Friday, October 29, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 4

As most of you know, my MooseBoots journey is bleassed with the company of Wendy and the girls.  Sometimes, in spite of the fact that I know how amazing they all are, I am surprised.  They are incredible and teach me more often than I say.

We attended our weekly nature adventure class.  It was a beautiful fall day ... clear and warm.  We started by making puppets.  It is often a good idea to start by focusing the kids on a craft activity.  The task was to draw, and color, a character on a piece of paper.  The kids drew and colored ... and drew and colored some more.  Where is the nature adventure, you ask?  We were outside.  Of course, we all lead by example ... so, here's my friendly White Tiger companion.

Our new friends, and we, then went out into the woods.  There was a puppet sized debris hut all prepared for the "bad weather" that had been predicted (in spite of the blazing blue sky).  We were shown how it was built and then bidden to create one for our very fragile, thin companions.  There was a torrential rain coming quickly from the west, east, north, or south depending on the location, relative to the nearby stream, of the applicable shelter.  Little Fire Faery and I worked together, our friends huddling together for warmth.  We built the shell and overlaid the ribs with bark from a nearby fallen birch tree.  Then, we piled on huge quantities of leaves to keep the "rain" out and the warmth in.  Big little sister worked on her own, while Precious worked with Wendy.  No sooner had any shelter been finished and the rain began ... it was raining, in very localized patterns, buckets (or pitchers) directly on each.  After the cold night, each puppet crept out of its shelter and we assessed how they weathered the storm(s).

Afterwards, an incredible, unexplainable thing happened.  The kids, working together completely unprompted, started assembling a large shelter for themselves.  There was no fighting, crying, whining, etc. just good, old fashioned teamwork.  Did I mention that these kids are all homeschooled?  Mike, in his years of wisdom, did not want to interrupt such a spontaneous endeavor, in spite of the plan to work on debris huts next time.

Unfortunately, we had other things to do ... like more awareness games.  There on the forest floor rested a blanket neatly folded in half, hiding an assortment of natural treasures.  We quickly divided into two teams and were shown the items ... Wendy counted 15.  Then, we scattered to find the same items in the surrounding forest.  We found the beech leaf, but mistook the birch leaf for another.  We gathered fir instead of hemlock.  We found sticks, roots, fungus, and sarsasparilla.  It is amazing how litle time 30s is when trying to memorize 15 items ... certainly not enough to assign a few to each teammate.  I am pretty sure the team Wendy and I were on won ... rotten kids and their near perfect memories.

Alas, during the frantic pace, Mike "fell into the frozen stream".  We needed to light a fire and quick ... 15 minutes and he was a "Mike-sickle".  We scurried, gathering fuel for the fire.  Alas, the forest we were in (wink, wink) did not grow any birch trees.  No birch bark for the fire???  Luckily as we returned to camp, I gathered some dry goldenrod heads (thanks, Tom Brown, for the story).  The kids had built a wonderful tee-pee fire into which they stuffed the goldenrod.  Little Fire Faery (how appropriate) was assigned the fire lighting again, obviously because her success the last time.  With two minutes to spare, Mike was saved.  Whew!

Sometimes, it is good to remember to have fun along the way.  We adults tend to overthink and over-analyze.  The kids ... not so much.  It was a great moment to savor on my MooseBoots path.  Image what a tiny shift in priority can do!  No, really, imagine.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Outdoor Skills Class - October 2010

I often feel a bit frustrated by the spasmodic nature of this, my MooseBoot journey.  The frantic stop and start and stop again nature of life as a human on this planet in this culture.  I, too, catch myself entering the trap of the "I want to do this now and forget the journey". mentality.  The truth is that the destination is not really that important ... how you get there is.

We recently attended out monthly outdoors skills class.  The bigger girls got a bit of extra instruction ... they spent the night prior out with some others in the group at the Wigwam site.  They did very well and had a blast.  Wendy and I were so proud.  When we got there, the six kids who spent the night out acted out the night for us ... dinner, fox walking in the dark, gathering water, etc.

