Lively routes and grounds underfoot

 

pinecones drawing

 

We took paper and pencils with us on this walk, and the children experimented with drawing and rubbing various textured objects such as bones and pine cones picked up along the way.  The pine cones created spiky patterns across the paper.

 

 

 

 

 

One child decided to draw a map, explaining: ‘This is the shrine. This goes to the donuts. And this goes to the bird nest. And this goes to the forest. And this goes to the museum.’

MapbyN

 

The lines represented the routes the children often take when walking between key sites. It seems these routes are significant to the children’s growing appreciation of this area as an interconnected landscape, as well as their own sense of connection to it.

 

 

 

 

 

While we are walking from one site to the next, the children often stumble across unexpected small finds. They must be watching their feet, and being so close the ground, there are lots of small things scattered along the route that catch their attention. Having spotted them, they are often compelled to stop and pick them up in order to inspect them more closely. In this instance, it was the attraction of a piece of discarded bark that caused one child to stop, pick it up and inspect it and for others to gather around. Breaking open the bark, she saw it was imprinted on the inside with tracing marks – evidence that some grub must have lived there. On closer inspection she could see that a wood borer was still burrowed inside a crevice in the bark.

borer

She spent some time trying to entice the grub onto her finger: ‘Come here little caterpillar … Don’t be shy’. It finally emerged from the crevice, though still resisted crawling on to the child’s finger.  The child observed how tightly it was holding on to the wood: ‘he’s really sticky’. She found that turning the wood over and shaking still failed to dislodge the creature: ‘It can’t even fall off!’.

 

 

Some other children stumbled across another puzzling find.  They spotted a large brown skin casing  lying on the ground near a small hole. This drew speculative comments such as: ‘It looks like a millipede’ and ‘Maybe it just got out of the hole’.

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Others soon called out: ‘more over here’ and ‘I found a little hole here’.

Casing

 

We discussed how this was not a creature that was dead or ‘squashed’ (as some children had thought at first), but rather a discarded skin or casing that was soft to touch and empty inside. Whatever creature had been living in the ground had now emerged and taken on a new life form. We wondered what it was.

 

A dead beetle was also spotted with its head some distance from the body: ‘Someone broke its head off’ one child observed.

Beetle              Beetlehome2

Another child stayed with the beetle for a while, covering it with leaves and saying: ‘I’m going to make it a house so it can sleep in it’ and musing ‘maybe it’s just sleeping’.

While walking along, it’s not just the ‘where we’re going’ that the children are focused upon. They are very much in the moment, closely attuned to the minutia of their surrounds, and curious enough to want to pursue any small and unexpected encounters in the lively grounds underfoot. These, in turn, provoke questions about when and whether found small creatures are dead or alive, how we might respond to such finds and what remnants might reveal about what a creature once was or may now be.

Rabbits in the Grass and Stinky Fish

As we finally move into cooler Autumn weather, we’re starting to notice how the change of seasons affects the children’s wildlife interactions. The kangaroo grasses have grown tall and are seeding. There are no reptiles to be seen now, but the rabbits seem to be thriving. Now that the snakes have gone, the children have started to venture into the grass in pursuit of the rabbits.

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The children are very attuned to the feel of the grasses on their skin. Some reported that the grass was a bit scratchy on their legs. They reached out to test if the grass was “spiky” or “soft”, running their hands up the grass stems to the seeds on top, noticing that the different parts of the grass have different textures and feels.

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When the children approach the grass, they often see a rabbit dash out and head towards the warren at the rock wall. The children can see that rabbits are very shy and very fast. They figure out that these rabbits not only like to eat the grass, but they also like to hide there, now that it’s so long.

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As one group of children started to play a game of hide and seek in the grass, another child appeared to make the connection between this game and the rabbits’ behaviours. Dropping down into the grass, he called out: “Look, I’m a camouflaged rabbit. I’m camouflaged in the grass”. This idea seemed to catch on and suddenly there were a few children who became rabbits – crouching down to hide in the grass, and then suddenly popping up, when disturbed, and hopping away.  They kept repeating the phrase ‘I’m a camouflaged rabbit’ and spent some time munching on imaginary carrots.photo

 

It’s always interesting to how the children’s encounters with other species, even fleeting ones like these, stimulate their curiosity about what it would like to be that other animal. And they exercise this curiosity about ‘other-than-humanness’ in very embodied ways. Their ways of becoming another animals is very corporeal and multi-sensory . In this case, the children not only moved their bodies in rabbit-like ways, but they did so as they moved through rabbit territory. So presumably they felt the friction of the grass against their bodies as the rabbits do, and smelt the same grassy smells that the rabbits smell. This is about as close as any human being can come to rabbit being.

