Deep Bird Language – Birds tell us more than you think

Golly, I wish I had a Go-Pro camera on my head yesterday during the Birding and Bird Language field walk! An astounding thing happened that convinced me how awesome bird language is. It was a soft overcast morning with few bugs, and our guides Simon and Pierre started us off with a relaxed amble, stopping to hear which birds were singing and doing their companion calls. We learned to identify some birds by sound and heard stories about survival strategies.

​Then Pierre introduced us to the study of bird language, based in indigenous practices of deep nature awareness and connection. This is a whole new way (for me) of observing birds. He explained how birds convey so much information about what’s going on in the landscape- what predators are on their way, whether a fast-flying bird-of-prey from above or a hunting mammal from below, where the deer are etc.

Field Day for Senior K – A Parent’s View

Our Field Day for Schools program started yesterday with a visit from the Senior K class of Good Shepherd Catholic School. 24 kids, 3 nature mentors, 3 parent volunteers, and 3 teachers made up our village for the day, so we divided into three groups, each led by an Earth Path mentor, to explore the forests, meadows and creeks around Just Food Farm.

We mentors had a blast! And we were happy to hear that the children and other adults enjoyed themselves too! Here’s an email we received from parent volunteer Erika Coghill, reflecting on her time spent with the group led by mentor Isabel (a long-time friend and guest mentor at Earth Path, Isabel also runs Les Arterres in Wakefield, QC).

“I was so happy to be able to join the class in exploring nature! You guys have such a great gig at Earth Path! I thought I would pass on some comments I had about the program as I really enjoyed it and thought Isabel did such a great job! It was exhilarating being in the forest all day and, as I discussed with the teaching staff, the children seemed to feel the same way. Our group busied themselves the entire time with working on their shelter, finding treasures and playing games. We had no incidence of behaviour in any of the kids in our group, and all of them seemed to have an intrinsic sense of boundaries and safety. Here are some points that I really appreciated about the day:

  1. Incorporating sound and movement into the circle at the beginning of the day as well as the story using puppets. It really captivated the children’s attention.
  2. Isabel took us off the beaten path, through the field, and along the way encouraged us to connect with what was beneath our feet. We learned about gall flies and it was really interesting! The children were fascinated and amazed and loved being able to identify the galls on the goldenrod stems. This started our day off with an inquisitive mindset.
  3. I love how Isabel let the children lead the way and discover. Initially, I was sort of nervous to have them all going down the somewhat steep hill toward the creek! If she hadn’t been there, I would have stopped the kids from going down for SURE but I trusted her experience so down we went! The kids did just fine! It was a lot of fun. We worked as a team to determine which direction we wanted to go (North, South, East, West) to set up camp.
  4. Once we found a spot to set up camp, Isabel encouraged us to find things to make our ‘home’. The kids loved this! They worked together to make a shelter with bed and even a toilet. She encouraged the kids to get their hands dirty and work together. They loved it.
  5. We let the rhythm of the day dictate what we did. At one point we were collecting kindling for a little fire but, because the kids were so busy running and playing, we didn’t end up having that fire – and that’s ok! Throwing any semblance of a schedule or ‘to do list’ out the window and just rolling with it is refreshing.
  6. Isabel explained to us adults, during a game of “Owl Eye” when the kids were camouflaging, the benefits of children hiding in nature – how it’s important for them to have a spot in nature that is their own that they visit frequently in every season, and that being still and quiet in nature helps quiet their mind. When hiding with Jack during a game of hide and seek, it felt good to be close to the earth and keeping silent; we could hear the birds and the wind in the trees and the voices of the group trying to find us. After some time, we let out a coyote ‘yip!’ to give them a clue of where we were.
  7. I loved the use of animal sounds to communicate with the children. It’s a fun way to keep them safe without having to yell after them ‘COME BACK!’ or “WHERE ARE YOU!?’

I was trying to think if there was any constructive criticism I could offer, as far as my experience with Earth Path goes, but I couldn’t think of anything… I appreciated that Isabel encouraged the children to explore with their senses to instill a deeper connection with the world around us. At the end of our time together, we sat in a circle and took turns expressing our gratitude, before heading back to the parking lot.”