As has recently been the case, there was a finely honed gem of learning that occured and quite a bit of "practice the old stuff".  This class started with wandering around the forest looking for a spring.  And ... we found one.  We each tasted the sweet, cool, clear water fresh from the spring.  Then, we talked about how we knew it was a spring ... water was flowing away from a spot with no visible source upstream and how there was a very deep hole at the source.  We had a discussion about drink water without purifying it first ... that it is safer to boil it if there is any doubt about its "holding of microscopic creepy crawlies and industrial waste."  This spring was clean.  So, we learned a song and sang.

Afterwards, we wandered a bit more to find a suitable shelter building area.  The kids discussed what we needed to find.  Then, the group broke up.  Some kids built shelters on their own, some built fairy houses, and some make a fire and applesauce over it.  I must admit that I had to step back and let Big, Little Sister direct the build.  She did a great job.  Little Fire Faery, to my horror, was teamed up with two of the youngest members of the group (5-6 year olds) who did not listen very well.  She did a great job too of
guiding them as much as they would be guided.  Precious and a few others about her age built their own small shelter.

The group all gathered later to inspect the shelters and then to enjoy the fresh, hot applesauce.  It was so relaxing to just be in the woods, away from work, part of life.  We then packed up to go back and help at the farm for a bit.  Unfortunately, my escape was not complete and I had to return to work afterwards (it was no doubt all done on my terms).

While this pace may not be as fast I like, I do try to enjoy the scenery along the road.  My life is so rich and full of good things that I really need to slow it and enjoy.  Afterall, what is the rush?  This is my MooseBoots path and I should savor each step on it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 3

My travel down this MooseBoots path has accelerated a bit with the addition of this weekly class.  The nice part is that, while we may cover similar material to that in the monthly Outdoors Skills Class, having a different teacher with a different perspective tends to fill in gaps that I was completely unaware of.  Of course, there is the added benefit of practicing these skills/abilities more often.  This week, in lieu of going into the woods, we went to the beach for some work on tracking.

I will admit that I was very excited about this class.  I have been creeping forward in developing this particular talent.  And, the beach is an incredible place for working on tracks.  We started by talking about the ways animals move and trying to imitate them.  So, as rabbits, we bounded over the sand.  As cats, we stalked across the sand.  And, as raccoons, we waddled forward leaving behind our tracks.  I became apparent to me that I had obviously been trying to learn this the wrong way previously.  I had been trying to learn it from Tom Brown's Field Guide To Nature Observation and Tracking, a very well written and enlightening book, which I highly recommend spending some time with.  Sometimes you have to act and move to really learn something.  The play brought home the essence of each animal and its tracks.

The kids, being kids at the beach, had a really difficult time concentrating on the lessons at hand.  So, we played a game ... otter tag.  We divided into two teams, each wit a "head" and a "tail".  All other team members followed the head linked together.  The object was to get the other otter's tail, a bandanna placed into the last person's pocket. 

After a few rounds, we got back to "work".  We played a game called track the porcupine.  As coyotes, we were really hungry and needed to track and find the porcupine, a log with nails sticking out of it that was dragged around the beach and hidden.  This was better received as we had to bay our way running down dinner.

Afterwards, we played a few other awareness games ... Bat and Moth, a nature based version of Marco Polo played in a circle in the sand, and Mother Moose, a sort of inverted Monkey in the Middle game where the group tried to steal the baby moose from the guardian mother moose (anyone tagged forces the group players to move out of the circle and begin again).

Then, we went on a bird hunt.  We all stalked, fox walked, very quietly to see if we could find birds in the bushes.  There were tracks everywhere, but no birds.  Perhaps, we were not so quiet when we were 10 feet away before we started to "hunt".  We hunted for quite a while, but eventually the kids gave up.  In stead we worked on baiting the birds.  We sat quietly and tossed bread to the seagulls to see how close we could entice them to come.  When the bread was gone, we all got up and chased the birds, some of who were clever enough to skirt us and get the remaining bread crumbs.

