Cycling out of Summer

acornEven when August was fairly new, signs of autumn were starting to appear. I have always thought of summer as the months of July and August—two months of the year boxed off with hot summer weather for everyone to enjoy. But this year, I began to notice signs of summer fading and autumn approaching in early August.

First, I spotted a newly fallen acorn on the trail while I hiked in the woods near my house. I spend the first months of the school year collecting, counting, and talking about acorns with the Explorers in my classroom. The exclamations sound like this: “Ann, looks at this huge acorn!”  “Look I found a double one.” “I collected about a million.” “I can hear them falling out of the trees.” For me acorns are an autumn experience. I don’t expect to see them on the ground in early August. Yet, there it was.

red-winged-black-birdsAnother favorite fall sight for me is the appearance of red-winged blackbirds in the wild rice of Pratt Cove, a tidal marsh in Deep River. The birds come to this cove to bulk up for their migratory journey south. (For the whole story of the red-winged blackbird and the wild rice read my post: Bon Voyage to the Birds.) On an early August day I walked past the cove and heard the familiar chatter of excited red-winged blackbirds flitting through the wild rice. As I watched the birds I thought, “But it’s August, what are you doing here?”

I have school-age children, which means I follow a school calendar. There is the school year and the activities that come with it, and then there is summer vacation—no school, summer programs, and a desire to use each long day to its fullest.

While watching the birds on that early August day, my thoughts shifted. I stopped seeing July and August as a suspended state in time. Nature doesn’t know about the school calendar. It has its own rhythm—a continual waxing and waning of natural events that is unconcerned with the activities and calendars of humans.

img_6073The number of birds in Pratt cove will increase as days shorten, nights cool, and autumn takes hold. The red-winged blackbirds will fly to warmer climates and wait out our winter. As the weather warms in the spring, they will return. And so goes their life cycle.

As the weather gets colder, more acorns will fall from the trees, the trees’ leaves will turn color and then join the acorns on the ground. The oak trees have their own cycle to complete and then begin again.

School started last month, the calendar fills with activities and commitments, and I take comfort in these natural cycles. The steady, predicable rhythm of nature grounds me as I navigate my busy, less predictable life.

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Back to School Hike

Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middlefield, CT, was my choice for what has become known as The Back to School Hike. Three years ago I decided to celebrate the first day of school by taking a hike. As soon as Aurora and Stephen’s photos were taken and they were happily on the bus, I set off. The first year, I hiked alone in Chatfield Hollow State Park. You can read about that hike in the following post: Share a Hike. The past two years, I have had company for this annual hike—parents of students also celebrating the first day of school. I would welcome more hikers next year. So in 2017, as the summer ends and school supplies get purchased, check in with Barking Frog Farm for The Back to School Hike destination and plan to join us.

Along the trail, we spotted wildlife. Can you find a creature in each of the photographs below?



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The Explorers Search for Spirals

IMG_9212spi·ral – winding in a continuous and gradually widening (or tightening) curve, either around a central point on a flat plane IMG_9090or about an axis so as to form a cone

The Explorers were making spiral after spiral as part of a spring art projectIMG_8258 in our classroom. As part of my preparation for the appearance of spirals inside the classroom and outside on the trails, I looked up the definition. Someone was going to ask me, “What’s a spiral?” I wanted to be ready with Webster’s answer. In the spring we have fun making spirals and looking for spirals. One of my favorite parts of my job is to hike down the blue trail and find out if the ferns have started doing their thing – “their thing” being to emerge from the ground in a tight spiral and then unwind to greet the sun. Here is a sampling of this year’s spring spirals.














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Friday Photo


Rocco leaned down to look at the moss.
In a hushed voice he said, “It sparkles.”
Then he reached out and touched the stars.

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Seeing Red

IMG_2135.JPGMy friend Jeanie and I took my son Stephen and his friend Sam for a hike. At the beginning of the hike, I noticed a plant with a red stem growing on the edge of the trail and stopped to take a picture of it. As I did this, I mentioned to Jeanie that I was collecting pictures of red. Stephen and Sam ran up to see what I was doing. Jeanie said, “She is taking pictures of red in nature.”

For the rest of the hike we heard:

“Mom, here’s something red.”

“Miss Ann, this is red.”

IMG_8097IMG_8132 “I found more red.”

“This is red, isn’t it?”

They found acorn centers, new leaves, seed pods, and more.

I could feel their excitement as we stopped, leaned down, and investigated their red discoveries. And when I took a picture of the new red item, their sense of accomplishment was visible.

Next time you take children into a natural setting, give them an assignment—look for green, red, yellow, look for spheres, triangles, squares, look for things that are soft, hard, mushy—and then enjoy their discoveries.



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Happy Earth Day!


“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful — an endless prospect of magic and wonder.”  — Ansel Adams


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Skunk Cabbage, it’s here!

skunk cabbageI love skunk cabbage. It is one of my favorite signs of spring. As a child, I would carefully navigate the edge of brooks and swamps, making sure not to step on skunk cabbage plants. It was fun to be a bit scared of the potential stink, though the fear of the smell was worse than the smell itself.

Each year, as the light changes and the air warms, I watch the wet ground for my old friend. First to appear is the waxy, deep-red and green hood-like spathe, which contains the plant’s flowers. Then, the tightly furled leaves emerge out of the wet earth like dancers who lift and twirl to greet the spring sun. In a short time, the brown disappears under a canopy of giant bright green leaves.

During the early days of spring, I hike where skunk cabbage grows. I hike alone, with family and friends, or with the Explorers—the 4- and 5-year-olds in my class at Schoolmates. When we arrive at a patch of skunk cabbage, everyone leans down to get a better look at the odd-looking plants. Usually a game of “spot the skunk cabbage” will start soon after we begin to see plants. “There’s some skunk cabbage. There’s some more skunk cabbage.” Kids like to say the name. A stinky plant named for a stinky animal. What could be better?
During a hike to a cedar swamp near Schoolmates, Skylar, one of the Explorers, was in line behind me. As we walked through the swamp on a boardwalk, skunk cabbage all around us, she made up this poem.

I see skunk cabbage,DSC_0186
yucky skunk cabbage
moss and skunk cabbage.

I don’t like yucky skunk cabbage.
It looks pretty, but it doesn’t smell nice.
                                                   By Skylar

skunk cabbage (click here and listen)

The Nature Institute – Skunk Cabbage

National Wildlife Federation – Skunk Cabbage




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Friday Photo


The days are longer, the sun is higher, and the winter stores
are almost gone—spring must be near.

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Take it Outside: In search of ice.

image by Joe Healey

image by Joe Healey

Before winter disappears, and it will, take a walk outside and search for ice. Walk near a brook, a swamp, a pond, or if you want big ice, a river.

When I was kid, the reward for braving the coldest days of winter was “mother’s china.” That’s what my siblings and I called the very thin layer of ice that forms over puddles in ruts or depressions in the ground during super cold snaps. In a group, we would race to find unbroken sheets of ice. The thinner the ice, the more beautiful the sound when shattered. We would listen while we stomped on the delicate layer of ice, and then declare, “Yes, mother’s china.” Or if the ice was thicker and produced a less satisfying sound when broken, we would say, “Nope, mother’s everyday plates.”

image by Joe Healey

image by Joe Healey

“Mother’s China” is just one kind of ice out there in the frosty world. The ice that forms in a babbling brook holds another kind of beauty, as do icicles reaching for the ground. Bundle up and make your own frozen discoveries.

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Friday Photo


Sparkling columns rise out of the ground and
make a musical “crunch” under foot.



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