On February 17th the grade 3, 4, and 5 students from George Murray Elementary school came down to Splitrock for the first day of our 2017 Survival on the Land – Outdoor Ecocultural Education Series. This program is about sharing outdoor skills and knowledge that is based on the land and culture of this region. Over the next three months, we will be meeting with our friends from George Murray two more times and practicing a variety of seasonal skills including wildlife tracking, mapping, shelter-building, wild-crafting, and ecological journaling. We hope to create inspiring and safe outdoor activities, and work with the students from George Murray to explore these exciting topics. The activities from our first day are described below.
Winter is the time when animals write their stories upon the landscape. Like a blank sheet of paper, the winter snow provides an open medium to be filled by the paw prints of passing animals. We used plaster casts of local wildlife prints (Mule deer, snowshoe hare, coyote, raccoon, red squirrel, and wolverine) to create our own stories in the snow and mud. The students took turns using the casts to create tracks, and then shared these stories with each other. We took turns playing detective, trying to unravel what happened. Did the coyote catch the hare down by the water? Or, did the hare swim to the other side and hop to safety? The ability to read such drama from the winter landscape requires patience and attention. The students were rewarded for their efforts, and showed us many signs of wildlife on the landscape including wildlife trails, scat, squirrel middens, browsed shrubs, nests, beaver trees, tracks, fur, and more.
The next exercise was about learning the basic elements of a field map, and how to use a compass to orient yourself if you happen to lose your bearing. Students each created their own map that they could use to navigate from our central muster point to their own quiet journaling area. I am happy to report that the maps were excellent. The students made functional field maps, including each of the 3 crucial map elements. By including a North arrow, students made sure that anyone who looks at their maps will be able to properly orient it to the surrounding landscape. By adding legends students were able to quickly add details and landmarks to their maps without spending a too much time writing labels. Finally, by including a descriptive title the students communicated the meaning and purpose of their creations. While some of the adults were intimidated by the technical aspects of mapping, the students got after it like professionals. They demonstrated a good knowledge of the cardinal directions, and their position within the landscape. Though the technical side of mapping may be a bit scary at first, humans are naturally gifted navigators, each with our own set of powerful mental maps. It was inspiring to watch the students deploy this magical capacity with poise and competence.
The final activity of the day was to find a quiet place in the forest and write a short journal entry. This sort of nature journaling is an excellent excuse to slow down and observe the world around you. The natural world is our ultimate source of inspiration, and sometimes the best way to capture this beauty is to just sit quietly, pencil in hand, and see what happens…