 

The children’s curiosity about other creatures is no less so when they are dead. In fact dead creatures seem to be even more compelling. As we walked across the grass next to the lake, we came across four large and rotting dead fish. They looked like carp. As with the kangaroo bones, there was a certain amount of discussion about how they they came to be there. Many of the children were keen to take a look, despite the stinky smell.

photo[1]Holding their noses to get as close as possible, they noticed many things – including the scales falling off the skin, and the exposed ribs and backbones. Some saw bugs crawling in the stomach remnants – which they referred to as “muck”. One astute child commented that another animal must have been eating the dead fish as half of their bodies were gone  – “maybe a fox?” he suggested. They seemed quite fascinated by all of this, but in particular they were transfixed by the faces, and the ways in which the fishes’ gaping mouths gave them a certain foreboding look. A couple of children surmised from the look of their faces that they were “bad fish” and this is why they were dead. They speculated that you could tell  if they were good or bad fish “because of their mouths”. This seemed to resolve something for them, about the scheme of life and death.

Having satisfied their curiosity, and without any apparent sentimentality, they were happy to leave the dead fish and head back up the hill towards the centre, stopping briefly to remember the lost Kooris at the Ngaraka Shrine.

 

 

Through the magnifying glass

At the start of our walk, we stopped by the magnificent web of a Golden Orb Weaver spider that one of the educators had spotted in the car park earlier in the day.

GoldenOrbWeb

 

The sun shone directly on to the web bringing out the intricacy of the structure and revealing the insects and leaves trapped in the strands.  This was to be one of many different spider homes we were to see on this walk.

 

The children were each given a magnifying glass to use.  The first thing they did was to hold the glasses right up to their eye, looking around to take in the new perspective.

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You look like a ‘giant’ they kept exclaiming as they studied each other through the glass lens. They then turned the magnifying glasses to the sky and the tree tops, scanning the spaces over-head and looking far into the distance.

After a while, the children directed their magnifying glasses to the micro-worlds around them.  Some tried to follow the trail of ants scurrying up a tree, only to discover the challenge of watching a moving object through the glass.MagnifyGlass1

Having the magnifying glass seemed to draw the children’s attention to different plant life.

MagnifyGlass2They commented on the various colours of the bark and the texture of moss on the rocks; with one child finding a moss-covered rock that ‘looks like a dinosaur’.

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We found spider webs in rock crevices, strewn across the bark of trees and hidden under metal structures. With each new find, the children would call out ‘look what I found’ and the others would rush over in anticipation.

Magnifying glasses are intended to be used as tools to examine close-up the smaller detail of life around us that we might otherwise miss. But their diffractive potential is greater than the intended purpose. On this walk the children experimented more widely with the perspectives the convex glass offered; intermittently using them to alter the perspective of things and creatures that were both near and far, small and large. The shifting optics enabled by the magnifying glasses opened up new ways of seeing and thus experiencing these local surrounds.

One noteworthy new find was an unusual tree. peppercorn and eucalypt

The children were drawn into folds of the drooping foliage and, once ‘inside’, could not resist climbing and clambering through the lower limbs.

On closer inspection, the entangled trunks and branches were in fact two trees: a tall Eucalypt growing right up through the middle of a Peppercorn tree.

The tree embodies the entanglements of different species that we are thinking through in this project. How might we co-inhabit our already entangled common worlds in ways that are mutually beneficial?

Some children collected small bunches of peppercorns and others noted the smell of the peppercorn leaves on their hands even after we had returned to the Centre; a lingering sensory connection to the places we had been.

Stickiness and sticks

We started our walk by taking some time to lie on the grass – to simply be there and attune our senses to where we are and what is going on around us.  The children noted the grass was ‘prickly’, ‘furry’ and ‘soft’. While some children lay still, others invariably rolled around or got up and moved around to try lying and sitting positions in various spots close by.

From this perspective, some of the children’s attention was drawn to a pile of pine cones; the very same type they had looked at earlier in the Centre when they had broken one open to see what was inside.

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The old brown cones were distinctly ‘spiky’. Yet, it was the green ones – which looked smooth and inviting – that surprised us when we picked them up. As one child commented ‘it’s very sticky’, with others chiming in ‘sticky, sticky’!

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The tacky texture of the pine sap on our fingers acted as a reminder of this sticky encounter for some time after.

In all of our walks the children have interacted with the sticks that are scattered around. At various times they have all picked up sticks to carry with them, whether it be big, small, forked, leafy, rough or smooth.  Sometimes they drag the sticks behind them, use them to poke at holes in the ground or prise the bark off trees.  Some also use them playfully, tickling each other with the soft fronds of a fallen casuarina twig.

