“We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, Page 61
When the school year started in September, a friend of mine and her family adopted a trail in our county. When she posted a photograph of an Io moth caterpillar (Automeris io) to Facebook, I became jealous. You would too if you saw its lime green feathery fuzz that looks like something you would find in a fish tank. In October, my daughter Pamela and I started hitting the trail with them.
Once a week, we take two hours to walk a trail that is only a mile long. Along the way, we find so many things to capture our imagination. The boys showed me the best climbing trees and moss growing on the north side of trees, while their sister poked tiny puffballs and released spores. On my first visit, she caught a cricket to feed to their favorite banana spider. Unfortunately, the web disappeared. Then, I showed her how to tap lightly the main thread of an orbed web and watch the “neon” spider run to the edge. When she dropped her cricket through that web, she discovered it was too fragile and the insect lived to make music another night.
The two toddlers in our group are learning to love the marvels we have shown them. They have pet fuzzy caterpillars and frogs. They have seen a ginormous beetle and a friendly garter snake with their own eyes. They have tried to pry open water hyacinth bulbs to see God’s Styrofoam. (He invented floatation devices before humans did.) They have strolled through fall leaves for the first time in their lives since last year they could only crawl. They are learning to avoid cypress knees poking out of the ground, too.
Even my adult daughter with autism is exploring the trail in her own way. The first two weeks, she collected sticks. Then, she began pulling dead muscadine vines down to make her own sticks. A month into our walks, she started walking along fallen tree trunks as if she were on a tightrope. On our last walk, she climbed a small tree. My friend’s daughter introduced Pamela to collecting acorns on our last walk. Every week, she documents something she sees in her nature notebook.
I cannot begin to tell you everything we have seen. Deer rubs and deer trails leading to fresh water. All matter of fungi. A cluster of caterpillars huddling around a branch. An ant lion, a millipede, caterpillar eggs, dragonflies, daddy long legs, and snowy egrets. We know that little frogs hang out in the swamp grass. We even found a snake skin and a dead mole, and I finally saw my first io moth caterpillar! The highlight so far is the day we spotted a garter snake sunning itself on a dirt road. After we scared it, we watched the reptile slither to a muscadine vine and crawl up the vine and onto a nearby branch for safety.
We are all discovering little projects for budding naturalists. My friend grew a little excited over seeing some chestnuts, hoping they had come across an actual American chestnut. After reading about efforts to breed blight resistant species, she and her husband are thinking about joining the American Chestnut Foundation. One of her boys is collecting galls because he wants to figure out how to make ink. Their sister showed me a leaf that repels mosquitos in case you forget insect repellant. My friend and her daughter are vying to see whose picture will win in the park’s photography contest. I have posted several shots to Butterflies and Moths of North America and identified several species new to me. I learned that our “alien” caterpillar is either a moth either a white-headed prominent or red head oak worm moth. One can only tell adults of these species apart. The next time we see one, I plan to collect oak leaves and a caterpillar and try to identify it after pupation.
Over the past two months, we noticed our exploration was rather lopsided. We got so caught up in the first half of the trail that we were too tired and hungry to enjoy the second half. On our last walk, we reversed the direction and were so amazed that it seemed like a completely new trail to us. That was the day one of the children discovered a “deer roundabout” (our county just got one). When she stood in the center, she could see different deer trails.
Pamela and I missed our walk last week because we had to deliver meals on wheels. When I saw the children later that day, one girl said, “Miss Tammy! You missed a good one. We saw whooping cranes and an io moth caterpillar cocoon!”
© Tammy Glaser 2012