The one-legged swan

[Walk – 27 April 2017]

We decided to walk to a different place today – to the lakeside cove due east of the Centre. We’d noticed before that lots of water birds often hang out in this cove.

As soon as we arrived, the children spotted a pair of swans standing on a grassed area by the lake’s edge. As we got closer, they noticed that there was something curiously different about one of the swans. It only had one leg.  This prompted much discussion: Swans don’t have one leg. Swans have two legs. They never, ever have one leg. Never, ever.

IMG_7838

Despite having only one leg, the swan was perfectly balanced, occasionally pecking at the grass and at other times looking up at the inquisitive children.  Taking all this in, the children started to wonder how the swan could have lost its other leg.

They started talking to the swans: ‘Hello Hello’ they chorused, slightly mimicking the swans’ honking tones.

standing one leg1

 

 

A couple of the children began to mimic the one-legged swan: I’ve got one leg.  I can balance on one leg. This quickly caught on, and soon all of the children were trying to balance like the one-legged swan.

In the midst of all the action and excitement, the swan quietly put down its concealed second leg. Oh! Look! It’s got two legs! It was hiding!  It was as if the swan had tricked them. The children laughed and laughed. swan two legs

As the swans started to walk towards the water, a couple of children noticed that one was scratching itself. This familiar action prompted them to further identify with the swans’ embodiment: ‘I scratch when I get itchy’ and  ‘I do too, like when I get a mosquito bite’.

For the rest of our walk the swans paddled in the shallow water, following us along the edge of the lake. Some of the children had noticed the swans pecking at grass earlier, and decided that grass must be what swans like to eat.

They kept feeding grass to the swans at regular points along our walk, explaining  ‘Looks like they want more dinner. They want more grass. The wind is blowing it away. They really like it. …. They are still following us.’

The gentle autumn sun made us all feel like staying outside a little longer. Some children lingered by the path, and after spending time finding an ideal ‘writing’ stick, started scratching images and words across the path. Some wrote their names while others drew pictures. I’m drawing a machine, one explained.

drawing with sticks4drawing with sticks3

drawing with sticks2

Initially, some expressed concern that the drawings would get rubbed out, perhaps because ants, people, tractors might go over it. However, this was only a fleeting concern. Quickly absorbed in the new activity, the children seemed content to work with the dirt path as a temporary surface.

As we headed back, the wind picked up blowing the dust around, already lightening the trace of the children’s markings on the ground.

 

 

After the storm

A massive storm had passed through town earlier in the week, and the children had many stories to tell.

One child told us of a tree that had fallen across their driveway.  Another recounted how she was in the car when the storm hit. There was a crack in the sky. It was too noisy.  We had to stay in the car and wait for the storm to finish.

We set off on our walk anticipating that there might be signs of the storm. We stopped at a look-out wall to survey the area and talked with the children about what types of things the storm might have left behind. Fallen down things or lots of water, a few thought.

img_6659

We could see that unseasonal snow capped the distant mountain-tops.  That was a sign. There is not usually snow in October.  And closer in we could see the ground was littered with tree branches and bark.

As we headed down the hill, the ground became more and more sodden.

sodden-groundin-the-puddles

There were puddles everywhere.  Eventually there were so many puddles that they had joined together in what the children called a ‘big lake’.

They spent much time wading through the water and seemed to enjoy testing out the transformation of their usual walkways into these elongated water-ways, exclaiming over and over: ‘So much water. It’s so deep’.

img_6670img_6664

Some children noticed that the ducks too had come ashore to enjoy the sodden landscape.

img_6672

It is unusual for the ducks to be sitting out in the open and not to move when the children approach. Nestled right down into the saturated grass, they seemed to be sun-baking and reluctant to give up their warm spots.

The best find of all came towards the end of the walk – an enormous eucalyptus tree sprawled across the ground!

img_6673

This was clear evidence of the storm.  ‘It came down in the storm. I think it was not very strong.’ But it was so big, it was hard to imagine what it would take to blow it over: ‘I think the wind must have been blowing at 350 to knock it down’

running-to-fallen-tree

In a chorus of excitement, the children rushed towards the fallen tree. It instantly reminded them of the fun they had had at their last fallen-tree playground, and of the disappointment they felt when it was chain-sawed up and taken away.  They exclaimed: ‘At last. I was hoping there would be another tree fallen down’. ‘Let’s go and play on it’.

