March 2017: Welcome, Spring!

March is an incredible month of growth and transition, and this year did not disappoint. We experienced many changes this month, including welcoming several new campers with the beginning of our Spring Session! We’ve been very busy keeping track of the changes in the park, putting on and taking off layers as the weather tries to decide what season we’re in, and making new friends.

We have naturally been talking a lot about spring this month, and exactly what happens in springtime. When the children were asked what they expected to see in spring, they gave a lot of answers related to growth and life: flowers, new leaves, bunnies, eggs, bees. We searched the park for signs of spring, and found many seeds and new sprouts. The ground under our bigleaf maple trees have been covered with maple seeds (“helicopters”) in all stages of sprouting – first with just the root emerging from the seed, then with the curled leaves visibly beginning to unfurl and stretch open the seed pod, and finally the little sprouts rooted in the ground, with open leaves stretching to the sun! We enjoyed searching for the sprouting seeds, measuring them, and recording them in our nature journals.

The long, loose hazelnut and alder catkins have been drawing in the children this month, and many of our Sprouting Roots have enjoyed collecting them from the trees and the ground, wiggling them like worms and noticing the yellow pollen they release. We spent a lot of time around the hazelnut tree at our drop off spot, finding old nuts and shells on the ground, collecting catkins, and feeling the fuzzy, just-opening leaves. It’s interesting how a new season can bring sudden interest to a tree that went largely unnoticed for most of the year.

We’ve seen significant change in the shrubs and understory plants at the park. All the brown, dead-looking sticks along the trails are suddenly opening bright, soft new leaves. This has served as a great reminder that we should treat gently even those plants that appear dead, because life is often hidden inside, waiting for spring. Our Indian Plums, which began to leaf out in February, have continued to open and spread their leaves, and are now displaying delicate white flowers. Soon after the Indian Plums, we saw many of our berry plants opening their leaves - huckleberry, then salmonberry, blackberry and thimbleberry. A beautiful red-flowering currant has been showing its colors along the path from drop-off to camp, and in the landscaped areas of the park bright sunny daffodils have emerged. Dandelions and daisies have taken over the fields, making everything a little more colorful. What a wonderful time to be outside!

It would not be spring in the Pacific Northwest without rain, and we’ve had our fair share this March! We’ve been talking a lot about the water cycle, the importance of water in all aspects of our lives, and the role of water in the forest ecosystem. Each of our classes took water detective hikes, seeing how much water we could spot – we found water in streams, swamps, mud and puddles; in dewdrops on the grass and pooled inside flowers and leaves; inside rotting wood and carpets of moss. We started to recognize and identify some of the plants, animals and fungi that depend on very wet places, like salmonberry, skunk cabbage, moss, mushrooms, slugs and ducks.

Along with the importance of water, we discussed its power. We talked about how water, wind and gravity cause erosion of rock and soil, and looked at places where the lake trail has started to slide due to erosion of the cliff. We also saw where water had run down the center of some of the park trails, eroding the soil and cutting into the trail. On our trails and in our most-trafficked areas we noticed how many roots were visible, a sign that erosion is happening, in this case from constant foot traffic. This led to discussions about our human impact, and gave a reminder for why we should be careful about where we walk and play in the park.

This month brought a few exciting wildlife sightings. Our swallows, which had migrated South for the winter, have returned and can be seen flying in and out of the seminary bell tower throughout the day. A group of our Homeschool Roots spotted two deer feeding on shrubs along the Mushroom Trail, and our Sprouting Roots had a few instances where they were able to observe a bald eagle circled close overhead. One Wednesday we were hiking the Volunteer trail and noticed whitewash (owl droppings) at the base of a small cedar tree. Sure enough, when we looked up, there was a small owl looking back at us! We were all able to watch it silently for several moments before moving on down the trail. The next Monday we returned to find owl pellets under the tree, and took them apart to discover rodent bones, teeth and nails. Our Youth Roots after-school program came upon a garter snake on the trail one day, which stayed still long enough for most of the kids to observe it before it slithered into the brush.

The transition from winter to spring is always a little bit magical, and being able to watch it so closely, week by week like our campers do is a truly wonderful experience. Many steps of growth and change from winter to spring happen so quickly that they are easily missed. By returning to the same familiar space each week, and taking the time to explore and notice what is happening around them, our campers are able to get a deep insight into the growth and life that make spring such an incredible time. It's such a gift to be on this journey with all of them, and I'm excited to see what the next few months have in store!

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