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By Siobhan Niklasson
Observing seasonal patterns brings comfort in an uncertain time.
The coronavirus pandemic has sent us nonstop challenges, but it’s also given us at least one great opportunity: to get to know our natural surroundings better. With travel limited, many indoor spaces closed, and even spending time with friends curtailed, the great outdoors has become an outlet for many of us for exercise, for stress relief, and just for getting out of the house.
I’ll admit, I dragged my kids along on many work-related adventures while working on the Take It Outside program. They had nothing better to do! But it turned out to be a lot of fun spending time together and filling in our mental maps of the natural spaces in our neighborhood.
The more time you spend in a place, the more you get to know its secrets and habits: what kinds of creatures live there, and where and when they’re active. Which plants are in bloom and which ones are about to flower. Which little trails lead past strawberry plants or out to a gorgeous view. And with each visit, you add little memories that add up to a tapestry of experiences weaving you more and more tightly to your place.
Early on, we found a pond. It’s not far from our house, but it’s kind of hidden by the topography and the tall grass, and we’d never seen it before. One day back in March, we took a few steps off our normal path and found this little gem! It’s no more than a few feet long and a few feet wide, and it’s manmade, fed by overflow water from a municipal water tank. But wild things have taken to this small oasis in our dry environment, and we found aquatic plants, insects and signs that larger animals visit it to drink.
Over the weeks and months that followed, we went back to the pond many times. While doing challenges for the Take It Outside program, we watched for birds in the thick vegetation near the pond, we watched the wetland plants grow taller, and we opened all of our senses and heard nuthatches chipping at the trees, felt the soft new grass, and watched tiny aquatic plants swirl in a figure eight in a miniature eddy in the water.
We took a night hike to the area to look for yucca moths. We didn’t find any, but with the light from our headlamps we saw the eye-shine of spiders and a bigger creature, maybe a coyote, slipping by quietly in the dark.
We found chokecherry bushes and waited patiently as they flowered and as the fruits slowly ripened. One day in early summer, while picking and eating the sweet-tart chokecherries, my daughter noticed that only a few inches from my hand, there was a tiny nest in the branches, decorated with lichen and spider web, and cradling two baby hummingbirds! We moved on so the mother could feed her chicks.
It’s been six months since the pandemic closed schools and businesses, and that’s half a year of watching nature go through its regular paces in our neighborhood. When we started the Take It Outside program, it was spring migration season, and in that first week, we welcomed the turkey vultures and hummingbirds back from their winter homes.
Through the spring and summer, we’ve watched the crows build their nests and baby birds hatch and fledge. And now, in September, we have only a few more weeks with our summer birds before they head south again for the winter.
We don’t know what the coming months bring for the pandemic or for our schools and communities. We don’t know when we’ll be able to host visitors at the nature center. But we can expect that nature will continue its clockwork patterns. And at PEEC, we’ll be focusing on helping you get more familiar with how your ecosystem changes with the seasons. We’ll be publishing online material and challenges that get you outside to observe and take part in nature’s story throughout this very singular year.
September Scavenger Hunt