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Story Of The Day: Dragons, Honour & Spiny Wood Fern!

At Soaring Eagle Nature School, parents receive a Story Of The Day email to learn about what the kids got up to in the program. Here’s a Story Of The Day from January 2018, featuring the Weekly Forest Program for kids aged 7-12.

Hello Soaring Eagle Families!

We had a great day in the forest, full of adventures and even some snow!!

We started our morning with a great round of Foxtails. This game has been in our repertoire for years and many of the kids have played Foxtails several times, and yet, we love it every time. This time around was particularly special though. Everyone played with 100% effort, honour, and respect. Despite giving it our all, nobody took it too far. We all towed the line of being fully immersed while maintaining an awareness of other people’s bodies and being honourable opponents! It was awesome. Thanks for a great game everyone!

After the game, Stephanie told us an old story from Ireland, the land of her great-grandfather. In this story, we hear the adventures of Fiachra and the Island of the Lonesome Seals. Fiachra can hear the voices of the wee folk and he learns of the mysterious disappearance of the inhabitants of the island. It’s up to Fiachra to set things right and to restore the harmony between the people, the seals, and the wee folk.

After the story, we set off with our small groups for the day’s activities.

Stephanie’s group:

We wandered down the trail, enjoying each other’s company and checking out some of the wonders of the forest. We came across some coral mushrooms, that get their name from how similar they look to coral. We learned that coral mushrooms can be used to dye clothing, so we set a goal for ourselves – we will try and gather coral mushrooms on another day to use for dying some cloth. We then discovered some Witches Butter and joked that witches like to put it on their toast… Of course, their toast is actually Turkey Tail mushrooms. After a long wander, we stopped for lunch. 

With our bellies full, we set off to find a portal. We decided that we wanted to travel to mythological land, where we would all find a dragon. We found a portal and journeyed through. The land was beautiful and full of mysteries. We realized that if we were going to encounter dragons, we would have to summon them. So, we built a map on the forest floor and made sure that we included all the significant landmarks that surrounded us. With our map made, we each found a spot, our own special spot, to summon our dragon. We sat for 10 mins in silence, calling our dragons from our heart. When the 10 mins were up, we gave our best dragon call, and they all appeared. 

Stephanie’s dragon hid a treasure for us somewhere in the forest, so we used the map that we had made to locate the specific area of the treasure. We found the treasure and then decide that we wanted to hide it. We all took turns hiding the treasure, and then using the map to identify where in the forest the treasure was hidden. It was great fun. 

We eventually said goodbye to our spot and wandered back down the trail. Luckily, our dragons came with us. 🙂

Tom’s group:

Tom’s group started our day with a challenge. While the group raced to find plants that Tom didn’t know, Tom tried his best to see what plant life he could find that would be a mystery to the boys in the group. Funny enough a couple of the plants were mysteries to all of us and we made plans get out our field guides to do some sleuthing later in the day.  

Arriving at a familiar spot we noticed that a few of us were feeling the cold and decided to break into a game of warrior stalk to warm ourselves up. The young scouts showed their skill this day and prevailed despite Tom’s best efforts.

After a lunch break we explored the nearby area, looking for other interesting plants.  We realised that some plants we are confident identifying in the spring and summer, become more difficult to identify in the winter without their foliage.  We found an interesting plant and after a few clues we figured out it was a Red Elderberry, we’re used to the distinctive berries and the shape and smell of the leaves, but few of us had taken notice of the distinctive bark. 

With the sleet starting to come down we got active to stay warm by playing a game of wolf and deer.  We started with a lone wolf stalking the deer who were sometimes hiding and sometimes running away.  Today we added a new twist, Tom would show a sample of from a nearby tree, maybe a few needles, a cone or bark and any of the deer would go to whichever tree they thought it was. Any of the deer at the correct tree were in a safe zone, but the wolf could pick off any of the deer who had incorrectly identified the safe zone tree.

We heard the other groups nearby and walked back to our meeting point with hopes the sleet would turn into a proper snowfall. 

Peter’s group:

Peter’s group started by talking about Jon Young, who founded the Eight Shields teaching model we use, and famously caught a snapping turtle in the story we tell at the start of the year. Peter shared ideas from a talk by Jon about the nature of connection – to each other, or to the natural world. Jon made the case that at its core it is the same feeling we feel when petting a dog we love: warm, cozy and easy. We decided to see what happened if we approached the day as though every plant, animal and fungus of the forest was a cute little dog we wanted to know.

We started with Sword Ferns! The classic, we all know them. After a few minutes of connection, we pulled out Pojar and MacKinnon, the classic plant field guide of the Pacific Northwest. We checked the drawings, physical description and ecology to make sure our assumption was right.

Next, we moved on to a harder friend. We started with a few minutes of puppy-dog friendship forming, before moving into botany-geeking. Broadly triangular, light green and beat-up by the season, we could tell from the pictures it was either a Bracken Fern or a Spiny Wood Fern. A deeper examination lead us to understand that the tight leaflets near the base matched better with Spiny Wood, and digging into the details we saw that the scales at the stalk base and the lack of a thick, vertical stalk made it certainly a Spiny Wood. Sweet! One more forest friend. Walking through the forest with our new eyes we saw them everywhere.

We spent a little time trading, then had a relaxed lunch. We hung out after lunch a did a little carving, before wrapping the bases of our carved tools with raffia handles.

As we wandered amazed by the softly falling snow, we played a few games of camouflage, before having a super beautiful Sit Spot – connecting further with the plants around us, and each building a story about our experience and for once not sharing it – keeping it completely for ourselves.

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Thank you all for a great day in the woods! We look forward to seeing you very soon!

With gratitude,

Stephanie, Peter, and Tom