A few children peered under the roots to notice the water pooled there, while others lost no time clambering straight onto the wide and inviting tree-trunk. Very quickly, there was a line of children crawling along the massive horizontal trunk, edging their way along towards the tangle of top branches. They behaved a bit like a procession of ants.

crawling-along-trunck

However, this time the children didn’t get far with their wild-weather tree play. A nearby park ranger was clearing up after the storm, and advised that the tree wasn’t safe to play on.

walking-on-branches

 

 

 

 

 

 

He had already chain-sawed some of the smaller broken branches, and he was concerned that this might make the tree unstable in places. As we moved away from the tree, we explained to the crest-fallen children that sometimes storms could leave debris that was not always safe to play on.  They reluctantly accepted this. They could see in this case that the sheer size and mess of the fallen tree were reasons to exercise caution.

img_6688

As a final stop on the way back, the children were drawn to their familiar ‘rabbit’ hideout,  under the weeping wattle tree – only to notice they could barely crawl under the heavy drooping branches. Clearly this home had also taken a battering in the storm.

Warming Up

Nearly everyone eventually took off their jackets on this walk. It’s starting to warm up – enough for a number of children to swap their beanies for shade hats – and for underground life to be stirring and slowly emerging on the surface. We spotted our first baby rabbit venturing out of its burrow, and lots of purple spring flowers. Snake season looms, and we’ve told the children that it’s no longer safe to run into the long tussock grass to play rabbits.

purple-vine       img_6441

The lake is full to the brim after so much winter rain. There is one particular lakeside spot under the casurina trees to which the children return time and again. On this occasion, they really settled in – presumably because the warmer weather makes it more conducive to hang around at the water’s edge.

making-fish-bed

 

A group of children started laying casurina branches in the water as ‘homes for the fish’. This gradually shifting into ‘We’re making beds for the fish, so that they’ll come and we can catch them’. After some uncertain conversation about how they would pick the fish up, once lured into these homes or beds, a few children wandered off to find trusty stick ‘fishing rods’. Some also went looking for ‘bait’.

 

 

The fishing activity was engrossing. There was a lot of serious ‘shh-ing‘ going on, lest the fish be scared away. It seemed like the hope of a ‘catch’ was enough motivation to maintain their focus and attention for quite a while.

fishing

cormorants

 

Once abandoned, the children were quick to refocus their attention upon the next group game. The adults were trying to get them to watch 3 cormorants that were diving for fish out on the lake, but the children were more intent on heading up to the rock wall where the rabbits live.

under-wattle

 

 

 

 

As soon as they reached the top of the wall, they dived straight under the weeping acacia tree that has been their favourite ‘rabbit’ hideout on the last few walks. As if injected by a new surge of energy on this relatively warm day, the gang of ‘rabbits’ took on a whole new aggressive persona. No longer huddling under the tree to shelter from the cold winds and avoid being spotted, they loudly declared themselves to be ‘carnivore rabbits’ that ‘like eating people’.img_6469 The leafy rabbit hide turned into a mustering point where squadrons of ‘killer rabbits’ plotted and launched their repeated raids – attacking the adults standing around outside.

Once again, the high-spirited ‘rabbits’ had to be coaxed to leave their tree-hide when it was time to return home.

Following our noses

We started this walk by following our noses – like dogs do – and immediately stumbled across some sweet smelling signs of spring-to-come!  A flowering daphne bush and a lone bunch of jonquils.

We experimented with rubbing leaves between our fingers, and sniffed the oily scent that they left on our hands.

sniffing jonquils       in tree cubby

 

The ‘dogs’ ran into the variegated tree cubby to have a quick sniff around, but after noting the damp smell of bark, and a whiff of wet rabbit poo – everyone seemed to burst into faster-paced animal play. There was more yapping, leaping, bouncing, flapping, screeching and growling than smelling going on.

Standing on the lookout wall, just behind the donuts, the children took in the panoramic view – down the grassy slope to the kangaroo grass, the large eucalyptus trees, the lake, and beyond to the distant mountains. ‘It’s beautiful’ one boy observed as he gazed out. In the distance, we caught sight of the first live rabbits we’d seen out and about for ages. They were just little dots, cautiously hopping around the edges of the long grass. Without the binoculars we couldn’t really see them properly. Below the rise, some of the children spotted some leafy branches sticking out on an odd angle.

