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