Notes from the Naturalist Week 22:The Nature Preschool at HCMA

Exploration of our natural areas is one of the greatest tools we can give our children. Just let them explore.  Provide them with open areas, trees and plants, wildlife in passing and we give them something special that can never be taken away. In short, we provide children the opportunity to fall in love with nature.  And I suppose in some selfish way, I as the naturalist to each of my brilliant and young Naturalists, am planting a seed that will sprout into the love of natural and wild places forever.   


For every area I explore, I fall in love with some part of its landscape: may it be a bend in the trail, the light at a certain time of day or year, or just the feeling I get from being in that same place. As we explored today, up beyond the log pile near the parking lot, I remembered how very much I enjoy this trail, this area. It might even be my favorite place in the Slim Baker area. There is something about the mid-day light, the shadows on the snow cast by the trees and brush, the rock wall not too far into the woods. And if I gauge correctly the comfort and ease at which the children play, I know that they too are right at home in this place. And that is a beautiful thing. 

As we entered into the area near the log pile, we spotted tracks in the snow. Small in size, the front prints were spread wide and the hind, were in a tight stance. A squirrel perhaps. Looking at the pattern the tracks made in the snow, the hopping, the depth within the snow, it looked at first glance to be a snowshoe hare but we questioned the size and hypothesized that they may be that of a squirrel or chipmunk. The tracks lead directly into the log pile. We questioned if they had a den in the pile or if they were hoping away from a hungry hawk.  It is fun to think of the stories of our forest neighbors, wondering what they did and where they went.  


While we had snack in the lodge today, I pulled out one of my favorite books: Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich. Heinrich is a Professor at the University of Vermont, although retired he still teaches Winter Ecology each year. While not a children’s book, Winter World is written in a way as to intrigue any of us and that is why I find it to be the perfect “adult” book to pick up and read a paragraph or two with the children.  Filled with interesting facts, we explored snippets about Chickadees and Squirrels today. 

“One of the chickadee’s remarkable winter adaptations is their plumage, which is denser than that of other birds their size. Heat loss is mainly from the area round the eye and bill, and when the birds fluff out and then ball up to sleep, they are reducing specifically that area of heat loss by the tucking their heads under their scapular (shoulder) feathers of the wing” (page 139). 

“A chipmunk’s availability of stored food affects whether it remains fully active or enters full torpor [in winter]” (page 99).  From this statement we talked about how each of our families prepare for winter events, such as snow or ice storms, by shopping for extra food and setting water aside so that we are prepared. 

“As the wasp family grows and more room is needed, the insects enlarges their nest by recycling the paper walls from the inside to make new, larger ones on the outside. A nest starts out in May no bigger than a walnut with just one paper shell. And ends up basketball size by late summer having about a dozen layers of paper insulation surrounding almost as many horizontal combs with pupae larvae, hanging one above the other inside” (page 57).

I hope you take the time to let you children explore in the coming days. Let them gather and store memories for the future. Impress upon them the very special place we live in and pour your love of the outside into their hands. They are our future stewards and caretakers of our precious and necessary wild places.   

For more information on Bernd Heinrich:

Jennifer MacDonaldComment