First Day of Spring Session

Yesterday we had a great first day of the Spring session with our Friday nature school kids! We started with a morning circle and name games, then after reviewing a few safety agreements and animal calls, we fox-walked to our new fire ring in the forest. Pierre told the Cherokee fire creation story Yona the Bear while he made a fire using a hand drill (goldenrod stem on cedar board); the children watched with fascination as smoke started to curl up from below the cedar board as the goldenrod ground the cedar’s wood fibers into dust fine enough to produce a tiny coal. After story, fire, and snack, we split into guilds and set off on an explore…

The children had fun following and examining the many animal tracks and sign – grouse and dog, the scat of a cottontail or hare, and one group’s exciting discovery was the remnants of deer fur and bone! They used their rich imaginations to piece together the deer’s story, conjecturing that a pack of coyotes was involved in its demise. Meanwhile, the second guild was slip-sliding over and down the icy hummocks in the cedar forest- tracking, and exploring the ice and plants in frozen puddles and mini pools. As the ground was rather slippery, we discovered that it was often safer and more fun to scoot about on our bottoms!

A brief aside: It was interesting to explore this familiar part of the forest during the late winter-crusty snow-ice season. Each season brings its own features, challenges, and beauty, laying its own character across the forest floor: late winter brings hardened snow and ice in lumpy hummocks and swales (fun for sliding); early spring emerges with vernal pools and brown leaves kissed golden by the sun through an open canopy (fun for salamander-seeking); summer introduces deep shade and splashes of green where ferns and wildflowers grow (fun for hiding)… One of the many things we love about long-term nature mentoring in the same place is that we can observe seasonal changes and appreciate the gifts of each one…

Anyhow, back to our day! We returned to the fire ring for lunch, and afterwards the children had a bit of free time to explore the area around camp, while a few kids took an interest in starting a bow-drill kit with Pierre’s guidance. A scavenger hunt for all the different types of conifer plants we could find nearby, and a closing circle of gratitude capped off the day. We were grateful to see beautiful camaraderie and new friendships forming on this first day. Looking forward to next week!

Presenting to Teachers in the Philippines

While visiting family in the Philippines, Bryarly was invited to speak about nature-based education at two conferences for teachers- one on global educational leadership and management, and the other on action research in education. Her first workshop desbribed the benefits of nature-based education, the need for reconnecting children with nature, promising principles/practices from three models that shape Earth Path’s approach, and applications for public school teachers and principals. The second presentation made recommendations for how nature-based education and its benefits could be applied in Philippine schools and evaluated through action research.

It was humbling to spend the day with over 200 Filipino teachers, seeing their passion for serving youth and their community, hearing their motivation to innovate, and learning about the considerable constraints that they face (such as class sizes of 30-50 students, nonexistent fieldtrip budgets, and scanty book resources). The teachers’ drive to find solutions and incorporate more nature-based education in their classes was inspiring, and we hope that our presentations may inspire them to look further into the models we mentioned: Forest Schools, Coyote Mentoring/Wilderness Awareness School, and Place-based Education.

Highlights of the workshops: when participants spoke about the remarkable environmental attributes of their own communities and shared some of the amazing place-based/nature-based projects that they are already doing (e.g. school food gardens nation-wide!), and then the laughter and applause that our Earth Path animal calls elicited… It turns out that the Philippine equivalent of Canada’s chickadees and bluejays alarming when danger is near is the sound of dogs barking! : )

It was a great two days, and we’re thankful for the organizers’ immense hospitality and the opportunity.