As they ran down the hill, the full story revealed itself. It was a whole clump of toppled eucalyptus trees. ‘The storm must have blown them over’ someone observed. ‘Maybe it was on the day that it snowed?’ It was clearly the work of a massive force, for the trees had been lifted out by their roots and smashed to the ground. Their broken limbs were lying about, all entangled. The scene of stormy destruction was hard to imagine on this still and tranquil day, when it just seemed alluringly like an adventure playground.

climbing fallen tree 1

The children swarmed over the fallen trees. There was so much to see and everything was at eye level. They inspected the mangled branches, the exposed roots, the crumbling bark and soil, the wrinkled elbows on the trunks, the marks and bugs on the leaves. It didn’t take long before the children were wrapping their own limbs around those of the entwined trees.

 

They spent a long time climbing along the horizontal branches, straddling them, wriggling along on their bums, lying on their tummies and gripping with their arms. A group of the tree climbers turned into growling ‘tree bears’ and one boy became a whistling bird. His whistles seemed to prompt a nearby magpie to break into song.

climbing fallen tree 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

The children could have played in these fallen trees for hours, but lunchtime was fast approaching and we had to make our way back up the hill. We’re all hoping that they will still be there the next time we walk.

After the Rain

After a few days of steady rain, and with the sunshine starting to break through, we set off to see what animals might be venturing out of their shelters after such a long period of wet weather. The children were definitely feeling a bit restless and cabin-bound. They were very bouncy – itching to get outside and have a good run around.

A number of the children mentioned the rainbows they had seen that morning, noting that rainbows only come out when there is both sun and rain together. They clearly understood that rainbows signal emergence at the transition between wet and fine weather.

cocky

The first thing we noticed was that the cockatoos were back. We instantly recognised their incessant screeches and when we looked up, we could see that they were upsetting a family of noisy miners nested high up in the eucalyptus trees. The plucky small miner birds were swooping the huge cockatoos, and finally succeeded in driving them away, amidst a crescendo of squabbling and squawking. This noisy burst of action turned out to be the liveliest moment on the walk. The sun was struggling to fully emerge, the wind was bitterly cold and there were few other creatures to be seen.

 

The ants’ nests were damp and sodden. They seemed deserted. It was only when we looked closely that we started to spot first ‘one’, then ‘two’, then ‘three’ ants out and about, but they were moving very slowly – as one child noted ‘maybe its because of the cold’. Studying a nest intently, one child commented ‘It looks like the bark got pushed on to it’, providing a unique perspective on the way that the fragments of sticks, bark, and earth had weathered together.

ant after rain    ants nest - after rain3

There were two fresh holes at the edge of the nest. We could see that they both had ants working away near their openings. The ants were pushing out the debris that the rain had washed down.

green groundcoverred mushroom

Water saturated ground has generated all kinds of spongy growth, much of it vibrant in colour. The children were attracted by the verdant green ground cover that had appeared since the last walk, and they enjoyed its soft and springy yielding feel under their feet. The odd bright and colourful mushroom also caught their eye.

smooth barkfeeling bare trunk

The pale trunk of a Eucalyptus tree was glowing in the semi-sunlight. It bore the marks of its previous dark grey bark, now shed and lying in long shreds at its base. One child reached out to touch the bare trunk, getting a feel for its new slippery smooth texture.

climbing peppercorn tree 2climbing peppercorn tree

The enveloping canopy of the peppercorn tree provided temporary shelter from the cold wind. Its low broad branches proved irresistible for those children who like to climb. They found perches in its boughs, rested their back against its coarse trunk, and wrapped their bodies around its solid limbs.

dismembered dead rabbitFollowing their regular sightings on the last few walks, the children were on the look out for dead rabbits. They deliberately tried to remember where they had last seen one and to find it again. One child was a bit hesitant, saying she didn’t really want to see a dead rabbit again. Yet, when the dead rabbit was found, she became quite animated and rushed off to share the news with others. Perhaps it was because the find was a little more noteworthy or gruesome, as this dead rabbit was well and truly dismembered. Its hind legs were separated from its torso and its furry remains were scattered around. dead rabbit in half

In passing on the news, the child described the detail: ‘There’s a bottom and two legs. And there were other pieces’. A few of children gave this rabbit a name – that’s ‘the dead bunny of half’ [laughter]. ‘Maybe someone chopped it in half?’ one pondered. ‘Must have been a fox’ another wisely surmised.