Finally, we ended with story telling.  Each kid told a story about the piece of treasure he/she had gathered on the beach.  I had a story in mind, but was not prepared to tell it.  I have been researching Algonquin legends with the intent of telling them to my kids by the fire side.

It was a fantastic time.  I was able, in spite of last minute work pressure, to relax and enjoy the opportunity.  My MooseBoots path, as I have said, has become clearer and attendance at these classes with Wendy and the girls is far more important to my future than work is.  I did return to work afterwards to finish anything that needed finishing.  I do not know exactly what the future holds, but whatever it is it will certainly be on my terms.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 2

My MooseBoots path, indeed my life, has been moving at an incredibly frantic pace, both professionally and personally.  The good news is that I have re-adjusted my priorities and feel good about the path I am on.  I do not know where it leads, but it feels right.  My newly adopted priorities are family first and work second.  I have reached a turning point ... I am working toward something new.  I am working to live, instead of living to work.  This has manifested, recently, in my attendance at weekly Nature Adventure classes and monthly Outdoor Skills classes, to the chagrin of my bosses (and perhaps, too, of the recently visiting customer).

So, on a rainy, dreary Wednesday afternoon we gathered.  The group met inside, but all was not lost.  We played a number of awareness building games.  I find, in homeschooling and in life, people learn better through play with no conscious effort toward learning.  At least, my kids and I do.  The first game was for one person to sculpt an animal using imaginary clay and the rest of the group to guess the animal based on the non-verbal clues.  Some rounds, the rules only allowed local species.  Others, kids were allowed global selection.  This game morphed into acting out your chosen animal.

Next, we practiced awareness.  We played a few games.  First, we had people stand in front of the group.  Then, these people left the room and changed a few things ... rolled up sleeves, removed earrings, etc.  Then, the person(people) would return and the group had to observe the differences.  To make the game more difficult, after a bit, we sent multiple people from the room and changed different numbers of things on each.  The culmination of the awareness games was an observation test.  We divided into two groups.  The whole class was shown a number of objects on a bed for 30 seconds.  Then, we, as a group, listed in as much detail as we could all of the things on the bed.

After, we were divided into three groups.  Each group was given a skull of a local animal.  The object was to study it and determine its species.  We payed attention to the aural cavities, the nasal cavities, and the eye sockets to identify them.  Then, the groups all gathered and each acted out its animal.  I was impressed with Big, Little Sister, who immediately knew that our skull was a Red Fox (not to be confused with Redd Foxx, whose skull is shaped very differently).  I'll leave the other two for you to identify below.  I guess Wendy was right ... I should have brought my possum skull.

The finale of the class, was a bowdrill demonstration.  Now, I thought Wendy was the only one who would not complain too much about the smoke of using one of these indoors (I have done it once), but ....  Mike lit a fire in the house using the bowdrill.

Overall, the class was amazing, in spite of the rain.  It is such a treat to take time to do and learn things that are so beyond that which most people even think to wonder.  My MooseBoots journey has certainly been enriched by the opportunities that have been presented, and by the fact that I have dared to take them.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nature Adventure Class - Week 1

As you have been follow my MooseBoots wandering, you may have noticed a propensity toward living more closely with Nature.  You know that we take a class once a month to learn skills that allow us to live WITH, not ON, the Earth.  So, it should be no surprise that when the opportunity arose to participate in a new weekly class, we jumped.

This week was the first week of our Nature Adventure class.  The class was created as a means of getting homeschoolers some socialization by a woman who had trained with Tom Brown.  You may have heard of his book, Tom Brown's Field Guide to Living with the Earth, which is a precious book for me.  When she published the class, the response was overwhelming and two classes were created.  She also enlisted the aid of Mike, an instructor at the Maine Primitive Skills School, to help teach these larger than expected classes.

