an epic animal tracking expedition     
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a game of ecological hide-and-seek
discovering sign of the Beaver

Red-tailed Hawk review 12/1/14

enjoying lunch on a natural bench

Tracking Expedition and Honing Fire Skills

Dear Forest Floor Families,

I hope you all experienced a Thanksgiving holiday filled with gratitude and abundance.

 We are delighted to get back in the swing of things with the Red-tailed Hawk Clan and head into December and our last few weeks together deepening and strengthening skills introduced back when the trees were fully leafed and the morning grasses were spangled only with dew, not frost.

This Monday held the wonder of woodland discoveries. Building on the skills we began earlier in the year, today was a Choice Day. Instead of going with our usual groups, each instructor offered a different activity and the Red-tailed Hawks selected which option most interested them. 

Awesome Forest Floor Instructor Luke Cannon joined us again today (as Jamie is recovering from an injury) and we began our morning with a particular treat— a Luke Story! This one told the (true!) tale of how teenage Luke and a friend went out on a survival trip, persevered through a torrential downpour with only a tarp for protection, created fire from sopping materials and got closer to a deer than ever before in their lives. What inspiration!


Following the story, we laid out the Options for Choice Day. Fire Challenge was one choice. Animal Tracking Expedition was a second. And Forest Invisibility was a third.  (By popular demand these latter two merged into one.)


The Animal Tracking Expedition set out on a wander with senses attuned to signs of animal activity. They quickly found themselves following a circuitous deer trail though underbrush. Incorporating the use of field guides and noticing variations like size difference in tracks, they gathered knowledge about the habits and life of white-tailed deer. The group then decided to create permanent records of the ephemeral life of the tracks themselves— they would make plaster casts of some of the best tracks. After mixing and pouring the plaster into the desired tracks, then waiting for it to dry, the exciting part came with prying the hardened plaster from the ground to reveal a perfect replica of the tracks, this time convex rather than concave. The finished casts, it was soon discovered, could be put to all sorts of mischievous uses, including faking a trail of deer hoof prints convincing enough to throw off any potential trackers or rivals.


A highlight from the Forest Invisibility class was the discovery of an incredible myriad of tunnels through a field of tall, dried grasses in a clearing alongside the creek. What a gift to descend into that sweet-smelling world, completely concealed from outside eyes in a private warren of tunnels. Burrowing along on hands and knees, creating new passageways, the hushing whisper of grasses on all sides a soothing melody. It was easy to imagine and experience the comfort such shelter must bring to a forest creature such as a rabbit or fawn.


In that same clearing nearby, a startling sight: Bone in the sunlight. An entire spine and ribcage only partially hidden by plant matter. Field guides came out again and many questions were posed about these puzzling vertebrae. Further investigation revealed another tremendous find: the skull of the animal, at first concealed in the grass! The skull provided further confirmation that it was, as the kids suspected, the remains of a deer. Of course, curiosity, once stirred, continues to rise: “How did it die?” How long has it been here?” Some of the answers were relatively easy to suss out; some remain a mystery, tantalizing our minds in that delicious way of the Unknown.


Meanwhile in the Fire Challenge group: Imagining a “winter storm” on the way, we conjured a scenario in which we needed to build a fire quickly and efficiently. With only 5 minutes to collect all the needed material, we set to, working in small teams to gather all elements: tinder, “whispies,” and larger sticks. We also experimented in finding unusual fire starters (tufts of dried seedheads, bark slivers), making note along the way of particularly abundant places practically bristling with ideal fire materials. We scrubbed handfuls of tinder bark against tree trunks to soften and fluff it into lightweight bundles of fiber resembling birds nests. We discussed the wisdom of creating a dry hiding place in the woods to stow extra fuel in case of need on a truly rainy day. Remembering the methods Luke described in his morning story, we experimented with selecting some damper sticks and peeling off layers of wet bark to uncover the smooth, dry surface beneath. Our goal was to light each fire with a single match. To our delight, each fire caught easily and tending the fires in order to keep them burning merrily became the next task in this Challange. Around the fires, we relished our lunch and flame-roasted tidbits of food on sticks. Every flavor seemed improved by the smell of wood smoke and the dancing flames before our eyes. Our Fire Challenge culminated in safe fire extinguishing practices. After lunch, exploration, free time and spontaneous pine needle wreath-making emerged. A light-hearted, timeless feeling wove through our little clearing as the children engaged in these self-directed projects.


As the sun began to sink and lengthen the shadows, we gathered, reuniting all groups for shared Stories of the Day, then a final group game: Jays and Oven Birds! Jays and Oven Birds is an ecology teaching game, which simultaneously heightens awareness and strategy. The pairs of Oven Birds must work together to outsmart the wiley Jays and fill their nests with eggs, which the Jays are also seeking. Both Jays and Oven Birds must pay close attention to the movements of their fellow birds, all while avoiding getting tagged and “eaten” by the Sharp-shinned Hawk. By the mid-point of the game, all the “birds” are “flying” through the forest with awareness and agility to rival their avian counterparts, diving and outwitting each other in the constant balancing act of nature of which we are all a part.


Thank you for your radically fantastic children! Looking forward to fully experiencing the last few weeks with them before our winter break!


Warm wishes and Lots of Love,




Dates are up for Forest Floor 2015 Spring Programs! Check it out at and sign your kids up for another awesome season of adventure, skills, nature connection, fun, and friendship— do not delay!

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