The Difference Weather Makes

The rain that had been gently falling all morning was just starting to ease when we set off. We had a quick talk about what we might find after the rain and someone suggested that the ants might not be out and about today, because they prefer hot sunny days.

The children were keen to follow tell-tale signs of the recent rain. Some pointed out the glistening droplets they saw lying in the folds of leaves. A couple of children stopped to brush the rain off one of the sculpture labels, using the water to clean it and make it shiny.

Someone suddenly noticed a glimpse of sunshine had just broken through the clouds overhead. ‘Look, look behind you I can find blue sky. I can see blue sky!’. Something was shifting.

spider

Raindrops, mysteriously suspended in air, drew the children’s attention to a large spider web under the fir trees. They were captivated when they noticed a prominent golden orb-weaving spider in the centre of the web. It was at perfect eye-level for them and they spent a long time closely inspecting the spider’s long stripy legs, the intricate forms of the web, and the strange leaf-like object that was trapped in it. The children were not sure if the spider was eating this trapped object of not.

They also noticed that there were mushrooms popping up through the ground. They were definitely not here last time and the children surmised that it was the rain that was making the mushrooms grow. When they looked around, they could see that there were quite a few different kinds.

One mushroom looked like it had been eaten and the children pondered on what creature might have done this – ‘a rabbit’ or ‘a possum’ were two suggestions.

The wet weather had made the kangaroo bones at the Shrine ‘a bit sticky’. boneThe old, weatherworn bones have started to fall apart when the children handle them. They always love to rub the bones against the rusty metal frame to see the marks they make.

In the wet, the marks were more prominent than usual. On closer inspection, the children could see that what looked like white chalk was actually tiny fragments of soft bone stuck to the rust.

A fan-shaped nature-art installation in a clearing under a bush caught our eye. It was made of carefully arranged pinecones, bark and brightly covered leaves.

When questioned, one child thought ‘a squirrel’ might have made it. We talked about how squirrels don’t live in Australia. They made another couple of tentative suggestions ‘a possum?’, ‘a bunny rabbit?’. It was interesting that the children were keen to attribute the assemblage to a wild creature and no one mentioned it might be a human creation. Maybe it was their intent focus on exploring the wildlife in these bush surrounds, or perhaps a sign that the children’s thoughts are not yet filtered through the western nature-culture divide that attributes cultural artifacts to humans alone?

By the end of our walk, the sun was well and truly on its way out. So was the birdlife. Suddenly, our attention was directed upward as the air filled with birdsong and the becoming-blue sky was punctuated with the flash of brightly coloured parrots.

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The children were transfixed watching a flock of crimson rosellas darting through the treetops, and a pair of king parrots eating in a nearby eucalyptus. A number of them recognised these parrots as the ones they had seen at home or in their local park.

magpie in bird tree

 

In continuity with the art-nature-culture assemblage that we had witnessed under the bush clearing, a pair of magpies perched high in the nearby bird-tree sculpture, started warbling their distinctive song.

On this walk, we were struck by just how much the weather influences the rhythms and movements of all life forms, including ours. And it illuminates our experiences. When it shifts, it makes such a difference, refocusing the children’s attention from one thing to another – from the micro-worlds of raindrops on leaves and spiders webs, to the expansive bird-filled skies.

Getting a sense of the place

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Most of the children are new to our walks this year. As with last year’s group, their initial task is to get to know the plants and animals that live in the grassy woodlands heritage park adjacent to the Centre. Right from the moment we set out, there was a palpable sense of eagerness and anticipation to do this.

We had barely arrived in the parklands, when they children started running to find the wildlife, exclaiming ‘there’s a rabbit hole’ and ‘look at the ants’. The ease with which the children shifted their attention from running through a large space, to focussing upon the micro-worlds of other lives around them was a pertinent reminder of how often it is the children who draw us (adults) in to notice things that might otherwise escape our notice.

According to the routines we established last year, we stopped first at the Indigenous sculpture: Ngaraka: Shrine for the Lost Koori. We talked with the children about how the shrine can help us to remember that others were here before us, and that we walk on Aboriginal land, the land of the Ngunnawal people.  The children repeated ‘Ngunnawal’ several times and seemed to enjoy the feel of the sound rolling off their tongues. It was as if repeating this word  marked the beginnings of the processes of remembering.

bones-like-chalk

The kangaroo bones scattered under the shrine immediately drew the children’s attention. Following the lead and routines of the two children from last year’s group, they picked up the bones and began gently rubbing them up and down the shrine’s upright rusty poles. The marks left by the crumbling white bones reminded the children of chalk. ‘It’s just like chalk’ they remarked several times. Something about handling the crumbling bones and the rhythm of the rubbing seemed to be also part of the embodied process of remembering.

 

We noticed straight away that the ants were very active and spoke about why this might be.  Several children noted that this was because it was sunny and we discussed how they like to come out of their holes in the dry, warm weather. One child wondered ‘what do ants eat?’, and for the rest of the walk we looked for clues that might provide an answer.

ants-in-the-sun.jpg

Under the trees, we found an ant that was carrying something round in its pincers. One child suggested it might be a little pebble. Eventually the ant dropped it and we picked it up and looked at it closely.  It took a bit of handling and close scrutiny to work out that it was a seed of some sort. We also spotted  seed-carried-by-antants crawling up a nearby bench, clustering around something red and sticky. The children figured this was ‘jelly’ or ‘jam’, no doubt left by a previous human visitor.  From these observations, the children gleaned that ants like to eat seeds and sweet things.

thistle

 

Before we left, we had asked the children to look out for the plants and animals that live in this place. But they were actually doing a lot more than just looking.  They were continually reaching out, touching and smelling the multitude of living things around them. They were getting a sense of the place in very hands-on, engaged and sensory ways.

One child called us over to look at a ‘cactus’ which on closer inspection turned out to be a prickly scotch thistle. ‘Can we touch it?’ several of them asked. They reached out gently, wanting to feel the spikiness of the plant while also taking care not to get hurt.

We stopped at a big sheltering peppercorn tree, which looked enticing and promised to be housing all kinds of living creatures. The branches were hanging low to the ground, at child’s-eye level. One child immediately picked a leaf frond, rubbed it between his fingers and then lifted it up to smell. There was lots of interest in what was making the strong smell, and soon all the children were touching the low-lying leaves and spotting bunches of green ‘berries‘ hanging amongst them. After picking them, rubbing them between their fingers, inhaling the distinctively peppery smell and offering them around to each other – ‘smell this one’ and ‘this one smells very strong too’  – they came to the conclusion that they were not berries but peppercorns.  One of the educators pointed out that these berries might have been ‘bush tucker‘ for the Ngunnawal people.

 

Venturing further under the tree, the children spotted dried insect shells stuck to the lower trunk. ‘Maybe they’re lobsters’ one child speculated, but another corrected him ‘no they’re cicada shells‘. One of the children who was very familiar with cicada shells told the others ‘you can stick them on your t-shirt’ but we decided that we’d leave them there.

When asked what sounds they thought cicadas might make, the children spontaneously joined together in a loud chorus of high pitched buzzing sounds.

The children were only just starting to get a sense of the life in these grassy woodlands  when it was time to go back. It was hard to leave, as there was so much to more see, touch, and smell.  We headed back to the Centre with the promise that were many walks ahead of us, when they would be able to explore the rocks and the lakes edge that they could see at such an enticingly short distance away.