The pace of this class is much different than that of our monthly class.  The kids were engaged and we moved from topic to topic as seemingly the ideal time to keep interest.  We started with a name game to get everyone comfortable with all of the other people in the class.  Luckily, we were fortunate enough to know almost half of the people fairly well anyway ... no discomfort from us (of course, my girls aren't really shy and make friends readily).  Afterwards, we discussed our senses and how to use them differently -  we talked about soft eyes and deer ear.  We also talked about how to move in Nature (foxwalk and heron stalking).  Then, we played a game to practice each of these things.

First, we played a game to practice foxwalking.  Three kids sat in the middle of a circle blindfolded.  The rest of the group was to walk toward the center, retrieve and item and walk back with their item.  The kids in the middle would yell freeze and point when they heard someone/something.  The person who made the noise was "out".  The kids were really engaged and so, we played two rounds.

Then, we played "bluejay, monarch, and viceroy."  In the game, a person is selected to be the bluejay and is removed from the circle.  Then, a monarch is selected.  The monarch is the "leader" and all of the "viceroys" must mimic the monarch.  Then, the bluejay is brought back and must identify the "monarch".  The game was to help with soft eyes, seeing using wide angle vision instead of looking directly at something.  I found it incredibly difficult to do with my own arms moving in front of my sight.

Next, each kid was blindfolded and told to sit until he could feel his own heartbeat.  Then, he was guided to a string course.  The blindfolded child then needed to follow the string, using touch and hearing.  It was a great exercise for the kids.

The final game was to "find your tree."  Wendy and I partnered for this.  Your partner is blindfolded and then you guide you partner, via a circuitous path, to a tree.  Your partner then feels, smells, tastes, and hears everything she can about the tree/location and is then led away.  The exercise is for you partner to then find her tree.  I tried to cheat  make the game more challenging by removing any of the other sticks laying around the tree that Wendy might use to identify her tree (after she had felt them there).  She did find her tree without difficulty (in spite of the fact that when she said it was her tree I said, "no").  I was able to find mine (and identify the type blindfolded) without any trouble as well.  It was fun.

The final exercise in the woods was to gather wood to make a fire.  My girls, and several other kids who had built fires previously) went about gathering dry wood and bark.  Many simply picked up wet wood from the ground.  The ultimate goal was to build a fire, using one match, to burn a string tied horizontally across a fire pit.

During the walk back to the fire pit, we stopped and learned about Sarsasparilla.  I have seen this plant millions of time and never knew what it was.  Of course, it is commonly thought of as Poison Ivy, which it is not.  Then, back at the fire pit, the kids were told to build the fire while Mike got his matches.  The fire was built and a match lighter was selected.  After three attempts, another fire lighter, Little Fire Faery, was selected.  She, in spite of the the other kids badgering her to light the "dry" leaves, lit the birch bark, because she knows that birch bark will burn even if it is just pulled from a stream.  She was successful with her first match ... of course, we have the kids take turns building fires in our fire pit.  She was calm and in spite of peer pressure did what she knew to be right.  I am so proud.

Afterwards, we talked for a bit.  It was amazing to find that I shared similar experiences with several of the other adults (professional training - accounting, engineering, etc., but a desire/need to reconnect).  Mike for instance graduated from college with a degree in accounting and realized that that was not for him (he, as I said, is an instructor teaching wilderness skills).

This MooseBoots journey required me to participate in this class as well.  There is currently no plan to continue beyond 7 weeks, but ....  At this point, I expect to get some flack from work about missed time, but I have also decided that they need me more than I need them and they are welcome to send me packing.  This path requires nothing less than commitment and dedication.  I am coming to a crossroads and the outcome of the decision, when it needs to be made, is already clear.  I am simply waiting to see what is along the rest of the path, which is not so clear.