Winter Activities

Winter

“It was a beautiful night for travel—twenty below, and the only sound the steady swish and creak of my snowshoes on the crust.  There was a great satisfaction in knowing that the wolves were in the country, that it was wild enough and still big enough for them to roam and hunt.  That night the wilderness of the Quetico-Superior was what the voyageurs had known two hundred years before, as primitive and unchanged as before discovery.”

-The Singing Wilderness, 240

Winter Activity Ideas

-Pick such a night and treat yourself to a snowshoe hike, a x-country ski tour, an evening of ice skating or just walking.  Appreciate what so many are missing by staying indoors on such a night.  You may want to share your experience and observations with your class, school newspaper or local outdoor writer.  Be sure to dress appropriately and let someone know where you will be going and when you will be home.

-Find a remote spot on the edge of your town and spend an hour under the night sky recording the sounds of a winter night.  Identify as many of the sounds as you can.  How far away are they?  Create a map of your soundscape indicating distance and direction to the sounds.

-Interview some long time residents of your community to get a picture of how the landscape near your school or favorite edge of town has changed.

Add outdoor activity ideas of your own design:

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Lessons:

Silence
Mapping Wildness
Take a Self-Directed Nature Walk
Exploring and Appreciating Night

Activity: Silence

*Brian Frieburger was the principal author for this activity on “Silence”.

Key Quote:
“In our cities the constant beat of strange and foreign wave lengths on our primal senses beats us into neuroticism, changes us from creatures who once knew the silences to fretful, uncertain beings immersed in a cacophony of noise which destroys sanity and equilibrium.”

“Silence” in the Singing Wilderness, 131

Objectives:
The participants will be able to:
1.) Detail noises and “types of silence” they find in their local environment.
2.) Describe how they think about silence in their life.

Background:
In this chapter on silence, which is worth sharing in its entirety, Olson also uses the quotes, “tranquility is beyond price” and “study to be quiet.”  Using Olson’s idea that “…how rare it is to know (silence), how increasingly difficult to ever achieve real quiet and the peace that comes with it…” explain to students how over the last 50 years since this book was written that silence is even rarer today!

Procedures:
Have students sit quietly for several minutes in the classroom and then list all the sounds they hear.  Have some students do this with eyes closed, some with eyes open and then compare lists.  Now take the class outside, repeat the activity and compare lists.  Will the sounds heard at this site vary with the time of day, first period to last period or sunrise to sunset?  Finally while seated comfortably outside, guide the participants through discussion and reflection on Olson’s chapter.  Contrast his views with those of the students and their own personal experiences.

Related Essays:
-Read “Solitude” and “Wholeness” in Reflections from the North Country by Sigurd Olson
-Read “From the City to the Wilderness” in Chips From A Wilderness Log by Calvin Rutstrum
-Read “The Practice of Listening” in The Great Remembering by Peter Forbes

Additional Activities:
-Have students create lists of sounds and opportunities for silence that can be found in major sections of their day ie. home, school, parks, in the car, downtown, etc.
-Measure the volume of sounds that fill the student’s everyday world.  Compare decibel levels at various road crossings, places in the school, even location in the classroom.  You may want to consider starting a silence or tranquility campaign.

Evaluation:
-Have students compare answers and decide or discover which sounds are noisiest, most bothersome, most peaceful, etc.
-Have students explain why it is noisier today?  Where has silence gone?  Are we afraid of silence?

Participant Journal Page                    Date __________

Activity: Silence

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

Other Observations:
-Write down 3 sounds that are closest to you—can you identify them?
-Write down 3 sounds that are farthest away—can you identify them?
-Describe a place where you have experienced silence.
-What is silence?
-Is having a space for silence important for you?  Why?

Activity:  Mapping Wildness

Key Quote:
“Maps organize information about landscapes in a profoundly influential way. They carry out a triage of its aspects, selecting and ranking these aspects in an order of importance and so they create forceful biases in the ways a landscape is perceived treated…It (map) warps its readers away from the natural world.”

Robert MacFarlane, 2007, The Wild Places

Objectives:
Students will be able to:
1) Write a prose map to set against a road atlas;
2) Describe linkages between the sites on their map that are natural, not just cultural.

Background:
Perhaps one of the most commonly studied maps of the United States is the road or travel atlas. Pick an area in any state and you will see a net or network of roads extending out across the landscape. Some are amazingly complex.

