Friday, April 4, 2008

Spring, Dens and the Zone

"Kate, Kate! A deeeeeennnnn!"

That is the call I hear almost all afternoon. The boys are looking into every hole and crevice and proclaiming them to be dens. Even small holes in the meadow are "field mouse dens." They are disappointed if I don't look at every one and engage them in the art of seeing. I ask them questions around most of them but I am pushing the boys toward the Magic Zone and I had a spot I wanted to explore on the way. This is not good nature awareness etiquette; one must not have an agenda while out in the forest. We (those of us trained in nature awareness facilitation) seek to create a feeling of timelessness. But, I know just how much time I have out there, and having been at the edge of the Zone last week, I wanted to go there again, AND explore the creek beds.

Having been rewarded by my experience at RiverRun with the many spring flowers and skunk cabbage, I want to see if the same species grew here in Belvedere. They don't. Not many flowers are growing now along the creek bed, and the water source is part of the water for the Belvedere House (an original structure in Belvedere), so Pam tells us to be careful. We quickly walk down the creek and into the flood plain. Standing in the creek bed there, the boys begin to spin stories about how this place was a hideout during the World Wars. They want to play and I should stay and be with them but I urge them on.

We walk along the floodplain, occasionally going to the side of the Rivanna River to explore. I am looking for owl pellets. The kids find more dens and scat. Nick is particularly good at this and I am in awe of what he sees. This guy has tracker potential, and when he walks into an area where a red fox has been and correctly identifies the smell of fox urine, I know for sure he has a gift. He is a quick study. I only showed him that once before. Along the way, the boys name different land marks. Kids do this naturally and I will use the way they see to make a map in the end. The HideOut Tree, The Place With The Old Car, The House Tree, The Bomb Shelter. And on and on. It is a technique called Songlines.

The boys discover something that looks like intestines in a puddle. Those are eggs, I explain, toad eggs. And the pull them out to look at them. Awesome. (For a good explanation of the different kind of frog and salamander eggs see I especially like Robyn's questions to answer about eggs at the end of the page.

Finally, we are at the Zone, and just two steps in we are rewarded with fresh beaver sign. The area is covered with blooming Spring Beauties which give the area a kind of ethereal glow. What makes this area different than the rest of Belvedere? It gives it additional magical weight. We turn left down the creek. The boys start harvesting what they call "magic sticks" (just so you know, they don't know I call this place the Magic Zone) when we stumble across an old skeleton of a small deer without the skull. The boys are in awe and begin to paw through the white bones, identifying the parts. Look, says Nick, I can put this one on the end of my stick! He has a small vertebrae.

"This place is Treasuretopia," my son says. I smile. Yes, it IS, and I need to get the boys back to the car. We are out of time. I hate that. We have a long way to go, and as we walk back, deer scatter through the woods around us. Next week is spring break for the kids, so I want to come back and spend more time. I will be Zoneward Bound.

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