Summer warmth has finally settled in and the forest air is perfumed with the aroma of all the native flowering plants. Dragonflies and butterflies have emerged and we have discovered different types of grubs and inch worms. These observations led to a discussion about metamorphosis, or the four stages of growth in all insects: egg, larva, pupa and adult. We talked about those stages in reference to butterflies, as it is easiest for young kids to grasp. However we also talked about mosquitoes and dragonflies and how their larva stage lives in water. This led to talking about other animals that go through metamorphosis, including our amphibians, the pacific tree frog and Oregon salamander, both of which we have seen this month in the forest.
We engaged in several medicine-making projects this month. We were able to make the balm of Gilead, from the cottonwood husks we had collected two months ago and put up into oil. We heated the oil with some beeswax over a small campfire until they had blended, and then put the mixture into little jars for each child to take home. Balm of Gilead is a centuries old remedy for sore muscles, bruises, sprains and abrasions. We also made a bug bite balm out of the oil we had been soaking plantain leaves in for two months, by the same method. Those we put up in little “chap stick” containers for easy dispensing. Plantain is a well-known and highly effective remedy for bee or wasp stings, mosquito, ant or spider bites. It also doubles as a soothing lip balm as the plant is very softening and cooling to skin.
One day we decided to make a nature teabag. We collected large fresh salal leaves then filled them with all sorts of forest edibles and medicinals, including huckleberry leaves, western hemlock and red cedar branch tips, lichen, salal flowers and madrona flowers. We then folded the salal leaf around the mixture and tied the bundle with a native trailing blackberry vine. The kids each took their nature teabag home with the instructions to pour hot water over the bundle and let it steep for a few hours before drinking.
Yellow madrona leaves are beginning to fall as the evergreen tree enters its season of leaf shedding. I encourage the children to try to catch these elusive drifting leaves, telling them that they get to make a wish if they catch a falling leaf. Since all of the evergreen trees in our native forest, including the red cedar, western hemlock, and douglas fir are shedding now, the forest floor is rapidly accumulating debris, or leaf litter. The rate of accumulation is quite noticeable and this has led to discussion about what debris is and how it forms.
The mosquitoes have emerged in full force this month and we have taken evasive measures. For one, we have been rubbing fresh crushed red elderberry leaves on our skin. Although all the children know that red elderberry is the one plant in our forest which you do not eat the leaves, they all also know the leaves are a useful insect repellant. We made our own bug spray by soaking the leaves in alcohol for a week then mixing with water and pouring into a spritzer bottle. Another strategy is that we noticed certain areas of the forest where there were fewer mosquitos and we would retreat to those places when the clouds of mosquitoes got thick. We also found we could outrun the mosquitoes!
We celebrated the summer solstice on June 21 by making a small “wicker man”, a traditional ceremonial sculpture, and then burning it in our campfire. As the wicker man burned, we each said a wish and sent it up with the smoke. This month culminated with our annual Moving Up Ceremony and Cedarsong Family Campout, where we celebrated another successful educational and fun-filled year of our Forest Kindergarten. The connections that were forged and strengthened this year in our Forest Kindergarten group are evidence of the emphasis that we place on creating a Family within the framework of Cedarsong Nature School.
By Erin Kenny ©2011