 

The wind was picking up force when we all decided it was time to head home. After starting the walk with some gusto, the children had run off their pent-up energy, seen enough damp, soggy, wildlife – dead and alive – and their fingers were cold. Presumably feeling like most of the animals that live here, they were keen to retreat to a sheltered place. We returned to the warmth of the centre.

 

Threads of connection

rainsun contrast

On this walk, we skirted the edges of alternating sunny blue skies, and looming dark rainclouds. This unstable weather brought with it the interchangeable experiences of brightness, shadow, warmth and cold and a continually shifting and enlivened quality of light.

One child commented that the trees were ‘sparkling’, as the sunlight caught on the multitude of fresh rain drops on the leaves.  Another child compared this to being out in the night, recalling that when he looked up at night time it was all ‘sparkly’ from the stars.

beetle camouflagedbark with shadows

On the damp ground, the saturated vegetation was rich in tones.

The children noticed the deepened colours of the bark, leaves and grass, both in shadow and in sunlight.

The base of a eucalyptus tree was littered with long strips of newly fallen bark.  The children were intent on finding the longest possible piece to play with.  Once located, this length of bark accompanied the children for quite some time. They took it in turns to carry it along with them.

puddles and bark1 croppedpuddles and bark

 

 

 

 

The children seemed to be holding onto the long bark as a thread of connection; one that linked them together as they walked and as well as acting as a moveable thread of attachment to the entities and places they were passing by and through.

One of the most notable things they came across while walking with the bark was (yet another) dead rabbit. This one lay exposed on its side on a grassy hillside. Once again, they started to guess about what had befallen it, with thoughts ranging from ‘maybe a fox got it’ to the more frivolous suggestion that ‘maybe the Easter Bunny hopped on it‘?  The children stood gazing at the rabbit for quite some time. It was only at the prompting of the adults that they moved on.

dead rabbit no 2

The lake water was higher and rougher after an extended period of rain. The children thought it was ‘a bit like a flood, and noted that the water ‘is nearly up to the trunks’ and ‘its got bigger waves.
wind by lake - swollen after rain2

When one of the adults mentioned that the water looked browner than usual, a child responded with the unexpected conclusion: ‘there must be a rabbit in the water’.  Although now standing at the lakeside, he seemed to be drawing stronger threads of connection back to the earlier encounters with dead rabbits than to the particular qualities of flood-waters.

 

Finding stillness on a windy day

On this cool, windy day, the children scuffled along through the autumn leaves.

autumn leaves3

Some ran on ahead before playfully falling to the soft grass aided by the gentle force of the wind. One child took advantage of the large fallen leaves, setting them to sail on the lake as little ‘rafts’. Another gathered a bundle together to take along with her.

leaves as raft2                       leaves collection

This autumn day also seemed to invite a multitude of birds to the lakeside surrounds. Some ducks came to visit the children while they were ‘fishing’.

ducks visiting east lake

bird statues2.JPG

 

In the distance, a flock of Cormorants perched on a rocky outcrop.

The children were captivated by the stillness of the birds, whispering quietly ‘they are standing like a statue’.

Birds - flying

 

 

When a helicopter flew overhead, the unexpected noise disturbed the birds setting them in flight.

Despite this flurry of activity, it was the memory of the birds as motionless on the rock that seemed foremost in the children’s minds. A few commented for some time afterwards ‘I think they were statues, because they were not moving’.

 

 

It is easy to get caught up in thinking that children need action, motion and excitement to draw and keep their attention. Yet, on this windy walk, as on others, it was just as often the small things that were still or barely moving that captured their curiosity.

 

caterpiller.JPGFor instance, as a group of his friends ran through the leaves, one child spotted a small caterpillar on a leaf and gently lifted it out of the way to a safer place.What was it about the unassuming presence of this small creature, in midst of such activity and commotion, that first drew his attention?

 

 

 

Noticing these child-bird and child-caterpillar interactions reminds us that the intimacies of stillness can be as compelling as the excitement of movement on a blustery day.