According to MacFarlane in The Wild Places, when we think of the travel atlas with its myriad of roads, we end up thinking in this map or perhaps bounded by this map.  We forget and unfortunately ignore “The physical presence of terrain.” (pg.11)

In visiting some of the “wild places” between roads on the map such as parks, rivers, forests, cliffs, waterfalls, beaches, etc and describing the essence found there-we can create a “prose map” that makes the natural world visible again. It is in this kind of map that MacFarlane believes we will find “the first glimmerings of a wild consciousness.” (pg 17)

Procedures:
I like to do this in a wild area within town.  Places where the fabric of nature is relatively intact, perhaps a river corridor or ravine. Have students describe nature and/or jot down stories that involve plants and animals in the lives of human beings. Add photographs, sketches, and paintings, Consider using poems, barks, leaf rubbings, collected items and samples to further illustrate the literary map of the region. It is possible that this type of map could replace the city map of your town.

Work with your students to help them create rich descriptive texts of the natural areas in your study site.

Related Essays:
-Check out pg. 59 in Doug Wood’s wonderful book, Paddle Whispers.

Additional Activities:
Work with a local service organization, like the Kiwanis or Rotary, to create a nature trail, using prose, illustrations and maps from your students in a trail guide.
-Challenge students to compose a literary map of their summer travels.

Evaluation:

-See if students from another class can find the sites your students described.

-Notice if this exercise encourages students to use more descriptive language in other assignments

Participant Journal Page                                Date:_________________

Activity: Mapping Wildness

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

Other Observations:

Activity: Take a (Self-Directed) Nature Walk: Explore!  Ramble!

Key Quote:
“… I discovered a stand of virgin forest known as the Northwest Corner.  Here were tremendous trees, the last of the old primeval stand, and on the ground huge moss covered logs soft and spongy with decay.  This spot was different from any other I had known, even more mysterious than the pier on Lake Michigan.  I used to tiptoe into that timber and creep stealthily from bole to bole, thrilled with strange and indefinable sensations, some of fear and some of wonder and delight.  Those ancient trees, the green-gold twilight among them, the silence of that cushioned place did something to my boyish soul which I have never forgotten.”

The Singing Wilderness, 9

Or

“… I walked out on the Sonoran desert at midnight with the stars so bright they seemed like planets close to earth.  I had come to listen to the coyotes sing, smell the desert, and catch its feeling.  On top of a hill I found a barren ledge from which I could look out across a valley and get a view of the heavens as well.  Then began that strange, haunting medley of blended notes I had come to hear, first only one, then several, until the night was alive with music.  Suddenly, they stopped, and it was the same as when listening to the loons of the Quetico-Superior—the stillness descended.

I thought as I sat there that this was the quiet we knew in our distant past when it was part of our minds and spirits. … I think the loss of quiet in our lives is one of the great tragedies of civilization, and to have known even for a moment the silence of the wilderness is one of our most precious memories.”

Open Horizons, 103-104

Objectives:
The students will be able to:
1.)  Describe things or observations from their walk that sparked their curiosity.
2.)  Share what this walk has meant to them and why they might want to do it again.
Background:
Why explore nature?  The Draper Museum of Natural History located in the Buffalo Bill Historical Museum in Cody, Wyoming has a wonderful display meant to answer exactly that question.  Perhaps in reading the Draper Museum’s suggestions below and then taking a walk on your own, you’ll discover even more reasons for exploring nature.  Okay then, read the ideas below, walk or hike on you own, and discover more reasons for exploring the natural world.

1.) Nature inspires! Rambling through the natural world—be it park, a stream side, vacant lot, or wilderness is one way to find multiple sources of inspiration.  Photographers, painters, musicians, and many others find and then share inspiration found in the natural world.
2.) Nature engages our senses!  Taking a nature walk allows us to immerse ourselves in the abundance of life surrounding us.  Walking and immersion in nature is fun!  Have fun on your walk.
3.) Being in nature sparks curiosity!  By exploring nearby nature areas we can expand our world.  It is a way of encountering the more than human world and the wild.  Walking out of doors allows us to express our curious nature.
4.) Nature can be mysterious!  We don’t know every plant, every flower or tree.  Exploring nature is an acknowledgement of our love of and interest in the unknown.
5.) Nature rekindles our sense of wonder!  Taking a ramble across the landscape has allowed people for generations to discover new riches—both natural and personal.  Riches that may be actual as in natural resources, or intangible as in beauty, bring a sense of peace and inspiration.
6.) Nature is a teacher!  We often set off to explore nature in order to see how it works.  In that discovery we often learn more about ourselves.  To examine our understanding of nature is also to examine a way of knowing.

