December was a warm month with very little rain. We observed signs of spring throughout the forest: leaf buds on the elderberry, salmonberry and Indian plum, catkins (flowers) of the alder and hazelnut, and young emerging sprouts of miner’s lettuce, cleavers and shot weed. We have even seen insects like moths and crane flies out of hibernation. However, we have also noticed that the forest is much quieter now that it is the middle of winter and we have not heard much of the native squirrels, the pileated woodpecker, the frogs, or the ravens. We have talked this month about debris, noting all that has fallen to the forest floor during this season, such as fir needles, leaves, branches, and lichen. This has led to discussions about how soil forms.
Our puddle has shrunk this month, leaving smooth soft mud along the edges, which is great for carefully studying the various animal tracks. Mostly we have seen large (towhee) and small (wren) bird tracks, however we have also spotted worm trails. We have been talking about how the animals are hungrier this time of year, as the plants are not producing food in the form of seeds and berries which the birds feast on, so we have made little bird feeders for our feathered friends. The children choose a Doug fir cone, tie a string around it, smear peanut butter on it, then roll it in seeds and hang it from a branch. It is fun to check on the feeders the next day and see that the birds have been enjoying them. We also talk about the other animals in our forest that may have nibbled on the feeders, such as mice, squirrels and raccoons.
The children have continued their energetic explorations of our 5 acres of forest, making loops and traveling to the remotest areas. On one of these trails, we discovered the most prolific and tastiest huckleberry bush of any in this forest. We ate the berries by the handful, gorging ourselves until we could eat no more. We even collected bowlfuls one day to share with the parents. We have also enjoyed much merry making this month through spontaneous musical jams and parades down heart trail. The children love to make up their own words to their raucous rhythms.
We all have been enjoying elaborate imaginative play this month, including various “baking” activities, and themes of castle building, baby animals, and explorers. These play themes usually occur spontaneously or sometimes in a more planned out way at our Forest Theater (which is simply a curtain hung between two trees). We encourage children to use their own imagination in creating these play scenarios and the only rule we really have is that everyone gets to choose their own role in the play and that there can be multiple roles in any play; for example, there can be two or three mothers or fathers and no one has exclusive use of any role.
We talked a lot about the winter solstice this month and what it means as far as the shorter days and longer nights. We decorated a little hemlock tree at main camp with sparkly hangings, dream catchers, and glitter. We talked about the meaning of winter solstice and its deep roots in human history. We made seasonal wreaths from found forest materials such as Doug fir boughs, huckleberry twigs, and sword ferns for everyone to take home. Of course we sang our own Winter Solstice song all month, cheerfully and at the top of our lungs: “Oh the days are short and the nights are long, winter solstice sings its song; it’s the darkest time of the year, let’s all have a cup of cheer!” The evening of the solstice, we had a fantastic celebration, sing-along and lantern walk with many of our Cedarsong families.
We have enjoyed a wonderful variety of forest tea this month. Each day we bring a thermos of hot water and the children delight in adding forest treats to the thermos, This month the main recipe has consisted of alder catkins, salal leaves, red cedar tips, “forest candy” (Doug fir buds), huckleberry leaves and lichen. Each of these plants is edible as well as having a long history of medicinal use by the Native Americans.