Spring Activities

Spring

“Even in my dreams the creeks and rivers of spring haunted me, the sound of running water, oozing rivulets from suddenly warmed banks, dogwood stems flaming in the sun, the birches of the ridges turning purple in their tops.  Arbutus were always blooming on southern slopes, pussy willows swelling over the snow, yellow cowslips brightening the edges of swamps.  Then the smells, the bittersweet resin of Balm of Gilead, masses of balsam in the first real warmth, the thawing earth itself, a combination of odors so powerful it was as though the air were surcharged with them.  All this colored my days, for this was the awakening and the beginning of life after the long sleep of winter.  At times it seemed I too must burst with the swelling buds, grow as they grew, reach for the sun, run over the hills along the streams and through the woods giving vent to the joy and excitement within me.”

-Open Horizons, 8-9

Spring Activity Ideas

-Record the sounds from several streams, creeks and rivers.  Play them back to class mates and family members and see if they can guess where you were when you made the recording.

-Using your nose and a tape measure, determine how far you can move away from a flower or identified scent and still smell its essence.  While the smell of trailing arbutus may only be discernible for several feet, spring lilacs can be scented from much farther.

-Using a camera with a good close-up lens, take pictures of the same buds on several different trees or bushes everyday.  Arrange the pictures from first to last and note the different rates for leaf out.  Which tree or bush leafs out first, last?

Add outdoor activity ideas of your own design:

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Lessons:

Knowing and Appreciating Trees
Appreciating Animals
Your Listening Point

Activity: Knowing and Appreciating the Trees

Key Quote:
“I like to put my hand on a tree like this.  It gives me a sense of belonging to the past … without the trees, I wouldn’t have the same feeling toward the earth as I do now … the trees have become part of me.”

The Wilderness World of Sigurd F. Olson, video

Objectives:
The participants will be able to:
1.) Describe how they think and feel about trees
2.) Detail the location and type of trees in their home landscape or study area.

Background:
Data from the U.S. Forest Service has shown our country is experiencing a “tree deficit,” especially in urban areas.  The 2003 U.S. Conference of Mayors produced a resolution explicitly addressing the value of urban forests in: “improving urban air quality, conserving energy and controlling sedimentation and water runoff from non point sources.”  Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods points to evidence which also shows that urban forests reduce crime, improve public health and psychological well being.  Researcher Frances Kuo, from the University of Illinois notes that the presence of trees and green space around schools have a profound influence on how students learn as well as how well people are able to cope with anxiety and depression.  A majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, with more growth expected over the next 50 years.  The time to build a constituency for urban forests is now and the benefits are clear—even without mentioning tree climbing.

Procedures:
Select an essay on trees from this work or one of your favorites and send students outside to read the essay in the shade of a tree.  When finished they should familiarize themselves with the tree.  Sketch it, feel the texture of the bark, does it have any smell, how are its seeds transported.  Next, pair up students to work on some of the suggested activities below, or some of your own design.

-Map the location of trees on your school property or in a nearby park.

-Identify the types of trees on your map and label each one.
-Do trees have characteristic silhouettes?
-Find the tallest tree in your study site.  You can use trigonometry, geometry, or The Law of Reflection.

-Working in small groups, generate a list of benefits for having trees in this area.

-Write the “life story” of one of the trees in your study site and send your story to the school or community newspaper.

Related Essays:
-The Immortal Wilderness by John Hay, ©1987-ch. 16- “Custodians of Space
-The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd F. Olson, ©1956.  “Pine Knots” “Smoky Gold”
-Some excellent essays on trees can be found at www.nrs.fs.fed.us/people/Schroeder
-Especially: The Significance of Urban Trees and Forests, 1991.
The Tree of Peace, 1992.
-A Natural History of North American Trees by Donald Culross Peattie, 2007, Houghton Miltlin has an excellent chapter on “White Pine”

Additional Activities:
-Label the trees in your study area so others can learn the names.
-Add short interpretive labels telling people about the tree.
-Visit an arboretum or Tree Farm.
-Work with a forester and your buildings and grounds representative to see if more trees can be planted in your study site and community.
-Plan a local tree planting or tree awareness campaign for Arbor Day
-Visit a maple syrup operation an orchard or Christmas tree farm.

Evaluation:
-Have students share their tree maps and their techniques for organizing their journal pages.
-Have students share their knowledge and feelings for trees in the study area.
-Have small groups of students determine the height of a known tree or object, like a flag pole, using a number of different techniques.  Share the techniques with each other.

