During the month of March in the pacific northwest, signs of spring are everywhere! Dangly alder catkins cover the ground, having distributed their pollen last month, and new leaf buds have become noticeable on the alder branch tips. Many plants are erupting with signs of life after their winter hibernation or dormancy: Leaves are bursting out on the salmonberry, the elderberry and the Indian plum, seemingly overnight. The pink salmonberry flowers add color to the forest and we are enjoying their flavor raw and in our forest tea blend this month.
The native sword fern and bracken fern have grown quickly. The children coo lovingly to the baby ferns as they gently stroke the new growth of the fiddleheads which have a soft coating reminiscent of hair or fur. One four year old girl correctly taught the other children, “Those soft things are going to be leaves”. We have delighted in measuring the bracken ferns phenomenal growth by placing a stick in the ground that is equal to the height of the emerging fern and then observing each day how fast the new plant is growing.
The unmistakable aroma of the sticky resin of the cottonwood buds is wafting through the forest and we have collected a couple of jars of these buds to make the anti-inflammatory herbal remedy “Balm of Gilead”. We are soaking the buds for 6 weeks in olive oil and then will assist the children in adding melted beeswax to the strained infused oil so that each child can take a small container home with them. We are also seeing yellow pollen streaming through the air and noticing a light coating on the leaves of many plants. The children have been licking pollen off the leaves to find out what it tastes like and rubbing it between their fingers to find out what it feels like.
We have observed that more things are coming out of hibernation, such as earthworms, millipedes, beetles and slugs – none of which we saw last month. The kids have enjoyed playing “Nature Detectives”, looking for signs of spring. Whenever they discover a millipede in their play area where it is in danger of getting stepped on, they yell “millipede rescue” and carefully encourage it onto a leaf, removing it to the millipede fairyhouses that they have created.
The children have noticed a lot of erosion this month and there has been some discussion about it. When I asked the leading question: “Where do the roots of plants like to live?” The children all answered, “Under the ground”. When I asked, “So how do you think these roots feel when they are above the ground?” The answers I received from the three and four year olds were: “sick” “sad” and “they might hurt”. One four year old boy elaborated: “If I was a tree and my roots were uncovered all of the time, I would feel really sad”. Acting on these feelings, the children spent several days deeply engaged in transporting mud, dirt and debris to cover the roots of their favorite tree, a large red cedar named Clara.
There have been several barefoot days although the ground is still too cold to go more than an hour or so without our boots. Layers of clothing are being shed this month as the temperature fluctuates and there is a noticeable lack of rain gear, mittens and hats. The children have observed that on rainy days the climbing limbs are wet and slippery so they need to be extra cautious. They have also noticed it is more difficult to climb with mittens and boots on, so as the weather warms, they are able to participate in more climbing as those clothing items are removed.
As the sun rises higher in the sky, we are finding more sunny spots in the forest and the kids are enjoying lying on the ground, looking into canopy and just relaxing. When we notice that the sun spot we were just enjoying is now in shade, I ask the kids, “Did the sun move or did the earth move?” This brings in a conversation about planetary motion. On a particularly warm day, a four year old boy commented: “I notice the trees are talking because steam is coming off them”.
Several days this month it rained so much that we could watch the puddles grow by the hour. The children noticed that when it was raining really hard the raindrops were making bubbles in the puddle and when the bubbles popped, rings formed and expanded outwards. When it rains, the children often engage in building dams, experimenting with what makes a strong dam. They usually come to the conclusion that a dam made of only mud collapse easily and so they use sticks, rocks, upright bark, doug fir branches and twigs to strengthen it. A couple of our favorite rainy day activities include licking raindrops off of leaves without using our hands and taking a “shower” by shaking branches.
We have experienced many days of elaborate storytelling this month and there seem to be spots in the forest that elicit this activity. On several days, during our adventure walks, we came upon an area in the forest we have named Red Yarn Camp, because at one time someone tied a length of red yarn on some upright sticks. The area looks naturally like a circle and the children all spontaneously sit down and, in a very orderly yet non-directed fashion, begin to tell stories. Some of the detailed stories are made up, some involve a tale from their home life and some children just sing beautiful songs off the top of their head. One day we decided to listen to the story of the winter wren which was enchanting us with its bubbly and elaborate spring song. One four year old girl commented: “My favorite music is the birds singing”.
I hope you are all having as much fun embracing spring as we are!
By Erin Kenny ©2014