Cheap Field Trips # 1

Cheap Field Trips # 1

kiosk

In the spirit of  stop-and-smell-the-roses, we’ve been making an extra effort to take cheap field trips this year.  Cheap could be free, or just cheap!  The best thing…these are fun little outings that get us off our routine and don’t require any preparation or great expenditure of funds.

I will be sharing these experiences in a series called Cheap Field Trips.

Cheap Field Trip # 1:  Visit a local Recreation Area

We happen to live near the Chattahoochee Recreation Area on the “beautiful” Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, GA.  There is a place called Powers Island which is an access point for folks “putting in” their canoes or rafts to float the river. Mr. Powers was a blacksmith and gunsmith here on the edge of civilization in the 1830’s.  He ran a ferry right from this island.

From I-285, I’d seen this parking lot and trail head for decades and never stopped.

“We’re going there today,” I told my youngster, one recent Wednesday in February.

Silence came from the back seat.

“It’s supposed to be in the 60’s today. We are doing something outside,”  I snapped, hoping he would catch the fever.

We pulled into the empty parking lot. The grey lot blended with the barren trees.  A solitary, work truck could be seen in a space by the restrooms, occupied by a man eating a sandwich from a wrapper.  His windows were up. A medium roar could be heard from the interstate a few hundred yards away.

“Hmmm. This does look a bit sketchy,” I thought as we unloaded ourselves from our truck. I grabbed my wallet and shoved it into my camera bag.  Then, I looked westward.  Through the dormant trees, the sparkling, greenish waters of the Hooch drew us thither.

The Chattahoochee

 

For these cheapie trips to be memorable, you’ve got to take a slow pace.  Don’t go on a cheapie trip thinking you’re going to get some exercise.  If you get fresh air, that’s a plus!  These excursions are about slowing way, way down to see and observe.

A rust colored bridge formed the entry point of the trail and drew us toward the island.  There, on the banks of this mighty waterway, we saw our first point of interest.

bridge to Powers Island

 

“What is flotsam and jetsam?” asked my inquisitive boy after I called out the words.

“It’s floating stuff that has come to rest between these downed trees,” I gestured toward the logs forming the clog.

“Flotsam are things which float up…like things that have washed away from the shoreline and into the river.  Jetsam are things which have been flung off boats and float from the river to the shore,” I continued, pulling out my zoom lens.

beauty along the hooch

basketball heaven

“I can sure tell people like to play basketball and tennis in this town,” he deducted.

“What about football?  See that black one over there?” I pointed.  He tip toed lightly across the colorful trash and grabbed it. The treasure secured, he squeezed it, heard the leaky hole and then threw it back into the pile.

This multi hued wedge of trash kept us busy for a good fifteen minutes.  There were a bazillion water bottles, every sort of ball, numerous plastic toys, various sized cups, some milk jugs, and a few unidentifiable things.  A pungent, earthy smell hovered over the place.

plastics

Not far from the trash heap was a rock island that needed exploring.  I took a picture and then my guy said, “Mom, you come out here.”  I hesitated a minute and then this middle aged mamma hopped the swift current to make it safely to the rock, camera equipment and all.

on the rock

Sycamore balls

Then, we saw the trees.  They were mammoth!  Who would think there would be giant trees on an island like this?

“Must’ve been here when Mr. Powers was working the ferry,” I concluded.  We looked up and saw their tips touching the deep blue winter sky.

One had a crevice two feet taller than my child.  A quick flash of the cell phone light illuminated a couple of creepy, glowing eyes.

 

the granddaddy

bat eyes

As we walked the trail, each successive tree seemed to be larger and larger.  Finally, we reached the granddaddy of all the trees!  Easily it was five human wing spans across.  Against the blue sky and with sun shining brightly behind, the size and shape of this gargantuan took my breath away.

“What a great way to spend 60 minutes,” I said as we merged back onto the interstate.

“It was pretty good,” was the recap from the back seat.

This trip cost $3, which was paid at the kiosk by the trail head.   It was a great day.

the granddaddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Lake Bed

On the Lake Bed

On the upper reaches of Lake Hartwell, just south of the mountains where the lake gives way to river and the city gives way to country we have a house.   In this remote section of the lake, even during seasons of high water, we seldom in a single day see more than a handful of boaters.  Duck hunters frequent these river banks as do white tailed deer and Canada geese.   Tales of Cherokee ghosts, brave pioneers and small gauge railroads are told about these surroundings by local historians and naturalists alike.   Except for the occasional flock of flying geese or an air-boat propelled carp hunter, it is quiet here.

weeds

Yet, beneath these green waters lurk secrets and treasures and even creepy things.

