Category Archives: Nature Moment

Nature Connection through “Story of the Day”

This week I missed nature group; I hurt my back and didn’t get out of bed for three days. On Monday, I sadly watched the kids walk out of my room with Trevor in the morning.

Nature group is the only thing our family doesn’t skip – ever – unless we are very sick. And, honestly, I was bit jealous the kids were going with another mom to spend the morning at the beach with Tod. I was also jealous of their ability to sit, stand and walk…clearly, I needed to stay home!

The pleasure of my day (and the end of my moping) came when they returned and rushed into my room. Cambria sat down and immediately launched into the story of their morning, with Elijah adding in extra details. The excitement in their voices was infectious —they had tracked a bobcat ALL morning. Over two hours and one mile down the beach.

Their details and highlights poured out: the bobcat walked across the creek; it walked along the edge of the dunes; it walked through the dunes; they lost the tracks three or four times; Cambria re-found them; Elijah and a friend re-found them; Tod re-found them…perhaps it was more than one bobcat…it jumped down a small cliff (which was pretty high!); it walked over rocks and then we found the tracks in a small sandy area; it walked by a bunch of jellyfish; we tracked it for a MILE in sand!

All of this came gushing out with more details, interruptions and such pride at the extended tracking, that I couldn’t help getting excited. What a wonderful day at the beach! What a thrilling story! They were so passionate about this absentee bobcat, which had led them on a tracking journey. It was like they could see the actions of the bobcat, as it went about its business on the beach.

Without realizing it, they had told me the “Story of the Day”, which is part of nature connection and a Core Routine according to Jon Young in his book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. For millennia, story telling was the main way of communicating between groups of ancient people. We do this all the time, around the kitchen table or on the phone with a distant friend, about our day-to-day lives. However, in the “Story of the Day” a nature experience is the focus of the story. Our nature stories don’t tell us where to find our next meal to survive, but they do share an experience full of discoveries and builds our knowledge of an area.

Tod uses “Story of the Day” at the end of each group meeting. He asks us to tell about our favorite thing. It’s an enlightening experience to hear what each adult and child found important during circle time. We are reminded of parts of our journey that were exciting, but forgotten in our personal moment of telling. Cambria and Elijah did this together, building the story of their “Bobcat Tracking Expedition”.

Benefits of Nature Journaling

I read a quote recently, which eloquently expressed my feelings regarding the benefits of nature journaling.  The quote is from the preface to the Audubon Society Nature Guide to Western Forests, by Stephen Whitney (Knopf/Borzoi, 1985).  It starts: “A notebook is the single most important piece of equipment a naturalist takes into the field…”

As I’ve built my journal over the past three years, and used it to extend our family’s nature exploration, I fully agree.  Our journals bring many opportunities for learning and later reference.  We combine scientific sketching with language and create memorable sensory connections.   We would not experience nature in the same way if we were just taking our walks and not bringing nature moments back into our home for further study.

“…It is useful for recording daily observations, sketching plants and animals for later reference, taking notes on behavior and habitat, and assisting in identification by recording field marks that otherwise might be forgotten…”

At the marsh, during nature group, we saw three geese near the mouth of the creek, which has breeched to the ocean.  The geese were standing on the rocks, preening and getting knocked into the waves every few minutes.  They were smallish and stout, had a distinctive white marking on their upper neck and a vividly white backside.  



“…The naturalist’s notebook only increases in value as time goes by and observations accumulate. Soon, patterns begin to emerge from what initially may have been chance encounters with various plants or animals…”

As I stood on the beach, I flipped excitedly back to last spring’s entries in my journal and found my Brant sketch on March 3, 2014 – we had seen them last year at almost the exact same time. Cambria and I had studied and sketched them, near the end of this post.

“…A well-kept notebook that preserves a record of their activities at a particular place over an extended period of time can contribute information valuable to our understanding of nature…” 

The pleasure of seeing the Brants again, recording their seasonal visit to our marsh, and feeling that we were connected to these birds was priceless.  


Hygrocybe Holidays

After two months of special events, holidays, fairs and 40th birthday celebrations, I’m finally sitting down to share the gifts from nature which have also kept us busy – mushrooms!

The late fall rains in our area brought forth a great variety of beauties for the holidays:


And, we got a good look at the Deadly Duo (our area’s two deadliest mushrooms):


In the last days of 2014, we found several mushrooms in the Hygrocybe genus:


The Hygrocybe are commonly called Waxy Caps.  The Hygrocybe we typically find have slimy or waxy caps and are brightly colored.  Our favorite mushroom, that we’ve only seen once before, is the Parrot Mushroom (Hygrocybe psittacina).  We decided to return to the one spot we saw them last winter in the hopes that they would be out in the cold like their cousins.  The Parrot didn’t disappoint!  This beauty is about ONE inch tall.  When fresh, this mushroom is super slimy and has a distinctive bright green cap and yellow stalk.


