Friday, August 16, 2013

Swamp Day

 I know I have spoken many times about revisiting the same wild area again and again, in different seasons, and over years to see the remarkable changes wrought by nature. We revisited an area we have been to several times, though the group had never been there together as a group in the same season.  My autumn page has photos from our first visit, in 2005.  Since then, many of us have ventured into the murky mire.  We also had a fruitful bacteria hunt one fall in this very swamp.

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 Our hike took place in Shu Swamp (Paul lost a shoe in Shu Swamp once...), a small patch of freshwater wetland on the north shore of Long Island.  It's only about 65 acres, and has a fine flat 2.5 miles of trails.  This is a very easy hike for all ages, but is not stroller-friendly due to muddy patches and the occasional narrow trail lined with poison ivy.  But we intrepid homeschool moms who readily bring babies on our backs will have no problem...just watch their little faces for fear of catbriar and branches, and all is well.

The swamp is a favorite place for children of all ages, and despite the very swampiness of the preserve, it is not a terribly mosquito-ridden hike.  I saw two mosquitoes trying to bite my students, but a gentle swat on the intelligent pate of each child removed the threat efficiently.  Beyond mosquitoes, the patch of land is very much alive with critters more benign.  Moths and dragon flies--red ones and blue ones--caught our eye immediately.  We heard the call of the catbird, and saw a swan gliding over the glassy water of the open pond.  We smelled a fox...or perhaps an otter, as there are otter here...or so we are told.  (You see, in the woods, talking to strangers sometimes pays off--with information.) We saw the resident HUGE carp, and plenty of water-striders and more.  When one young man called out, "Trout!" an osprey appeared and circled as if waiting for a cue.  There were spider webs to rival Mirkwood, but the spiders were small.

I gave each naturalist-in-training a very basic data sheet (email me if you want a copy), and after a brief overview, off we went.

Some highlights:

Denizens of the (12 inches) deep--large mouthed bass?

Young naturalists compare notes.

Getting a closer look.
Taking the swampy temperature, which requires crossing a fallen tree.

Crossing the tree-bridge.

Another bridge-crosser.

We call him "Kneel" today.
Remnants of an old tree--most of the class would fit in its hollow trunk.

Many trees fell last fall.  The base of this one was about 13 feet.

The "class" poses next to a sign noting the tallest tree in NY State, at 167 ft.

That's what we did in the middle of August.  What have you done?  Did you get out?

Talking to Strangers (a good thing)

It's true.  I talk to strangers.  All the time.  And that's funny, because I am not at all outgoing.  But I have learned that sometimes a stranger can tell you things about himself or about a place that will fascinate and enlighten.  Most of my friends were former strangers.  That includes my husband.  Think about it.

We warn our children not to talk to strangers, and I even recall a song or maybe a PSA about stranger danger when I was a kid. There are books to teach children about strangers.  But we'd pick up hitchhikers (before it became illegal; or while in Canada or Mexico), or chat with strangers in the park along with my parents.  That is they key...with parents.  When so many children are placed in institutionalized schools with perfect strangers for teachers (think about that...the only assurance you have that a teacher is not a complete lunatic is the state's guarantee, based on subjective testing), a blanket admonition about strangers is a necessity.  Without the intuition of a parent to help a child discern in his tender years, his fear of strangers is extended beyond the normal range.  

Which leads me to this...The group I took to Shu Swamp yesterday was lucky to encounter the best kind of stranger you can meet in the woods (unless you are lost...): a biologist engaged in research.  While I was giving my basic pre-hike talk, Prof. Peter Daniel of Hofstra University stepped in and told the kids his fish story.  He had been tracking a trout using radio tagging technology. He told us how he had tagged a  trout a while back (assuring us he had used anesthesia), and was following the signal, but found a large mouth bass where he expected the trout to be!  Interesting, but not a nice end for the poor trout.  You can find out more about helping local trout here. You can read more about Dr. Daniel's research here.  Learn to cook trout here.  

He then took out a small radio tracking device and let the students hold it while he demonstrated the directional radio tracking equipment.  Impressive, and way better than seeing it on TV.  

Later in the day, I picked up one of my own children who had taken a train to meet me.  While she was waiting, she told me, she encountered a perfect stranger, and enjoyed speaking with him to pass the time.  He was an older British gentleman who was involved in the recording industry in Nashville.  With music and Tennessee in common, they hit it off.  No, not strange at all.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

We Survive by what Little Fourth of July Wits We've Stashed Away

--Ray Bradbury

Scenes from the best small-town Independence Day parade.



Baseball--no gloves.



Remembering the fallen


K of C and friends

1st lost balloon

A fine vehicle



The steeple of St Paul's

Union troops

Annika on the dock

Boys whistling counterpoints to Sousa tunes
Auntie Rose the crossing guard

Flags on the marsh