In addition to these ideas, Olson relates that these ramblings allow us to find the peace and quiet that has been part of our lives since time immemorial.  This quiet and sense of timelessness is increasingly hard to find in today’s hectic world.  Being able to find peace and quiet, even on a short ramble, is an excellent gift for young people venturing into the hectic modern world.

Procedures:
Go to a park, nature reserve or similar natural area where students can explore on their own.  Be sure students have a map, know the time parameters and have a whistle for signaling an emergency.  Allow students time to explore and be curious.

Related Essays:
-Reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods can be very instructive for educators wishing to use the outdoors and natural environments in their teaching.
-“Beyond the Ranges” Ch. V in Open Horizons by Sigurd F. Olson

Additional Activities:
-Visit a Natural History Museum or Nature Center in your area.
-Take a walk to a natural area in the early morning, the middle of the afternoon and then after dark and compare your observations.

Evaluation:
-Have students share their experiences with the class.  Ask them to describe elements of their hike that sparked curiosity or wonder.  Ask if they think they might repeat this experience on their own.
-Have the students explain how an experience like this contributes to their overall education.
-Discuss silence.  Does it exist?  When can it be found?  Of what does it consist?

Participant Journal Page                Date ________

Activity:  Take a (Self-Directed) Nature Walk

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

Other Observations:
-Spend your time looking, listening, smelling and trying to catch the feeling of the place you are in.  Can you find silence?  Re-read and ponder the quotes if you find a good place to sit and take it all in.

Activity:  Exploring and Appreciating Night

Key Quote:
“There is one great, consistent element that is seldom if ever brought in when a deep conversation is discussed, and that is night.  In spite of the fact that it is so common and inescapable, we have confused it with finality. We have hidden from it, tried to enclose it or cut down on its immense scale, profaned its majesty, and called it bad names. That its immeasurable beauty should be included when we think of the value of lands, forests, and seas may not occur to us, but it is in them that the whole night is weighed, contained and experienced. To lie down with the earth and deny the night is to lose what stature we gain through sharing it.

John Hay,  The Immortal Wilderness, 159-160

Objectives:
Students will be able to:
1) Students will compare and contrast their impressions of night before and after this experience.
2)  Students will describe many aspects and roles of the night.

Background:
As a young naturalist preparing for my first night hike I gathered a 30’ length of rope and put an overhand knot every two feet for participants to hold onto and to keep them evenly spaced. I gathered some quotes to read and put red cellophane over the lens of my headlamp in order to preserve our night vision. I had also gathered half dozen different natural scents in airtight containers for people to whiff at resting points along the trail. I was expecting around 10-15 participants. You can imagine my surprise when over 60 showed up. For the rest of the summer night hikes were the most popular of our interpretive offerings.

People are interested in exploring the night time environs of earth and sky. Unfortunately, according to Let There Be Night editor Paul Bogard “We are losing dark skies all over the globe”. He goes on to say that 80% of western Europeans and North Americans ‘ no longer experience ‘real night”. So get out there while you still can. Find and appreciate our dark skies and work to keep them dark. See the work of the International Dark Sky Association at www.darksky.org.

Procedures:
Start by leading a night hike on a trail you know very well. Start short and plan just a few activities. Consider starting at dusk and allow your night vision to deepen. Cover all flashlights with red cellophane and have them keep them in their backpack or pocket unless absolutely necessary. You may wish to use a length of rope as a hand line to keep participants together.

My favorite activity was to hike out into the middle of a dark section of forest and sit for awhile listening. Then move to a clearing where stars may be visible. The transition can be dramatic. Sprinkling a few thoughtful quotes throughout a silent 30 minute walk can set the tone for a wonderful discussion later around a fire with hot drinks and snacks.

Related Essays:
“Sounds of the Night: by Sigurd F. Olson from Of Time and Place
“The Gifts of Darkness” by Kathleen Dean Moore from Let There be Night
“The Witching Hour” by Sigurd F. Olson from Listening Point

Additional Activities:
Propose the students try a one hour silent sit at night.
Arrange for a silent paddle on a quiet lake during a new moon -providing the appropriate safety considerations.
Meet at an observatory to learn constellations and look through a telescope into space. Which way is up in the universe?

Evaluation:
Ask students to write a short story about their experience on the night walk.
Have students write a letter to a friend explaining why they should not be afraid of the dark.
Have students plan a night walk for their families. (Where will it be? What will they highlight? What activities might they include?)

Participant Journal Page                                Date:_________________

Activity:  Exploring and Appreciating Night

Location:
Time:
Temperature:
Wind Speed and Direction using the Beaufort Scale:  (http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/beaufort.html ):
Cloud Cover:

Other Observations: