Outdoor Education

Winter Tracking with Elizabeth

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The boys and I tracked this bobcat through brush and briars, crawling on our bellies throughout the property. We ended up in a place we'd never seen before and were even slightly lost. So much fun! Thanks, Bobcat!

Bobcat pauses on haunches

Bobcat crosses skunk tracks.

Warming early in the winter brought the chipmunks out of their burrows and into the snow.
 

We haven't seen chipmunk tracks in deep snow here in previous years. Usually they are still in their burrows when the snow is this deep.

During the early February warming the raccoons got super active and left tracks everywhere along the trails throughout the property.

Possum party in Late February.
 

This very large raptor (likely a red tailed hawk) took out a hippity hopper (mouse or chipmunk) right below Big Velvet (a beautiful oak tree close to the tent).

 

When snow is deep and the tracks are obscured, making an ID can be tough. The boys and I followed one such trail for a good distance until we encountered a urine mark. They got down to sniff and immediately declared "fox!". Once you learn the skunky odor of fox urine, it's a definitive clue.

Kunsang had no difficulty identifying these tracks as belonging to a fisher (there's one bobcat track, too). The boy's tracking skills have come a long way!

Projects, Projects, and More Projects

The weather has been crazy around these parts with unseasonably warm days, sleet, rain, and not much snow. Nonetheless, our handmade snowshoes are complete! To be more specific, Silas and Kunsang each completed one snowshoe, so now they have a pair to share.

After converting the sap stove into a meat smoker our students spent a day making delicious beef jerky.

Mjolnir pendants were next. The boys chiseled molds, melted metal, and poured small replicas of Thor's hammer to wear around their necks.

Winter is the season of projects, and I'm sure we'll have more of them to share before Spring arrives.

Winter in the Woods

Even when temperatures dip in winter, nature continues to provide rich content for our students' young minds to soak up. Our teachers come prepared with project ideas as well. Here's a sampling of what we've been up to:

As winter approached, the wildlife scurried about to store up food and prepare for the cold. Sadly, there was a noticeable uptick in roadkill. Dave found both a squirrel and rabbit that he brought in for our students to skin, roast, and eat.

They took a field trip to White Memorial in mid-December where they found a dead, very smelly garter snake in the water as well as a wasp nest.

With the arrival of snow, animal tracking was even more fun! There were lots of squirrel tracks.

A vole and a coyote.

Drew has been helping the boys bend frames to make their own snowshoes. First they tried on Drew's pair.

At Mohawk Mountain State Forest the boys found a cool shelter under the roots of a tree. Inside were some neat ice crystals emerging out of the ground.

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And finally - good ol' fun in the snow. Introducing "Big John", the man-sized snowman. We are still searching for Silas buried under all that snow ;)

Oh Nuts!

Last year Elizabeth and our students harvested pounds upon pounds of acorns. After a lengthy leeching process, they ground the nuts into a fine flour that was used in many of their school-day recipes.  Fast forward one year to an impromptu visit from former-teacher Tim who told Elizabeth about a rare grove of chestnut trees in Sleeping Giant State Park, and off Elizabeth and her pupils went to Hamden to explore and harvest.

Exploring the chestnut grove at Sleeping Giant State Park. This grove of Asian and American chinquapin hybrid species was planted in the 1930s as a private, American Chestnut restoration project.

Collecting chestnuts

 

The spiky shells were a challeng to handle!

Shelling the chestnuts in preparation for roasting

Getting to know the distinctive leave shape of chestnut

Scoring the shell before roasting makes it easy to remove

The chestnut roasted beautifully in our open-fire bread baking oven

Yum

Ready to eat
 

Making chestnut paste

Chestnut weevil grub. There were lots of these little guys. In fact, between the mold and the grubs we only got about 15% edible nuts from our harvest. The students munched some of the grubs, too.

 

Digging Up The Past

As the building of our cabin progresses, the earth around it has begun to reveal stories from its past. We already knew that the EWL forest was farmland not-so-long ago, as there are rock walls criss-crossing the property and our forest is still young with a significant amount of underbrush (as trees mature and the canopy thickens, the underbrush is starved of light and dies away). We hoped to find evidence of indigenous activity and believe that we finally have.

Kunsang was digging in the dirt just a few yards from the cabin and found a significant accumulation of debitage, debris from the production of chipped stone tools. Drew immediately recognized it as such and upon further investigation also unearthed some charcoal.

A few days later, the boys found a second nearby site also with debitage and charcoal. Drew plans on inviting some archaeologist friends to come perform an official dig, and in the meantime, the sites have been names WI1 and WI2 for Windhorse International, the location of our property.

Also discovered was this ceramic mask inside one of the rock walls, which would be from a much later time period of course if, in fact, the debitage and charcoal were left by Native Americans. The boys drew pictures of the mask in their journals.

Finally, in our efforts to explore and document this piece of land from many different perspectives, Rick thought it would be useful to photograph EWL from his drone. For those of you who have never visited, here's your chance to see our slice of heaven from the sky. Enjoy!

The woods around the horse farm, Windhorse International, is Eastern Woodland Learning's classroom.

The deeper woods below the property where we are building the cabin.

The EWL tent.

Our students on the fence of the outdoor arena while Rick and Elizabeth control the drone in the background.