don't know how long it
could remain.  But please don't test it!

Here are the dying fronds (leaves) of the
Royal Fern, one of our less common species.

Even though there was a pool of water at
Big Rock and some other spots, there was
no water under the bridge.

There were still many samples of heart-
shaped wild ginger once we crossed the
bridge (leading off of school property).
Each student received a tiny piece of the
aromatic leaves to carry along.

The still-green fronds of the Christmas
fern demonstrate the diversity of the
fern family.  Old fronds will die down,
but many will remain green all winter long.

Sunlight filters through these magnolia
leaves.  This is another sort of evergreen.

We noted this tree had been struck by
lightning at some point in its life.  There
are many examples of natural  damage
throughout the woods.

These cinnamon ferns lend their colors
to the changing landscape.

Strong winds and shallow roots are a
combination that occasionally result in
uprooted trees.  Its fun to see the changes
on the trail from one visit to the next.

Here's a closeup of the spiny vines of
Smilax (scientific name), also known as
cat-brier and wait-a-minute vine.  It can
deliver painful scratches.

This picture was taken from atop Big
Rock, looking down into the stream bed.

Don't you wish you could walk this
trail today?  Why don't you?

As I drove away from school that day
I stopped on McCaskill Road and took
this panoramic shot of the nature trail's
canopy.  I can't wait for my next visit.
If you're on Facebook, I invite you to
visit the Friends of the Sandhills Farm
Life Nature Trail page.  All my nature
trail photos from over the years are
posted in albums there.

November Nature Walk: Focus on Students

In case you're wondering, the Sandhills Farm
Life Nature Trail never shuts down.  If you can
get there, it's open even in the winter.  Every
season has its plusses, but Fall is one of my
favorite times to explore the hidden treasures
of the trail each year.

In early November, Mrs. Teague and Mrs.
Cameron's 2nd graders were the latest class
to experience the wonders of this great
resource of our school and community.
The looks on the faces of these eager
students confirms that they are highly
motivated about visiting their outdoor
classroom.  And what an attentive and
inquisitive group of learners they were!

One of our first stops was the unique
poplar tree we have named "Jack, Will,
and Tom."  Students wait patiently
for their turn at a spectacular view.

This is three trees in one, an icon as
well as an important landmark on the trail.

With two dozen pairs of eyes
diligently seeking unusual finds,
it's not surprising that the children
discovered countless acorns that
were sprouting all over the place.

Young hickory trees are abundant
and colorful along the trail.

As we progress, you can see how
observant the young naturalists are.
They use all their senses on this walk.

The last class that walked the trail was
fortunate to be able to climb on Big Rock.
Mrs. Teague's class was not so lucky;
there was sufficient water in the stream to
make a crossing too treacherous.  None
of us adults wanted to be responsible for
muddy shoes or damp clothes.

While we surveyed the area around Big
Rock, I pointed out the moss-covered log
that spans the stream.  This log is the
remnant of a massive tree that fell across
the forest some twenty years ago.  During
the first few years, we had to clamber over
it to get to Big Rock.  Now we simply walk
on the humus formed from its long-decayed
trunk.  Apparently, the portion of the trunk
that crosses the creek has been sustained to
a degree by being "air-dried" and by not
being in contact with the damp ground.

I offer the following three pictures as
evidence that our sourwood trees were
the most festive of the fall display.

The sunlight played gently
 with the autumn hues.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the
variegated colors of Indian corn.

The leaves below are also sourwood, but
were sheltered and had not yet turned.
So, we had a sourwood chew for a snack.
I told you earlier that we used all our
senses, and that included taste!

Among the many plants that are now being
subdued by killing frosts and freezes is our
nemesis, KUDZU! (aka the plant that wants
to take over the world)

Fighting this non-native and invasive vine
may be a losing endeavor, but I intend to
do what I can to minimize its impact on
our trail.  It has the great advantage of
spreading through the treetops.  Where
is Tarzan when I need him?

Part of the secret to my success in the
classroom is to demonstrate how little
things are really big things and get
children to buy into the excitement.
So our last moments on the trail were
for the boys, then the girls to attempt
to straighten Old Man Poplar.  The boys'
best efforts were unsuccessful.

The girls couldn't do this monumental task
either, but the point is, none of them will
ever forget their encounter with this unusual
old tree.  To them, it is now an old friend
of the forest; an aged, leaning patriarch
whom they tried their best to assist.
One day, when that tree falls, hundreds
of students will no doubt embellish the
stories of their exploits here.

Back in the classroom, we had just enough
time for a Molly Whuppie folktale.  It was
a thoroughly pleasant afternoon, and these
children have joined an ever-growing group
of young folks: The Keepers of the Trail.
As busy as the Christmas season will be,
there should be several nice days for a
fall or early-winter stroll down these paths.
I invite you to do just that.
My next blog post will contain photos I
took later that same day after the students
had gone home.  Hopefully, you'll
find it informative and useful. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

November Fun

November was a month of great fun around
the Loyd place.  We were happy that most
of the days set aside for babysitting were
also suitable for being outdoors.

We're getting a few more days usage out
of our washing machine box.  It's a perfect
fit to convert our Li'l Tykes slide into a
two story tower of terror.  Or whatever.

Brianna gives a shy wave of greeting
from her castle fair.

This must be just the right age for Bri to
start enjoying our tire swing horsie.  Up
until now, I had to help hold her on.

Bri has a blast raking (or "sweeping," as she
calls it).  And then a rogue leaf has the nerve
to land in her hair!

It took a quick snap to catch Bri in
mid-kick.  But what's she kicking?

Grandma and Hunter don't know, either.
But it's fun to watch Bri.

And Hunter thinks swinging is even more
fun than playing in the leaves.

And part of the fun is having Grandpa
fetch the ball Hunter drops.

Whoa!  Sometimes these balls can be
a little overwhelming!

Claire and Evan both like climbing in this
snazzy canvas beach chair, a gift from our
good friend Ray.  It's just their size.

Claire: "Well, there's supposed to be room
for two, if somebody didn't hog it all."

"Grandpa, make sure you don't miss
any of my jewelry."

How many young Americans topped off
their Thanksgiving feast by climbing the
nearest magnolia tree?  Well, Claire did.

Evan: "Wow, Sis, you must be at least
18 inches off the ground!"

Caption 1: "Touchdown, Panthers!"
Caption 2: "Claire go boom."

Kitty Cat decides to spend a little quality
time with his kinfolks.  Since it's 35 outside.

Grandpa has cool videos.  Micky Mouse,
big trucks, AND airplanes.

Funny how a good video can draw a crowd.

Grandma can also draw a crowd.

But Evan's just waiting for a chance to
make a grab for Grandma's glasses.
Fall is drawing to a close, and what a
wonderful fall season it has been.  But
December can bring even more special
times and memories.  Get ready!