Participant Journal Page                    Date __________

Activity: Knowing and Appreciating the Trees

Location:
Time:
Temperature:
Wind Speed and Direction (Use the Beaufort Scale):
Cloud Cover:

Other Observations:

Activity: Appreciating Animals (Also a good winter activity)

Key Quote:
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.  Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion.  We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves.  And therein we err, and greatly err.  For the animal shall not be measured by man.  In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.  They are not our brethren, they are not our underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”

Henry Beston, The Outermost House

Objectives:
The participants will be able to:
1.) Explain what we might learn from animals—domestic or wild.
2.) List all forms of wildlife that they could find in their study site.
3.) Describe the benefits and challenges of having a variety of wildlife in or near our communities.
4.) Describe any negative aspects.

Background:
Animals are our neighbors.  We share air, water, space, and food with them.  The animals were among our earliest subjects for art.  They had and have much to teach us.  Being mindful of their comings and goings, phenology can tell us a great deal about the world we live in.  Author Paul Shepard in his book, Thinking Animals (1978), notes that, “Animals are among the first inhabitants of the mind’s eye.  They are basic to the development of speech and thought.  Because of their part in the growth of consciousness, they are inseparable from a series of events in each human life, indispensable to our becoming human in the fullest sense.”

And for this reason alone, we should spend more time with them.

Procedures:
Take students outside shortly after a new snowfall.  Find an animal track and follow it—slowly and quietly.  You may wish to divide the group into smaller “stalking” parties.  See if you can determine what the animal was doing, what was it eating, where did it sleep, where did it urinate and defecate?  Can you find the pee hole in a rabbit track?

Spend some time observing animals in their natural habitat.  Observe the comings and goings at a beaver pond.  How long can you maintain visual contact (and a safe distance) with a deer, a squirrel, a moose etc?

Related Essays:
-Read “Wilderness Beach” in Listening Point by Sigurd F. Olson
There are many fine essays in the following list of books:
-Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez
-The Sacred Paw by Barry Sanders and Paul Shepard
-Giving Voice to Bear by David Rockwell
-Listening to Cougar, Marc Befoff and Cara Blessley Lowe, editors

Additional Activities:
-Go to a remote location where you can sit for an hour or longer and watch the movement of animals.  You may want to build a blind.
-Find a location near a river or pond where animals come to drink.  Find a spot within 50 yards and using a spotting scope or binoculars observe animal behavior.
-Talk with a trapper or a fair chase hunter about what they have learned from animals.

Evaluation:
-From these activities have students share what they have learned from their observations of animals.
-While tracking and observing animals, what have students learned about themselves.
-Have students brainstorm a list of roles that wildlife plays in our modern world.

Participant Journal Page                    Date __________

Activity: Appreciating Animals

Location:
Time:
Temperature:
Wind Speed and Direction (Use the Beaufort Scale):
Cloud Cover:

Other Observations:

Activity: Find, Explore, and Enjoy Your Listening Point

Key Quote:
“I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard.  Everyone has a listening point somewhere.  It doesn’t have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but some place of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.”

Sigurd F. Olson, Listening Point, pg. 8

Objectives:
Students will be able to:
1) Create a safe environment for exploring and sharing;
2) Identify barriers to quiet personal reflection;
3) Describe the value of quiet interpretation in their lives;
4)  Share some of their contemplative experiences with their peers.

Background: Listening Point is the name of Sigurd Olson’s second book. A book that

largely describes aspects of his land ethic.

Procedures:

This activity amounts to putting students out on solo. Start with small increments of time, say 5-10 minutes, and enough separation that they won’t try to talk to each other. Being alone with our thoughts can be a scary proposition for some so be sure to provide an adequate mental and physical safety net for this activity. Sometimes you can pose a question or two for students to ponder, but the aim of this activity is for them to carve out a place, a time, and a procedure for examining their own thoughts, choices, lifestyle, desires, and ambitions.

Related Essays:
Check out Doug Wood’s comment on portaging, p.69 in Paddle Whispers as well as his use of an island for introspection.

Additional Activities:
-Ask friends or relatives where they go or what they do to get in touch with themselves.
How do they decide the direction of their life or the ideas and dreams that are important to them?
–Explore and try out a form of meditation
- Keep a journal of your thoughts during quiet time. Record your dreams, hopes and fears.

Evaluation:
Let me know how you used this activity with students!

Participant Journal Page                                Date:_________________

Activity:  Find, Explore, and Enjoy your Listening Point.

Location:
Time:
Temperature:
Wind Speed and Direction (Use the Beaufort Scale):
Cloud Cover:

Other Observations: