Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The simple magic of Missisquoi

The word Missisquoi is derived from an Abenaki word that means "abundance of waterfowl". We did indeed see evidence of a healthy waterfowl population, we were also serenaded non-stop by a plethora of songbirds. But, without question, the most impressive show at Missisquoi is the insect life! You need to step lightly & thoughtfully, and make your best attempt at remaining quiet & peaceful. Keep your eyes focused, and you will be rewarded with glimpses of some of the loveliest specimens the bug world has to offer. We were constantly being led by a small battalion of red dragonflies, they skimmed along just ahead of us, like dolphins playing in the wake off the bow of a boat. They appeared inquisitive, and were the perfect tour guides!
I can't end without mentioning the other wild ambassadors that greeted us on our travels throughout the refuge, we were welcomed by cottontails, amphibians galore, a large healthy snake circling (and entering) the loo! (aka the toilet facility), deer, and enough scat & tracks to keep even the most seasoned tracker busy with his nose to the ground.
If you are lucky enough to live in Vermont, it is certainly worth your while to take a day to explore the extensive trail systems of the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, it is not to be missed. If you don't live in Vermont but find yourself meandering about on a meadow's trail, near a bog, swamp, or wetland... focus your attention just a little bit deeper, to the smallest of the small, to the unseen perfection of the insect world. They are ready to dazzle!

**Photographs are originals by Josh**

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Just out of reach, the allure of the unknown

Are explorers born with the innate desire to discover? Or is this a learned trait, developed over time? Will geneticists claim that there is a mutated gene that causes this uncontrollable curiosity in a select few, that it is a predisposition only for those whose chromosomal structures are just slightly askew? I happen to believe that the majority of us are born wide eyed, questioning, and primed for adventure. Ready to solve life's mysteries and explore what's just around the bend, no questions asked. However, some of us seem to lose that propensity somewhere along the way. It may take some daily affirmations, some discipline on the part of distracted adults, but it would behoove all of us to reconnect with our inner explorer.
This past Monday I found myself witnessing the draw that the unknown has on my children. It was contagious! We were meandering along wooded trails, peering over steep embankments, discovering new routes to old places. When we finally came to the river, one of the many cool, clear aquatic gems that Vermont offers, (our list of favorite rivers is extensive) we were ready to hop in. We would stay in one spot for a bit, until the thought of what was just downstream, what was just around the riverbend would overwhelm my two boys. We'd find a new spot, but it was never enough. The river would be just a little too wide or a little too swift to cross in some spots, but their eyes would always gaze & settle on the opposite shore. "I wonder what's over there?" was the quote of the day. And this went on until we had gone full circle & returned to the spot where we had begun. We felt refreshed, renewed, invigorated. Certain in the knowledge that there are still places to be explored, mysteries to be solved, new terrain to be mapped, and natural treasures to be discovered......

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer boredom is a myth

I don't remember feeling bored as a kid. I'm sure that I must have experienced it once or twice, and I'm sure my mother can recall me whining about it several more times than that, but I honestly don't have any memories of boredom. There always seemed to be something to do, something to spark the imagination, something to occupy your time, and the best place to do that was outside. Whether it was sunny, rainy, snowy, windy... we were out the door and didn't return until hungry or frozen.
These days kids are different. They want to be entertained every second of the day. If they don't have an action-packed itinerary lined up, they're quick to cry "bored!" I've found that boredom can be cured quite easily, especially during the summer months by merely engaging my kiddos in some sort of exploration. Often times, a local road trip leads to amazing discoveries and only costs the price of gasoline in the vehicle.
This past Sunday we hopped in the family rig and made our way across the beautiful jewel that we are so blessed to live near, the amazing Lake Champlain. As we meandered down the main route toward the islands that lead us to the ferry boat, we approached the sandbar that connects the islands to the mainland. On either side of this strip of road there are wetlands, marshy treasure troves of abundant wildlife. This area has been designated for conservation,
& is a vital piece of real estate for innumerable species. The state has installed large platforms on the tops of each of the tall power poles that line the wetland on the southern side of the road. Osprey productivity, and the encouragement of nesting pairs to utilize these platforms
for nest building is the sole purpose of these platforms. On this particular trip
through osprey alley, my youngest made note that each and every platform (we forgot to count them but I would approximate that there are between 8-10 total) housed a beautifully crafted, enormous osprey nest, every one! And that at least half of those had visible offspring, some of them sitting on the edges of their nests... testing their big, powerful wings. We drove slowly, paused a bit, soaked them in.
They were awe inspiring and my boys were quiet with fascination. As we drove on, the contented smiles on my boys' faces said it all, wildlife has the potential to wow children to silence, to spark inner contemplation. I wondered what they were thinking, what was spinning through their amazing little brains, but left them to their thoughts without question. I watched my little guy in the rear view mirror, head out the window with the wind whipping through his hair. Within no time he was back at his favorite pastime, targeting passing bikers and/or walkers and yelling at top voice... "I LOVE YOU!" Don't ask because I don't know, this began quite some time ago, and causes a great deal of giggling & hilarity within the confines of the vehicle. I allow it because it seems quite harmless and some of the reactions of the intended targets is priceless, who doesn't like to hear those three words??
After a long day of visiting with family across the lake, we returned home in the dark. While on the ferry boat coming back to our side of the lake, I opened the moonroof on the vehicle and we all gazed to the heavens. The sky was full, packed to capacity with sparkling white dots. As it always does, staring into space created a myriad of profound questions to erupt from both of
my boys, most of them I had no solid answers for, but I was amazed that they were being asked. I love those times with my children, absorbing their energy. Understanding that they are individuals, with their own thoughts and ideas, their own purpose on this Earth. I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the moment.
So, in a very roundabout way, I think that I've come to my point... boredom should always be a non-issue. If someone in your house is suffering from a debilitating case of boredom, hop in the car. Destination... no place in particular. Just be sure to enjoy the ride.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Of all the "ologists", my love goes to the herp's

Herpetologists don't get enough credit. The unsung heroes of fragile ecosystems, their branch of science & biology doesn't garner the attention of... say... an astrophysicist? A neurobiologist? Or any of the slew of other impressive sounding "ists" that are given to the extraordinarily intelligent, genius-types whom are a minority on this planet. I'd dare say that most common-folk don't even know what a herpetologist does, what their field of study covers, and may even give you a funny look when you say...herpetology. "Herpe-what? Sounds like a personal problem to me. Have you been to the doctor lately?" In case you don't feel like clicking the link above, in layman's terms, herpetology is the study of reptiles & amphibians.
In my wildest dreams I am a herpetologist (I also moonlight as an ornithologist). In REAL life, I am just a mom. A mom who loves critters, especially the "slimy" kind. A mom who jumps in feet first into that pond to scoop up that gorgeous specimen of bull, green, or leopard frog. A mom who takes her boys out after dark with spelunking headlamps to catch that spotted salamander migration. A mom whose love affair with the "red eft" stage of the eastern newt (a distraction since childhood) has brought her to a very comfortable place
as a mother to males. Now I'm planting those seeds, that sense of wonder, in my children. I only hope that it stays with them, that these treks & adventures will cause them to take pause as they grow older, to absorb their surroundings, and to think of me.

*Again, photo credits go to my 11 year old.*

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bucking the "trend" of soccer camp

Anyone with children, living within a semi-populated area (that qualifies nearly everyone) knows about soccer camp. It's the "in" thing, the must-do of summer, not only for the kids but for the moms as well. The see & be seen of summer camps. Well, I'm not part of the "in" crowd. It helps that both of my boys show little to no interest in soccer (although the younger one has skills), but I think that I would be hesitant to enroll them, even if they showed interest. Why? Well, that's a good question. I suppose it could have a lot to do with personal convictions, justified or not. I believe that today's children are over scheduled, over indulged, over stimulated, and just plain OVERED. Sports related injuries in very young children are off the charts compared to merely a decade ago, and for what? Are we churning out professional athletes in the suburbs at a higher rate? Is your child destined to be the next athletic superstar? Odds are.... no.
Having that off my chest clears the way for the true reason for this post,
soccer camp alternatives.
This summer I found a fantastic opportunity for my two guys to participate in, and it was right up their alley, Eco-Conservation Camp. I know, I know, sounds nerdy? Granola-y? Treehugger-ish? Heck yeah! Since when did caring for your home planet become taboo? Since when did environmentalism become a naughty word? I say bring it on, and encourage your children to love their Earth, care for their surroundings, develop compassion for all things, and get a taste of empathy.... an amazing character trait that all children should possess, but don't.
This camp was developed and hosted by the fabulous crew at Catamount Outdoor Family Center, they also offer mountain biking camp for kids of all ages, another great alternative
for kids that will never play in the World Cup. It was a fantastic week long, half day camp that had my boys getting plenty of physical activity. Hiking, climbing, exploring, talking about positive ways to be good stewards of the Earth, problem solving, game playing, sharing ideas with like minded individuals, learning wildlife & botanical identification, and just plain having some good old fashioned summer fun.
I'm sure that I will touch on this subject again in future posts, letting kids be kids, so I'll let it go for now. If your child adores soccer.... eats, sleeps, breathes soccer, then by all means sign 'em up for that camp! However, this post is to remind those parents whom are on the fence, whose child isn't really enthusiastic about the prospect but it's what "everyone else" is doing, that there are choices out there. You may have to dig a little deeper, be a bit more creative, but it is well worth it in the end. Your kids will thank you for the extra effort, and mine have been wishing that Eco Camp was a full time, all summer gig!
**All photos in this post (and the squirrel in the previous) were taken by my son, Joshua, I must give him his photo cred!!**

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Baby red squirrels make good neighbors

I am well aware that a squirrel is considered a rodent, lumped together with squeal inducing varmints like mice & rats. However I've always found them quite adorable, even cuddly in fact. I am also well aware that most civilized human beings may not share in my adoration of these
little, furry, scampering, chattering critters, and I'm alright with that. The recognition of this disparity between myself and "normal" folks is important in spotting & appreciating the humor in the most recent adventure in nature that I was blessed to experience with my boys.
Over the long Independence Day weekend we decided to camp in our RV at Ausable Chasm Campground in New York State. Located in the vast upstate region of New York (way to narrow it down since everything above NYC is apparently considered "upstate") near the Adirondacks, about 15 or so miles below Plattsburgh. Ausable Chasm itself is an impressive geological formation, a deep gorge carved out of the surrounding rock. I won't bore you with all of the amazing facts & details, I'll let you discover those on your own.
When we arrived at the campground on Friday afternoon and began to set up our site, we were immediately greeted by the sweetest quadruplets I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Four pint sized balls of fluffy red energy came bounding down the nearest pine tree, straight for us. Within no time at all our campsite set-up had come to a screeching halt, and we were butt-down on the ground, mesmerized by these amazingly animated creatures. They climbed all over us, let us pet them, let us pick them up, fell asleep in my oldest son's hands, they clearly had not developed a healthy fear of humans yet. This went on for another hour, as my husband graciously got the RV hooked up & leveled out all by himself, while the boys & I reveled in our new found friends. That is when our campsite neighbors arrived back at their RV..........
There had been no vehicle accompanying the fifth wheel camper that was set up in the spot next to ours when we arrived. Since this region of New York is full of places to go & sights to see, most folks don't hang out at the campground much during the day. When our campsite neighbors returned from their daytime jaunt, I could see that their license plate indicated they hailed from Ontario. We were so excited about sharing our enchantment with these two new campers from Canada that we never stopped to think about their reaction. Imagine our surprise when the baby red squirrels dashed up the hill to greet the newcomers, only to be met with "Eeeeks!!" and kicking feet. The woman dashed into her RV as quickly as her legs would carry her, and the man tiptoed over the bewildered little squirrels to join her. Obviously not fans. If the story had ended there, I would've been alright with their initial reaction. But of course, it does not.
A mere 20 minutes later, an older gentleman sporting an official campground t-shirt exited the offices and headed into our campsite armed with a box. I quickly let him know that the squirrels were by no means bothering us, and that I believed I had spotted their mother overseeing the situation from above. She most likely had evicted
them today, and they were on their own, exploring the new world around them. He nodded a vague understanding and informed me that my lovely Ontario neighbor had called the front desk, was in fear for her safety, and wanted the four baby red squirrels relocated during her stay. HA!
As you can imagine I had a field day with this one! Imagine the audacity of someone, to make the conscious decision to go camping, in the woods, and then ask to have the wildlife relocated upon arrival. I might've loosened my view on her request if there had been a black bear wandering about the campground.... but BABY squirrels?? I voiced my opinions, of her and her ridiculous request very loudly. I offered solutions, perhaps a relocation of HER would solve the issue? The campground employee smiled knowingly, thanked me with his eyes, and informed me that the campground was full. Moving Mrs. Anti-squirrel was not an option, and obviously, neither was moving the squirrels.
Much to my neighbor's dismay, the squirrels stayed with us throughout the entire weekend. The first night they all curled up together next to our fire ring and slept the whole night through. As each day passed the braver ones struck out on their own to start their new lives, leaving us with just two late bloomers by Monday. We shared our good fortune with other campers (the ones who shared in our enthusiasm for nature), basking in the sheer delight that is evident on the faces of children who are experiencing something new and exciting, something you know that they'll talk about once they are home and remembering their trip. By Tuesday's departure, all of the squirrels had "fledged", had found their way, had left the nest. They had done what they were supposed to do, had done what came natural to them, and in the midst of it all we were allowed to be included, to witness their beginning, to share in their discovery of the world, and it was wonderful. Had we chosen a different site, arrived on a different day, not come at all... it may have played out the same in our absence. Or it may not have.