Fall Newsletter

We have just wrapped up our fall nature school programs, packed our tarps and ropes away, cleaned the fall seed fluff from our clothes, and now are enjoying the memories, like sweet-smelling wood smoke, as we go through the photos. We ran 4 nature school programs- Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays in Ottawa; and Fridays in Wakefield- and we had a blast in all of them! Here’s an overview, in case you’re thinking of signing up for the Spring session.
​Our Tuesday group (ages 4-5) made their camp amidst a grove of pines, next to a small valley and stream. They discovered many fun ways to play in nature here – tree climbing, climbing up and down slopes with ropes, creating a rope playground and giant spiderweb, collecting water and clay, water engineering projects, making a bridge out of sticks, using clay for camouflage face-paint and animal role plays, and collecting pine needles for delicious immune-boosting tea. The pine grove, with its soft mat of needles, was also a pleasant place to relax, have snack and sit spots, and tell stories. From our pine camp we explored the meadows nearby, collecting some goldenrods and asters, finding caterpillars and little larvae hiding in the Queen Anne’s lace seed-heads, and playing group hide-and-seek. Our biggest adventure was visiting the Oak Camp (i.e. “the big kids’ camp”), when we had sufficient stamina on one of our last days. Much to their delight, the children left the big kids several charcoal drawings and notes on a cast-away wooden board. Every day we had a nature-based story- one about Yona the Bear, the world’s first firekeeper; another about the mouse in Bryarly’s house; and of course, the children had many of their own wonderful stories to tell!

Our Wednesday group (ages 6-11) created a village of their own at the Oak Camp, setting up services like a tool-making shop (“Flash Tools”), an herbal apothecary/tea shop, and a bakery. Just Food Farm has dozens of crab apple trees, so picking and preparing crab apples every which way became a weekly interest. We tried roasting crab apples over the fire, making crab apple sauce, and drying them out in the sun. Preparing crab apples was an opportunity for our “bakers” to practice safe tool use as they chopped the apples in half or used the apple peeler-corer-slicer. The children discovered early on that our camp was littered (in a good way!) with thousands of acorns, so they decided to use them as a kind of currency in their village, which got them counting, adding, subtracting and multiplying! Eventually we gave most of the acorns back to the animals of the forest. Each week we spent some time exploring away from camp – visiting the deep squishy clays of Green’s Creek; finding wild edibles and medicinals like red clover and elecampane root; and meeting animals like a bobolink, green frog, and red-bellied snake. Sometimes our explores led to tree climbing and rope swinging, slope sliding and shelter building, after which the children returned to camp excited to share their stories. Our village time led to a variety of creative projects of the children’s design, such as building small tables with hammer, nail, and saw; making maps; and weaving sticks to make a fence for the cooking area. As the weather cooled, we enjoyed the heat of the campfire, singing songs, and playing active run-around games like Camouflage.

Our Friday group spent many classes setting up a “survivors’ camp”, imagining they were lost in the woods with only a few tools/resources at their disposal. They found an amazing refuge in a thicket of spruce saplings, where they set up beds with a layer of pine duff, and made little trails between their different quarters. A lot of skill-building happened here as the children practiced using pocket saws, tying knots, and seeing how a bow-drill is used to make fire. They also became enthralled with all the possible uses for milkweed pods- some made herb pouches with them, and we made little paintings on the inside of others. Also excited by the fall apple harvest, we spent time picking apples, and one day came across some bear scat full of apples!

Our Saturday group similarly took full advantage of the season’s gifts. They made milkweed pillows and stuffed animals out of the fluffy milkweed silk, and they brought my mittens back to life by stuffing milkweed seed insulation into its holes. They even came up with a song to honour the milkweed that may be catchy enough to be an Earth Path hit single some day…

In addition to all the projects, explorations, and free play that the children did, they did a lot of growing. Nature is the container in which we deepen our empathy and social skills, learn to take care of the natural world and each other, and practice expressing ourselves in a kind, clear and constructive way. It is a place where we learn to be patient, observant and receptive, understanding of people’s differences, and proactive in solving problems. And nature is the basket full of simple gifts that we can appreciate everyday.

As we wind up the year, here’s a fun stat for Earth Path 2016: through the programs, kids spent a total of 3,836 face-to-face hours in nature- way to go friends! Thank you children and families for a wonderful year!

Please note: REGISTRATION IS OPEN for our Spring youth programs in Ottawa and WakefieldFor our adult programs, stay tuned for our list of field walks and workshops in the spring.

​Special thanks to Shabana B Photography for your photo contributions.

And many thanks to all our partners in 2016:
– Just Food – our host at the Just Food Farm in Ottawa
– Eco Echo – our host at Minnes Farm in Wakefield
– Ottawa Field Naturalists Club and The Wild Garden – our partners for the Spring Ephemerals field walk
– Nature Connections – fellow nature mentors and partner in summer camp delivery