After what felt like a very long winter break, we returned to Camp Roots in January ready for many new adventures! We’ve had a particularly cold winter for our area, with many days of freezing temperatures - quite a change from last year, when most of January was in the high 40s to 50s! This made for bulkier layers and more time spent managing mittens and hats, but brought us many classic winter experiences that we sometimes miss out on in this mild climate.
The month started with a hard freeze, long and cold enough that the ponds by main camp froze solid. Since we meet each day by these ponds, the kids got used to checking in each morning to see whether or not the ponds were frozen, and if they were, how easily the ice could be broken. On our hikes this month we continued to find very impressive, crunchy needle ice, some of which could be collected in chunks a foot across and inches deep! We discussed how different kinds of ice form - needle ice from water in the soil; frost from moisture in the air; icicles from water that freezes as it drips. We had a few days where the shallow stream next to the lower field was frozen solid, allowing for hours of ice skating, sliding, breaking and ‘ice fishing’. Many sticks and leaves, that had been frozen in the ice, were set free after careful and precise work chipping away at the ice! Though the stream is only a few inches deep, we emphasized that in the spots where it became thinner we had to step off and walk along the bank, to avoid soaking our layers in these freezing temperatures. We also stressed that it is not safe in our Seattle area to walk on a frozen pond or lake, since it generally does not get cold enough for long enough to build up a safe, thick layer of ice.
As the month continued, temperatures started to rise, but the ice didn't seem quite ready to leave. In collecting sticks and rocks for projects throughout the day, we noticed that many of them had ice crystals underneath them, in some cases holding them fast to the soil! We also found ice in shady places, and in the hollows of some trees. On a long hike to the lake one day we found delicate hair ice, which looks like white cotton candy and forms due to the presence of a specific fungus in decomposing wood. Everyone had a chance to feel it - it felt soft and cold, and melted quickly when touched. We also felt the trunk of a familiar snag, which in the past has felt soft like a sponge, but on this day was hard - we concluded that this was because all the water in the wood was frozen!
This is an excellent time of year for bird watching, so we had the binoculars and field guides out for most of the month and practiced using them to hunt for and identify birds. In the forest and fields we’ve spied many robins, juncos, chickadees, pigeons, crows, woodpeckers, kinglets and Pacific wrens, along with a couple spotted towhees and, high overhead, bald eagles. During our lunch time, we often see robins and juncos having their lunch in the grassy field, and golden-crowned kinglets in and around our Douglas fir trees, hanging from the cones and branches with their little feet or hopping across the dirt, constantly pecking for insects. At the lake we’ve observed many water birds, including cormorants, common mergansers, gadwalls, goldeneyes, gulls, and horned grebes. We also of course always get a close look at our mallards - they are not shy about coming right up to us as we eat our lunches, so we have to shoo them away!
Much of our yoga and mindfulness practice this month has been in stillness and patience, essential elements of bird watching. We’ve practiced watching the cormorants at the lake, waiting the length of their extended dives to see if they emerge with a fish. Our Sprouting Roots have practiced slowly and silently creeping toward little golden-crowned kinglets as they forage in the dirt, being careful not to make any noise or sudden movements. We observed how these little birds flap their wings as they hop across the ground, and how they roll off pinecones when they happen to land on them. Our Homeschool Roots have also practiced sound mapping in their journals: each child finds their own space in the forest or field, draws him/herself in the middle of a page, then listens silently for several minutes. On the page, they record through words, pictures or symbols each sound they hear and where the sound is coming from. I saw many lovely representations of sounds on these maps, from planes and birds to snapping twigs, the light rain, and even their own breathing. This journaling activity inspired a number of spontaneous, silent sound mapping moments throughout our days. During one of these moments, when the whole class lay silently listening in the field, we heard the harsh caws of several crows and, with them, the low croak of a raven - giving us the perfect comparison between their calls!
As it grew warmer and started to drizzle toward the end of the month, everyone seemed to become more interested in working with their hands - perhaps excited to be freed from the mittens that are required in freezing temperatures. Our Sprouting Roots became engaged in a number of collaborative projects under the protective branches of the cedar trees at main camp. One day, a group got to work setting up a bakery and making mud cookies, which they then passed out to their friends who were engaged in other work. Another group was busy digging together with sticks to find golden treasure (this took much communication and experimentation to figure out how to dig together without dirt being flung up and getting into eyes - they tried taking turns, digging slower, and digging in different directions, with varied results). Our Homeschool Roots also became involved in many building and creative projects, including building shelters to keep out the rain and making tools from forest materials, such as stone and wood axes.
Now that January is through, we've begun looking forward to spring! We've started to focus in on some of the plants in the understory and forest floor, becoming more familiar with them so we can observe the changes brought on by spring. We're already noticing that the Indian Plum buds are nearly opened, ready for the first inkling of spring to send out their new leaves! These shrubs will soak up as much sun as they can get, before the towering maples get their leaves and shade out the shorter plants. As the weather continues to warm I imagine we'll be doing the same: standing or laying with our eyes closed and faces to the late winter sun, soaking in the warmth and dreaming of spring.