By ERIN KENNY
For The Beachcomber
To the observant, signs of spring are everywhere.
Both the alder and hazelnut trees have copious amounts of their spring flowers, called catkins, nearly ready to burst open with clouds of pollen.
I have seen purple crocuses blooming, and the daffodil stalks are six inches high.
Last week I saw a butterfly and a honeybee and myriad other spring flying insects.
There are prominent new buds on both the red elderberry and the cottonwood trees.
There is even spring growth of nettles, sweet cicely, chickweed and bittercress and new flowers on the geum, tansy, yarrow and cat’s ear or false dandelion.
It is a great time to get outside and interact with nature in a variety of ways. The succulent new buds of the Douglas fir are a tangy treat, and both the alder and hazelnut catkins are edible, as well as being very high in protein.
Spending time in nature can be a bonding family experience; however, many people these days don’t have the incentive without some specific activities to engage in. With the midwinter break rapidly approaching, I have compiled a list of my favorite nature activities, all of which lend themselves well to family participation.
For nature painting, find juicy yellow flowers, like dandelion or false dandelion, and rub them onto paper with your fingers. Juicy leaves, like dock leaf, work great, too. Ripe huckleberries add a splash of color to your painting. Experiment with different plants and parts of plants to make a visually exciting and unique nature painting.
To make bark rubbings, get out some sturdy white paper and some crayons. Find a tree or downed wood and spread the paper over it. With firm pressure, rub back and forth to feel and see the texture of the bark.
You can also place other objects like ferns or leaves under the paper on a smooth surface and rub the crayon over them until an image of the plant appears.
Found object art requires no supplies other than those you will find in nature.
Gather brightly colored fallen leaves, lichens and catkins and arrange them into circles or other shapes and designs on the ground.
You can add pieces of sticks or ferns to make more intricate designs. Cedar branches make great hoops for dreamcatchers. The thinner end can be wrapped around itself to hold the circle in place. Native blackberry vines can be used to weave the web of the dreamcatcher, and ferns and lichen can be added as decoration.
Find evidence of decay. There are some mushy stinky mushrooms that make for good exploration with a stick. Many have little worms in them to help them decay. Move piles of the leaf litter to expose tiny jumping bugs that are the forest decomposers. Turn over logs and rocks to see what else is hiding beneath. Try putting a white square of cloth out onto the ground and leaving it in place for a few hours to see what is falling and jumping around. Set up a sturdy cup where it won’t fall over, and leave it there for several days as a rain catcher to measure how much rain collects.
Challenge your senses — take a slow nature walk or go to a quiet place and sit. Stay silent for one to two minutes (or longer with older kids) and then talk about what you heard or noticed.
Did you hear different birds, the wind in the trees, a dog barking or the sprinkling of Doug fir needles? Did you feel the breeze on your face, the cold ground on your body or the sun on your face? Did you smell the decaying bracken ferns, the decomposing cottonwood leaves or the moisture in the air?
The next time you go outside, be purposeful in your observations.
Clear your mind and open your senses. So often when we go outside our minds are still filled with thoughts of things that are not in the present moment. Try to tune in to the way nature is affecting your entire body.
The benefits of nature immersion are more obvious if you approach it with intention.
— Erin Kenny is executive director of Cedarsong Nature School. She will be leading many of these activities at the school’s midwinter break nature camp.