These things, usually covered by the shadowy waters of the Tugaloo, rear their heads when the water recedes.  Tiny, living seeds lay dormant waiting for an opportunity to burst forth into life.  Huge, old stumps hide their past, clutching the river banks as if still waiting for a rescuer to retrieve them from the rising waters that flooded these shores more than 50 years ago.   Hidden household items from the 1980’s, dumped from some boat or washed away in some flood are now ensconced in mud and grass.  Their glinty edges catch the eye of a passerby demanding to be picked up and pondered.

Around Thanksgiving, we ventured out into this strange land that we call the lake bed. Mournful children, so saddened by the encroaching mud at Labor Day, were now mesmerized by this peculiar beauty that awaited them.

Launching ourselves from the dock, we tip toed across the soft mud toward the river.  A good 10 pair of shoes were heavily soiled in the process, but eventually all of the family plunged forth into the straw colored meadow.  A drone came out of its box and buzzed overhead.   I heard a child yell out, “It’s amazing!  It’s so soft.”  I peered  50 yards across the prairie and saw my 10 year old making a grass angel!

“What are these mom?” asked another as he picked a tightly packed bud from a tan colored bush.

“Not sure,” I mumbled as I noticed the fall leaves on the South Carolina side framing a backdrop to our activities .

A quick glance north and my black dog came into clear view, her shiny coat juxtaposed against the monotone grasses.

jasmine

We lingered here a bit and then walked on toward the water’s edge.  There we saw several, old craggy stumps, remnants of days when this was a fast flowing river winding through a fertile corn field.   Downstream we saw symmetrical ripples in the sandy bank,  formed when the water drained out bit by bit, like a bathtub needing a shot of Drano.

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ripples

Suddenly, I was startled away from my amusement with the ripples by a thud to my left.  This was the sound of my teenager whacking autumn toned bushes.  Each whack produced a cloud of tiny, poufy seeds dimly lit by the late autumn sun.  We took a few minutes to whack some more of these tender bushes and take photographs.  How did these shrubs grow so quickly?  Wasn’t there water here just two months ago?

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taking-pics

Next, we moved a hundred yards down river to a flat, sandy area on the shoreline.  It was the perfect slate for practicing cursive.  It’s much easier to form capital letters in the damp sand!

cursive

After handwriting, I found myself sitting in the supple grass for a few more minutes, taking in the autumn colors and the stumps.  So many stumps!

“They’ve been down there this whole time,” I told my boys.  “We just swam over these giants a few months ago!”

“That is creepy, mom, ” a boy announced.

“We’ll have to remember where they are when the water comes up,”  I noted.

By this time, like the lake, the late afternoon sun was running out.  It was time to get home.

As we shambled back toward our dock, the most amazing hues of a pink and blue sunset caught my eye.  “Probably the affects of all the smoke,” I mused, remembering the fires just north of here up in Rabun.  The big sky, without trees or water, gave a vast, open feeling, like being out on a Montana ranch.  We North Georgians don’t typically get big openness,  I figured.

sunset

At dark, we arrived back at the marooned dock;  that stark reminder that things are not as they should be.

“You certainly can’t have a lake without water!” my husband maintained later on the phone.

“Yes! But, you can have a lake bed!” this nature nut retorted.

Out on the lake bed, we’d been given a consolation, a little silver lining to an otherwise very disappointing situation.  Nature was there, all around;  and it was lovely.

grass

 

 

City Folks Hit the Pasture

City Folks Hit the Pasture

Recently we took a fall walk and encountered some iconic bucolic scenes.  My fourteen year old son, after viewing my photographs from the outing, penned this piece on his experience.  I hope you enjoy.

City Folks Hit the Pasture

by H.P.N.

The November air was soft and cool that evening. Walking up the gravel road, my dad was setting up a hunting blind in the field behind me. My dad loved to utilize his Thanksgiving break to go hunting. Guiding my neighbor and I up the road, my mom was telling us all about what she had seen up this way the night before. As our small company reached a barbed wire fence the wood ended and I saw them on the other side.

cows at the golden hour

Some were brown, some were white, some were black, and a few were mixed. I approached the fence and a few of them standing near the fence walked up to us. Ben, our lake house neighbor where we were presently staying, picked up a tuft of grass. Ben cruised over to the fence, reached out with the grass and let out a hardy chuckle as the cow ate it. Stepping back from the wire I too picked up some of the little stiff shoots around me and held them out to the cows. A brown one walked over to me and munched on the dried plants.

h-b-and-weeds

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“Hold right there,” My mom said while pulling out her camera. The low and sluggish fall sun gave off the perfect shade to the cool, but crisp afternoon. This made for the best environment for picture taking. Ben was still feeding the cows, but now was trying to challenge how far the poor thing could reach for its food. The large animal reached up as high as it could with its short stubby neck and stretched out a lengthy pink tongue. It curled this tongue around the weeds and pulled them out of Ben’s hand.