Today, the children spent much time ‘fishing’ with an assortment of sticks and pieces of reed.  Bending over the water’s edge, the children called ‘come on fishy’ and ‘come on, you can make it’.

fishing2                             fishing1

At various ants’ nests, the children stopped to observe the flurry of activity.  On previous walks, we had talked to the children about not stomping on the nests or poking things down in the holes so the ants wouldn’t get cross or upset.  The children seemed to remember this, standing mostly at the edges and noticing how the ants would go about their business (and even crawl over the children’s shoes) without causing any harm.  ants and sticks1This time, they adopted a new method for enticing the ants to come a little closer. Picking up a nearby stick, the children laid it gently on the nest, entreating the ants to crawl on to it and towards their hands. Occasionally, if the ants were not quite active enough for their satisfaction, the children would bang the nest with the stick to get a reaction, before reminding each other that it might be best to keep the stick still.

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Reflecting on the relations between children, sticks and wildlife, it seems that sticks are more than simply random inert tools. Strategically positioned, they might entice ants to move in a direct line towards children. Straddling above- and under- water worlds, they might attract unseen fish and, at the moment of touch, connect them back to children. The sticks materialise seamless interconnection – lining up bodies and providing a tangible conduit between human and nonhuman wildlife. It’s clear that sticks allow children to exceed the physical limits of their own bodies – to reach out and touch inaccessible wildlife. But perhaps they also forge more affective connections for the children, akin to what Sara Ahmed calls ‘sticky attachments’. These are the kind of emotional relations that bind subjects together across difference. In this affective sense, the sticks could be functioning as ‘sticky’ lines of attachment, adhering or bonding the children with the hard-to-reach creatures of this place.

Some unusual finds towards the end of our walk had the children puzzling.

artefact 1Along the bank was a series of wild (human) creations including combinations of feather and pine cones, grass woven into the forks of trees, a canoe-shaped formation of sticks and a tangled mass of netting hung high in the branches overhead.

artefacts 2

 

 

After following this little trail of mysterious clues, one child observed ‘I think someone’s been making lots of stuff here!’

The children dragged some larger sticks back to the Centre to add to their own creative project – a fence interwoven with pieces of wood collected over time.

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Perhaps this creation is another way of articulating the sticky entanglements of grassy woodlands wildlife and their own lives in this place?

 

Visible signs and hidden worlds

As the children become more familiar with the places we visit, they ask if we can return to particular sites.  This week we had requests to go the rocky bank and to the pathways under the casuarinas along the water’s edge.  The children were particularly keen to see if the birds nest (from last week) was still there. The nest was located; though it was in a somewhat disheveled state and showing little sign of habitation.  lake return

While we were pondering on the presence of the nest, a water bird feeding in the reeds captured the children’s attention.  Noticing that this bird was more easily frightened than the swans, the children approached cautiously; tip-toeing and whispering ‘shh’ to each other in their attempts to get a closer look.  From a distance of several metres the children followed the bird as it darted through the reeds and grasses and eventually back to the water.

Purple swamp hen

One child commented that he loved the way the bird ‘ran so fast in the water’.  Later, after the walk, the children looked through a field guide to find the name of the bird – it was a purple swamp hen.

We found that following the movement of the birds through air, water and land required us to adjust our own modes of moving if we wanted the birds to stay a while. Observing in this way required us to pay close attention to both the bird’s and our own presence.

In thinking about other animals that live here, we soon came across a different type of challenge: how could we possibly come to understand the habits of the wildlife that live beneath the surface?  We have witnessed an ant dragging food to its nest, but it soon disappears to territory that is invisible to us.  There is so much more to this place than what we can see, and attending to what lies beneath is not an easy task.

This week, the children had a chance to wonder at these hidden underground worlds. On our approach to the rocky bank (a steep incline covered in large rocks, small trees and shrubs), several scuttling rabbits caught the children’s eye.

rocky bank - on way

Some rabbits were startled and ran away across the grass, while others retreated to their burrows. Through all this activity, the children’s attention was drawn to the multitude of rabbit holes in the rocky bank. Peering into holes, and discovering new ones concealed by over-hanging rocks, kept the children busy for sometime.

standing on rabbit burrowThey became aware that underneath them was a network of tunnels where the rabbits lived: ‘I’m on the top of the rabbit hole’ exclaimed one child as he stood on a rock, while others called out ‘I can see another rabbit hole’ and ‘there’s so many’.

There were also clues as to how the homes were made, such as piles of dirt out the front of the holes and fresh scratching. The children enjoyed the feel of the newly turned dirt. It was easier to pick up and move around than the hardened earth elsewhere.

Towards the end of the walk, some children lay down in the cool, damp grass in the shade.  Watching the children enjoy the soft and prickly texture of the grass was a reminder that there are many ways we can get to know this place. It is not only about what we can see, but also about what is hidden and what all our senses might reveal.