October was quite warm this year with some days in the 70’s and we noticed many seasonal anomalies: big green caterpillars, shield bugs, new buds on the elderberry, sprouts of miner’s lettuce and cleavers, and catkins on the hazelnut and alder trees. Our native banana slugs continued to be out in full force, eating mushrooms and climbing up the red elderberry stems. We have heard our native doug fir squirrel and even seen it a couple of times. Raven is still a strong presence: flying over so low we can hear its wings beat, its throaty call projecting through the forest. Flocks of golden-crowned kinglets have entertained us; surrounding us with sound even though we cannot see them because they are so tiny.
With the increasing moisture we are seeing more mushrooms. We have spent many days collecting mushrooms and comparing the differences. We have discovered that some mushrooms have gills (amanitas, russulas) while others have spongy bottoms (boletes). Other mushrooms are like shelves (polypores) and live mostly on standing dead trees (snags). We have also seen some orange jelly, yellow coral and birds nest cup fungus. We are teaching the children that it is okay to explore all of these mushrooms with their fingers, yet we do not pick them and we never eat them. We have also observed that the smell in the forest has changed and the aroma of mushroom and decaying cottonwood leaves is strongly in the air.
We are now wearing our rain pants every day so we can sit and kneel on the ground comfortably. Also, the rain pants layer helps keep in body warmth. I call this the season of permadamp, indicating that the forest floor is continuously damp from now until spring. The warm dampness has resulted in our pacific tree frogs being a presence this month and several of the children have had the opportunity to see them. Interestingly enough, their camouflage coloring has shifted from a summer green to an autumnal coppery-orange. We teach the children not to pick up or handle amphibians since their skin is so porous they can easily be poisoned by anything on our hands such as antibacterial soap, hand sanitizers, or skin lotions.
The changing angle of the sun has become noticeable as our sunny spots in the forest diminish and become more fleeting, leading us to play our seasonal “sun chasing” game. Sitting in one sunny spot for awhile, we are able to clearly see that the earth is moving as the shaft of sunlight moves away from our sit spot. We are talking about the changing season from summer to fall and what the differences are: we are wearing more clothing, leaves are falling, insects are hibernating, and the ground is damp.
We spent several days this month collecting leaves and comparing the differences between them to try to distinguish which leaves came from which trees. We discovered that the madrona and the salal leaf look very similar and are hard to tell apart. The signs of the changing season are readily visible in our woods and the children pick up on all the clues since they spend a lot of time immersed in this particular forest. One day we observed our native squirrel dropping fir cones from the crown of a large doug fir tree and we had to stand out of the way to avoid being hit by a falling cone!
Wind activity has increased this month and the children delight in trying to catch leaves as they fall to the ground. I tell them that if they catch one, they get to make a wish! We are noticing that there is a lot of debris on the ground accumulating at a greater rate every day. There were several days that we raked an area of the trail and then watched over the course of the week to see what had fallen from the trees. We have talked about how wind is an example of something that you cannot see directly yet we can see evidence of it by the dancing trees, the sound in the leaves and the cascade of fir needles that occurs as a result of it.
We have had enough rain this month to fill our mud puddle once again. This has lead to a flurry of activity in our “bakery”, with children mixing up a variety of mud cakes, cookies and soups. We are noticing that mud has different qualities on various days and have begun to name the mud depending on how it feels and looks: spotty mud, gooey mud, silky mud, sticky mud. There have been days when the children experimented with water flow by building elaborate channels, dams, bridges, tunnels and waterfalls.
The children have delighted in practicing their balancing and climbing skills, although we have noticed that all surfaces are more slippery than they were last month. We have played some of our favorite nature games, such as “Howl and Seek” and “Eagle Eye”. As the forest thins out for the winter, it is getting more difficult to hide and we are becoming more creative with how and where we hide. As the weather is cooling off, the children have become more active and have spent a lot of time this month dancing and running.
Roots of trees have become more obvious in some places where we spend a lot of time and this has lead to a discussion about erosion; what it is and why it occurs. It has also prompted us to talk about roots and how they benefit the tree and also that trees communicate through their roots. We have talked about how we want to give some areas of our forest a rest because of the heavy impact from our use. The children love to color the exposed roots with “sidewalk” chalk so that they are more eye-catching and we reduce our chances of tripping over them.
We have been foraging daily for our native edibles, such as huckleberries, cedar tips, alder catkins and young miner’s lettuce. We have been comparing the taste of each of the huckleberry bushes and have noticed that each one has its unique flavor. The children also enjoy chewing the leaves of the salal and evergreen huckleberry. It is truly a wonderful way to get a high dose of natural vitamins and minerals!
By Erin Kenny ©2011