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Alien Cow! Look out!

 

cow-teeth

cows-and-tongues

“Whoa!” I laughed, “That is one long tongue.

“Yea,” Ben answered in his almost southern accent.

By now the whole herd had gathered at our end of the pasture, coming to take advantage of the free hand outs. For a while we zoned out of our busy American lives to cross paths with this gentle community of cows. It was like the world around us froze, letting us enjoy this moment. Suddenly, I heard the crunching of boots on loose rocks and turned around to see my dad strolling up the road.

“Hey y’all,” He said announcing his presence and zapping us out of our utopia. “I finished setting up the stand.”

Walking back down the dirt road we told my dad all about the cows and how calm they were. Stepping back into the car the reality that this week was coming to a close came rushing in on me. Sitting there on the leather seat looking out the now dark window, I wished that I was back there at the pasture with the cows.

petting-the-cows

 

b-h

laughter

 

 

Hypnotizing a Chicken

Hypnotizing a Chicken

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Have you ever hypnotized a chicken? I hadn’t either until we became urban poultry farmers.  Although I’ve hypnotized a few fowl in my day, it’s the kids who love it most!  There’s something entertaining about holding a soft, fluffy living thing in your hands, massaging it on the wishbone and then watching it blissfully melt into a heap of uninhibited slumber.   Hypnotized chickens drop into a sleep not unlike a one-year-old would in a car seat on a road trip to grandmas.  Sometimes you will see a partially opened eye.  Sometimes you will see a beak opened, which is the chicken equivalent to a drooling, napping baby, mouth opened, head slumped in relaxation.   The sight of an hypnotized chicken is something to behold and I’ve captured it here for you to ponder.  Apparently, this is an addictive past time that doesn’t get old, even with the surliest of teenagers.

In case you are over easy about the process, here’s how you do it.  First, you have to hold the chicken in your warm hand or on a flat surface.  Usually, the hen will stop squirming after about 20 seconds and then you can easily manage her into the hypnotic state.  Regardless of your pecking order, you can do this!

 

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Next, find the breast bone of the chicken and gently rub the muscles on both sides of this bone for about 20 – 30 seconds.  You will find that your bird will begin to relax and fall out.  This is the best part!  You can literally lay your chicken down and it will remain in this spellbound state for a minute or two until it comes to its senses.  As the Japanese proverb goes, “It is better to be the head of a chicken than the rear end of an ox.”   This wisdom applies here as the chick awakens refreshed and ready to work as hard as a hen hauling wood!

Be patient!  This may take a little practice.  But, you will soon be able to feather your nest with visions of hypnotized chickens slumbering silently in the setting sun.

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This happy hen above looks like she is still a bit groggy!!  Ah, the joys of hypnotizing chickens.

The Missing Mushrooms

The Missing Mushrooms

We’ve been  looking for mushrooms for weeks!  No mushrooms! 

Not good, since we’ve been trying to study them this semester.

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Talking with my young student a couple of weeks ago, we got on the topic of the missing mushrooms.

“Could it be because of the drought?” I asked.

He shrugged, “They need moistness.”

“I guess you’re right,” I nodded.  There had been no moistness, no rain, no mist in weeks.  We hadn’t even seen a cloud in weeks.

The subject was dropped.

Then, one morning last week, it was mentioned again.

“Mom, there is a mushroom over by the big swing.”

“Really? I asked disbelievingly.  There had been no rain.  But this was the mushroom season… so perhaps he has made a real sighting.  Maybe a ‘shroom has pushed through, I thought.  

Quickly, we gathered our mushroom observing paraphernalia: a field guide, tweezers, magnifying glass, a plastic bag, cameras, and set off for our adventure.  We walked a little ways over the creek and along a grassy path into a field.  Cut up apples and flies were scattered in a little ring near a tree. 

“Look, that’s where Jared is feeding the deer,” my boy pointed as we walked by the green and red pile, flies buzzing between the fruits.  Then, we turned right and walked out of the field into a small sloping wooded area.  Pines and oaks dominated the landscape.  Sure enough, right there in front of the big swing, in the dappled midday light grew a single white mushroom.  Like a light house on a dark coast, its stark, white beacon drew us hither.

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Non poisonous mushrooms

We stooped down to take a closer look, dropping our gear.

“What kind is it?”  I asked. 

“It’s not a Destroying Angel!” returned my son.

“How do you know? ” I inquired as I tried to keep his hands from touching.

He thumbed through the guide.  “Here it is, a Smooth Lepiota,” he indicated, touching the laminated page.   “It isn’t poisonous.”

mushroom field guide

“Good.” I sighed, thinking that he’s really mastered this art of nature study.  He’s gotten pretty good with woodland fungi identification.  The mushroom field guide shows the underbelly of the mushroom, the shape, the color and other features to help us newbies along in discovery process.  

