A wet spring has given way to a wet summer in New England, but spring’s bone-chilling rain has become the warm stuff of summer, and is actually nice to walk about in, even for an old geezer like myself. And our Childcare focuses on the outdoors, so even if I’d like to goof about indoors I’ve trapped myself into going out. The children are rather fatalistic about the situation, and are unusually resigned to adults who don’t know enough to come in out of the rain. My chief trouble comes from identifying who gets which boots, but fortunately the kids help me out.
The world we head out into is especially green this year. We tend to hike three miles in four hours before lunch, which may seem slow, but the children stop a lot, and also likely circle about to such a degree they cover six miles for my three (measured by the pedometer in my cell phone.)
In such lush greenery anything red tend to bring progress to a screaming halt, especially if it is edible.
It always fascinates me how some children only nibble a few strawberries, others stuff themselves, and some are natural born gatherers, and likely would the ones a tribe would assign to drying berries or making jam for the coming winter.
(Notice the sun has popped out. This means I am carrying an armload of raincoats, until the rain starts up again.) The rain has made the wild berries much larger than normal. Here is an especially plush one, in a child’s small hand.
When we compared the flavor of wild berries to the enormous, plum-sized berries in the children’s lunches, I was somewhat disappointed that the consensus was that commercial berries were sweeter. This made it all the more interesting that many children seem to prefer the tart, wild ones.
I impressed upon the kids what a big job it was for their great-great-grandmothers to make even a single jar of jam, and what a treat jam was, once the season for strawberries was over. In the days before refrigeration a thick syrup of sugar was a way of preserving things, just as pickling was. (Also, if the berries were not excessively heated the remaining vitamin C in the jam prevented scurvy, during winter months.)
The kids tend to be unimpressed when I attempt to impress this sort of trivia into their brains, and hurry ahead to the next discovery, which happened to be a surprisingly red mushroom.
These are actually the ordinary brown shelf mushrooms that grow from the sides of dead and dying trees, and sometimes are strong enough to sit upon. They only are colorful when actively growing.
They were growing with surprising speed in the wet weather, and were hues even a geezer like myself had never noticed before (usually they are more purple when growing). One may have added enough weight to cause a rotted branch to fall to the ground.
What was interesting was that the fungus continued to grow, but made an adjustment for the fact “down” was in a new direction. (Notice the slug feasting).
The children were not all that interested, as one fellow forging ahead had discovered an eft.
It is hard to keep the kids from picking efts up and bringing them home in their pockets, or poking them with sticks. I try to again impress upon them that the salamander’s skin can’t take much abuse.
Efts are the juvinile form of a Newt, which is an interesting critter for it has somehow figured out three different ways to breathe. When it is a tadpole it looks like a minnow, only its gills stick out like feathers, even as it starts to grow legs.
Then it grows lungs, and becomes the red eft on wet forest floors. But then it returns to the water and, after a final lungfull of air, can quit breathing, as it turns green and becomes a common eastern newt.
At this point the newts breathe through their skin, using a process called “diffusion” which requires neither lungs nor gills. I was going to add that this is also how frogs can take a deep breath in the fall and then sleep in the mud under water all winter, but the children had had enough of my non-stop scientific trivia, and, as they realized we had left the unexplored part of the forest and were on a path they recognized, went rushing ahead to what they call “The Trampoline Tree”.
These two hemlocks nearly fell over in a storm, but were kept from falling by neighboring trees. Their roots are great fun to bounce upon.
I suppose I could lecture the kids about how bouncing might hurt the fragile roots, but the trees will not last long in their current state, and I think children get enough of a guilt trip laid on them by PBS. PBS is downright prudish about nature, as if nature will be hurt by being touched. I don’t see how a nature-lover can be a lover if he or she never touches. Isn’t being a lover a hands-on experience?
I love when rain’s warm-blooded, and the green,
Green leaves are platting in July’s soft heart;
When the gutters are all flooded, and the queen
Of midsummer night’s dreaming plays a part
In romanticizing logic. Our thought
Gets too severe when we rush, rush, rush
To ensure our garden’s harvest is a lot,
And we never pause to hear how songbirds gush
Despite falling rain, despite distant thunder
Thumping nearer, and nearer, and nearer.
Are we not made poor by the great blunder
Of wearing blinders when we could see clearer?
All winter we waited for this sweet summer day.
All too soon glory will go waltzing away.