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.

 

Sheltering

Snow clouds were gathering over the Brindabella Mountains, and when the westerly wind gusts blew across from them, we were pleased to be so rugged up. One child noted the force on her body when she commented ‘I’m trying to walk this way but the wind is pushing me back that way’. It was definitely not conducive weather for animals to be on the move – there were very few out and about. We didn’t even see any rabbits run out of the grass. We asked the children to think about where the animals go when it’s so cold.

Rabbit grass home

They found the first possible answer to this question in the tussocky grasses  – a round hollowed out form that they hadn’t noticed before. It was not quite a burrow – more of an above-ground hole. It looked like the kind of place where an animal might temporarily stop for shelter, rather than permanently live. We weren’t sure if the rabbits made the hollow shelter, or some other kind of animal. ‘Could be a rat?’ one the children suggested, but the rabbits had definitely used it.

rabbit grass shelter

 

We knew this as they’d left their tell-tale scratchings and droppings at the front door. Once the children’s eyes were attuned to the shape of this grass hollow shelter, they started to notice that there were quite a lot of them. ‘Here’s another’ someone would call out, inviting others to run over and inspect.

 

 

 

 

 

rabbit toilet

 

In stark contrast to the noticeable physical absence of rabbits in the grass, there was (as always) abundant evidence that rabbits still live here – in increasingly large numbers.  Rabbit markings – scratchings, burrows, piles of poo – have become a ubiquitous feature of the landscape, seemingly reshaping it now on a daily basis. The children have become so accustomed to the signs of rabbits everywhere, that they’ve become quite blasé about them. For instance, they’ve taken to regularly chanting ‘Another rabbit toilet’ in ‘ho-hum’ tones, as they walk along.

 

dead rabbit no3

 

They were not quite so blasé when they came across yet another dead rabbit, lying next to a burrow. These encounters with dead rabbits have become a regular occurrence, and we’re beginning to really wonder what’s going on. This time, the rabbit’s body had been partially eaten and was starting to decompose. ‘I can see the spine bones’ one child commented – perhaps also recalling the kangaroo spine bone fragments they often identify at the shrine.

 

 

The semi-enclosed pathways under the casurina trees beside the lakeshore are always a drawcard, but they exerted a specific kind of pull in this weather. The children quickly ran across the exposed open parklands to get there. Once ‘inside’, they came across a pair of wood ducks and a few purple swamp hens also sheltering in this relatively protected space.

watching swamp hen

 

They immediately stopped running, clustered together and started to creep along – trailing the shy swamp hens. ‘Shhh’, ‘shhh’, they kept reminding each other to stay quiet, knowing from past experience that the swamp hens are very easily startled and would fly away if someone made a loud noise.
blanket for fish

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of children started gathering fallen casurina branches and throwing them into the lake. When queried, they explained that they were ‘making a warm blanket for the fish because they must be cold’.

 

On our way back to the centre, the children couldn’t resist stopping off at one last favourite spot. This time it was the covered thicket of garden bushes that drew them in. They’d inspected its dark understory many times before, for animal traces. Today it became the children’s own shelter – their ‘home-corner’ cubby.

home under bush

 

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.

Wet Walking

windyday crop v3

Walking on this first cold wet day did little to dampen the children’s enthusiasm and energy. If anything, they were enlivened in new ways as they tested out the feel of raindrops, of slippery wet objects, and drew in the new smells arising from the damp earth.rain - tasting1 crop rotated version           rain - tasting2 crop rotated version

A number of the children found different ways to feel the rainwater. One child reached out and ran her fingers along a cold steel rail to collect several drops before bringing them to her mouth to taste. Another turned his head to the sky, closed his eyes and poked out his tongue. He then wandered around for sometime, collecting as many drops as he could in this way. When asked by the adults to describe what the rain tastes like – he seemed bemused. Perhaps he was intent on catching rain on his tongue for other reasons – to feel the coolness of the drops, to sense the weight or force of falling water ….? Not all sensory experiences are easy to articulate.

However, it was clear that the childrenlooking were affected in new ways on this wet walk.Some children knelt down to investigate the new sponginess of the grass. They commented that the earth smelt wet. Screwing up her nose, one child declared that the rain made everything smell ‘disgusting’, like ‘yucky wet poo’.

A group ran to find shelter under the glossy dense canopy of a kurrajong tree where the ground was still dry.

photo 1

The children noticed some of the differences that wet weather made to familiar sites.

bones green in rain

At the Koori Shrine, the kangaroo bones had changed colour.  They had taken on a distinctively green hue, revealing the ways in which rain activates the mossy spores that are otherwise barely visible on their sun-bleached calcium surface. IMG_7845

A couple of children picked up the green bones and continued their ritualistic scraping on the frame of the sculpture. This time, instead of producing a bell-like sound, the friction of wet bones on metal was clearly cause fragments of bone to disintegrate and stick to the rusty surface.

rain - walking on donut

 

 

The nearby sculptures that the children have named the ‘donuts’ are always a draw card. Their smooth low surfaces are perfect for the children to drape their bodies on and to practise balanced walking. In fine weather, the children have felt how the smooth masonry surface absorbs and holds the heat of the sun. In the rain they found that the surfaces were not only cold, but also very slippery. They had to attend more carefully to securely navigate their footing.

 

Because this was our first wet walk, it was also the first time we had encountered puddles.

puddles2

The water that had pooled on the bike path proved to be a predictable magnet – especially to those children who had worn their gumboots. With intent focus, the children repeatedly jumped in the puddles. Their efforts had multiple effects. Their boots made loud splashing sounds which they tried to amplify by jumping more and more heavily. The impact of their jumping bodies caused the water to shoot up into the air, and after the event, to ripple out in concentric circles. Testing the limits of their force, the water finally (and inevitably) splashed into their boots and wet their socks. All part of the children’s wet weather worlding experience.

 

IMG_7866

As well as their own bodily encounters with the wet weather world, the children came across other species that were differently affected by the rainy weather.

rain walk mushrooms

 

For the first time, they found a line of mushrooms that had sprung up close the lake foreshore. Aware that mushrooms can be poisonous, and they should neither eat nor even touch the ones they find, they limited their curiosities to looking from a respectful distance.

 

 

Another unexpected find was a dead rabbit. It was a sad but also rare opportunity to see IMG_7867a rabbit up close. Without any obvious marks on its body, the children wondered how the rabbit might have died – ‘maybe he ran too fast?’ one speculated. One child was particularly concerned about the apparent vulnerability of this dead rabbit, so clearly exposed to the cold wet elements. ‘He might get all wet’, she said as she and the others looked down at the still small body.

 

 

 

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’.

Casing2

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_7612

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.

IMG_7608

 

 

 

 

 

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.

photo[2]

 

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.

MagnifyGlass3

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’.

spiderwebontree

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.

sitcky pine cones1

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’!

sticky pine cones2

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.

ants and sticks2

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.

carrying stick.jpg

 

 

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.