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There is something so gratifying about these brief nature moments with my youngest.   

Selfishly, I just love being outside and taking pictures.  But, more than that, I think something is happening here, where this boy really likes stopping to appreciate what’s growing around him. Hopefully, these experiences will stick and he’ll be a lifetime appreciator of nature.  

As we left the scene and walked toward home, we spied a striking rotting branch covered with pale colored turkey tails.  Already, we are getting the mushroom lingo!  Turkey Tails are shelf mushrooms that grow on rotting trees and look like little fanned out turkey tails.

“Those will be cool to sketch,” I suggest.

Carrying these forest treasures back to the house, we plopped down on the deck to sketch and identify and make a spore print.  And, for mom to take pictures!!

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Away from media and cell phones and schedules, the quest for the missing mushrooms became our classroom.

All this talk of mushrooms has got me thinking about Sylvia Plath, one of my favorite poets! 

MUSHROOMS

by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

 

 

 

 

Stop and Feel the Foam

Stop and Feel the Foam

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Here comes the foam moving up the beach, first in flat white sheets,

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then piling up into cloud-like banks!

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Sometimes you gotta stop and feel the foam!

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This egret was headed down to see the foam piling up… so we followed.

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What at first seemed kinda gross ended up being, in the words of my 9 year old, “squishy, sticky and fun!”

Plus, it gave me a chance to practice my photography skills at high noon, something I haven’t been very comfortable with before now.

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Since there are no August roses down here in this part of Florida, were feeling the foam instead.

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I’m hoping I can hold onto this beachy mentality when we start school in a couple of weeks.  I hope to keep feeling the foam regularly!!

Clouds!

clouds 2

Clouds are the spice of our outdoor lives.  Clouds bring shade on ridiculously hot summer days.  They bring rain sometimes.  They bring interest and color to your day as you gaze upon them from your yard.  They give you a medium to work with to imagine monsters and animals in their cotton ball – like shapes.  In spring, they move quickly along with the wind.  In fall, they rush upon you in a front of cool air.  

What if every single day was filled with just blue skies?  That would be the most boring thing! 

This spring, when I discovered that my 3rd grader would be studying weather, I got excited and remembered a cloud poster we had stashed away that labeled the various cloud formations.  We studied it. And that was it.  Clouds had become boring!  How could this be?  Then, an idea came…

 Hey, we can paint the clouds, I thought.  I love clouds portrayed in art.   With acrylic there is the texture; with watercolor there is the softness.  But, wait!  That’s a whole lot harder than it looks.  People like Winslow Homer and Renoir paint clouds.  This will be over our heads.  Then, I recalled a recipe for making shaving cream paint.  Shaving cream paint actually goes on and dries puffy and textured.  You can also add any variety of color to it. That would be an interesting approach for these various cloud  types we’ve been studying, like cumulonimbus and stratocumulus.  Painting the various cloud formations may actually help us to associate the cloud type with the shape, I thought.  Possibly, we might remember that association  a few months from now. 

Use your typical shaving cream

 As it turned out, painting the clouds with the shaving cream paint was really fun. The colors turned out beautiful .  Working with textured paint helped us to develop the cloud shapes in our minds and connect that shape with its altitude and name.  Adding tempera color gave a softness and richness to the picture.

eight cloud types

And now, a month later as we are driving along, my son will say, “Look at the cumulonimbus clouds mom!”  And I will say “You are a cloud-boss! What a great memory!”

Here’s how we did the project.

First, we washed an 8 1/2 x 11 water color weight paper with sky blue water color paint and let that dry.  The next day, we mixed up the shaving cream paint.  I started with a Styrofoam tray and sprayed some shaving cream, about a cup.  Then, I mixed in about a teaspoon and a half of white school glue.  That was stirred, and divided into four piles for four different colors. For light grey, we used a couple of drops of black and stirred.  You can add more black or mix in a little blue for a tint change.  We had a darker acrylic blue paint and added a few drops of that to one pile.  We kept a white pile and made a darker grey pile.

the paint

Next, we divided the painted water color paper evenly into 8 spaces.  Each space would be painted a different cloud type.  I told my 9 year old to select which 8 cloud types he wanted to paint, and he, in pencil, wrote the name of the cloud at the top of each space.  We used the cloud types poster that I mentioned above as a guide.  We also consulted with our science book and a library book on clouds.  As you can see in the picture, we had the visual resources sitting right in our workspace.

Then, the paining began.

painting clouds

cumulonimbus

eight cloud typesIt was a fun project!  I hope we can try this with some other science topics next year.  As a tip, definitely use a sturdy paper, like water color or Bristol paper.  Let me know how it turns out if you give it a try.