Happy Hygrocybe!

Gifts from the Rain

The kids and I took a special friend on a hike this week.  We met M-M at Purisima Creek Redwoods; she wanted to learn about one of our hiking spots and the kids were more than happy to step into the shoes of “nature guide”.

We were blessed with a bit of rain in the wee hours of the morning, before heading to Purisima, and that always leads to nature moments.  The kids and I were discussing the tracks we might see, when leaving our driveway, we saw this handsome buck:

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Clearly it was destined to be a good morning!  We arrived at the parking lot and immediately reaped the rewards of the small bit of rain – there were banana slugs everywhere!  The kids counted 18 in close vicinity to our car.

The kids taught M-M about Owl Eyes, Deer Ears and Fox Walk.  She loved learning about Fox Walk, as her and her husband do nature photography around the world.

We didn’t find many tracks, but we did find a rock crawling with Rough-skinned Newts by the creek.  All six of the newts seemed to crawl out of the duff at once while we were standing by the rock.  It was so cool!

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We spent a little time by the creek, where we discovered a crawdad and caddis fly larvae hidden in their rocking hideouts. On our walk back to the car we used our Owl Eyes and saw 218 banana slugs and 32 Rough-skinned newts.  The newts were the most fun.  We wouldn’t see any, then consciously go into Owl Eyes, at which point we would see movement everywhere.  It was wonderful to see so much activity!

The biggest reward to our Owl Eyes came near the end of our hike.  About two feet off the trail, under some fern fronds I spotted this 9″ monster:

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A Pacific Giant Salamander!!!

Homeschool Family Camp

We spent the week at the Mendocino Outdoor Science School (MOSS Camp) with a group of homeschoolers from all over the Bay Area.  This was our fourth year with the group and the kids (and I) love to see our camp friends.

The California drought was strikingly apparent as we drove up the dirt, mountain road east of Mendocino.  Everything was so dusty and dry.  I was shocked when I saw the creek, as it had no flow.  There were spots of water, but no moving water…just ponds for mosquito larvae in the creek bed.  The creek has never looked this way.

We arrived at Camp 2, where we have stayed for all but one of the years we’ve attended MOSS Camp.  It’s comforting to come back to the same place every year.  The kids are happy to run free, because the camp is familiar and feels like home.

The kids go off with naturalists all day and the parents are left to hike, read, drive into Mendocino or just sit.  Sitting quietly is lovely, especially with the complete absence of cell and internet coverage!

This year, I hiked every day.  Trevor and I hiked along the creek bed on our first day and then to Big Tree with friends on the second day.  Big Tree is an enormous old growth redwood, which somehow missed the lumber mill.  The third day, I accompanied my kids’ group to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse while Trevor went on a bike ride.  We visited the lighthouse and then hiked through the southernmost Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) forest.  The spruce’s range is from our hiking spot, north to Alaska.

I enjoyed hiking with the kids, but my most memorable experience was during my first hike with Trevor.  We had an amazing Nature Moment on a trail alongside the creek in camp.  We stopped at the base of a redwood tree; its branches came down to meet the trail on the other side.  We were in a redwood arbor and in the midst of a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees (Poecile rufescens).  There must have been 30 or more Chickadees, zooming around us – their wing beats were so close, they sounded like a hummingbird’s.  We stood silently for 3-4 minutes, with the birds landing on branches right by our heads.  They were singing to us, looking at us and not in the least bit afraid.  I felt like they were trying to tell us something and I’ve been contemplating it ever since.

I researched Chickadees when we got home and found that in many Native American legends they are associated with truth and knowledge.  They can also give warnings of approaching enemies or excitedly tell you to expect a visit from an old, close friend.  Many believe that the tiny, friendly birds are a symbol of success and it is considered good luck to hear or see them.

Trevor and I were talking about two things on the trail: Shakespeare and a possible new business venture.  Were the birds telling us to search for knowledge in Shakespeare or telling us we would be successful in our new business idea?  Either way, I’ve never had such an interactive nature experience!

More excitement on Wednesday – it rained!  A good, light rain for about 12 hours.  Rain, all night, on our cabin roof.  We loved it!

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Glossy leaves on a bay tree during the refreshing rain. Dust be gone!

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Elijah (Plantain) and Cambria (River) with their naturalists – Goat & Puffin. Ah, the fun of nature names!