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.

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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.

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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’.

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

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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!

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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’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Finding stillness on a windy day

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

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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.

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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’.

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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’.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.