Tracking in the Mud

All things children and nature

Good Time of Year to Spot Deer Trails March 28, 2010

Filed under: Seasons,Spring — Sandy Beverly @ 10:04 pm
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Almost as visible as a human trail

If you have the pleasure of walking in the woods this month, keep an eye out for deer trails.  They’re easy to spot now because the ground is soft, and hooved animals like deer leave pretty deep tracks.  They’ll be less visible soon as grasses grow and shrubs leaf out.  (Still, with a little practice, you can spot them any time of the year.)

Deer tracks look like this.

A little harder to spot

The trails around Clinton Lake are good places to look for deer tracks and trails.  These trails are also a good choice for little humans, especially the two behind the Army Corps of Engineers visitor center. For more about taking kids for walks in the woods, see this opinion piece printed in the Lawrence Journal World.


Getting Reluctant Kids Outside March 17, 2010

Filed under: Getting Outside with Kids — Sandy Beverly @ 9:44 pm
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In my parenting fantasy, my kids spend hours outside a day.  They head out after breakfast and play for a good long while.  They eat lunch outside.  The back yard is their play arena, and the tree house is where they go for comfort and alone time.  We have story time outside and take walks every day no matter what the weather.  Got the image?

Confession: My kids often need to be poked and prodded to go outside.

What’s keeping them inside, I ask myself.  If they want to read, why don’t they take a book outside?  If they’re bored, why don’t they wander out to look at the clouds?  If they want to be in a fort, why not the many outdoor options?

Well, I haven’t put my finger on the causes of this resistance, but I have lucked into a few sometimes-solutions.

  • A backyard clothesline—I love my clothesline, not just because it allows me to ignore my electric dryer, but because it gets me outside.  And when I head outside, chances are my boys will, too.
  • Yard work—Ditto #1, and see my earlier post on raking leaves and mud
  • A backyard fire pit—Especially useful on cool days (like the ones we’re having now, when it should be sunny and warm, grrrrrr!)
  • A good game of hide-n-seek—What kid doesn’t love the thrill of hiding and seeking?  Even more exciting when an adult joins in (at least for my young-ish humans)

All of these work the same way, I think.  My kids cross the threshold, then nature works her magic.

How do you poke, prod, or otherwise encourage your kids to be outside?


My New Love Affair with Rain Boots March 14, 2010

Filed under: Getting Outside with Kids — Sandy Beverly @ 11:50 pm
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This is an “encore presentation” of a blog written in October 2008.  I still love rain boots.  And snow boots…

I didn’t have rain boots when I was a kid.  (Did anyone in 1970s suburbia?)  My older son didn’t have ‘em in his early years either.  We try to keep the shoe count to a minimum, and there have been entire seasons when Simon had only a single pair of shoes.  But this year I have fallen in love with rain boots.

Simon’s pair came to us when he was five, an inexpensive “Well, why not?” purchase at Lasting Impressions.  Boots were pretty nice, I soon realized.  They really did keep out water, they were eye-catching (dark blue with yellow stripes, haphazardly pushing up the pant legs), and they made a nice –clunk! clunk! clunk!- sound.

Big Brother, in his Blues

But those boots really began to make my heart go pitter-patter after I read Rachel Carson’s essay, “A Sense of Wonder.”  Carson writes about sharing nature with her young nephew and recalls that some of their most special moments were at times we moms might consider inconvenient—after dark (i.e., after bedtime!) or during or after a rainstorm (i.e., wet and muddy times!)  Carson’s essay re-awakened my belief that children should go outside in all seasons and all weather, and I vowed to take more walks at “inconvenient” times.  Since then, Simon’s boots have accompanied us in the rain, snow, and mud.  They’ve even gotten stuck in what Simon calls “quick sand” during a winter walk on a local golf course.

Little Brother's Yellows

A pair for little brother moved in a few weeks ago (ankle-high yellow ones, with zippers).  This time, I deliberately searched them out on e-bay.  Max loves them, and I get a giggle out of seeing him clomp around in public when it hasn’t rained for days.

Most importantly, we’re finding our muddy backyard a little less problematic.  And the fact that we all have boots makes me want to go out in search of puddles!  Last week, we found a humungous puddle on a nearby cul-de-sac, so now we can stomp to our heart’s content without worrying about traffic.

It seems like a little thing, I know.  And it is a bit inconvenient to come home muddy and wet.  But my heart tells me that kids need this messy, carefree outdoor time.  Heck, I need it!  And having boots just gives us an excuse.  Hooray for rain boots!


Celebrating the Spring Equinox March 13, 2010

Filed under: Seasons,Spring — Sandy Beverly @ 8:37 pm
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This year the spring equinox occurs on Saturday March 20. Celebrating the first day of spring is a great way to help your kids pay attention to the rhythms of the natural world.  Your celebration can be as simple as flying a kite, having a special picnic lunch, or taking a walk to look for signs of spring.  Here’s how our family has celebrated for the past three years:

Planting equinox garden

Planting chia seeds

First, about a week before the equinox, we prepare our miniature spring “garden”.  We gather some dirt or moss and a couple pine cones from our backyard.  We arrange these in a small tray, and use very small rocks to make a path.  The idea is to create a miniature green space in this tray.  (If your kids are into elves or other little creatures, imagine that you are creating an elf world.  Let your kids add whatever items they like. My kids like a little “kitsch” in their garden; I can live with this.)

We take some chia seeds (purchased from the bulk section of the Merc for 20 cents) and sprinkle them where we choose–on the dirt or moss and even on the pine cones.  We water everything gently, about every day.  In a few days, the chia seeds sprout.  With a little imagination, these sprouts can be a forest  in our tiny world.

Last year's, with sprouts and kitsch

On the morning of the equinox, we get up before dawn and head to our backyard.  (The Wetlands would be an amazing alternative, but I’ve never had the discipline to get up even earlier.)  It’s always been cold, so we take a blanket, maybe some hot chocolate.  And we sit quietly, waiting for the dawn chorus of the songbirds to begin…

What do you do to celebrate spring?


Neighborhood Nature Notes: Feb-May March 8, 2010

Filed under: Neighborhood Nature Notes,Seasons,Spring — Sandy Beverly @ 2:53 am
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This is a log of nature observations for my neighborhood south of West Junior High.  Want to share your observations?  See below.  Or start your own nature notebook at home.

May 2010

  • May 26–3 young hawks are still in the nesting tree, but one has moved to a branch a foot or so above the nest.
  • May 26–Purple finches in the neighborhood.
  • May 26–Some mulberries are ripe (and tasty)!
  • May 25–Grackle fusses persistently at neighbor’s cat.  Probably young grackles close by.
  • May 23–Spotted a redtail hawk’s nest on Orchards Golf Course.  Binoculars show 3 large young birds with giant eyes.  Read this about ID’ing juvenile birds.
  • May 22–A broken robin’s egg on the sidewalk.  A different nest has unhatched robin’s eggs.
  • May 10–Baltimore Oriole in our Sycamore tree.  First one I’ve seen here in a few years.
  • May 7–Sycamore trees are dropping seeds, too.
  • May 5–Cottonwood trees are dropping their white fuzzy seeds.  Max calls this “snow”.
  • May 5–Mulberry trees are setting their fruit.  In June, these messy purple berries will make a tasty treat for birds and people.  (Note: Taste varies from tree to tree.  If you’ve had a bad-tasting berry, try again from a different  tree.  And read this short blog.)
  • May 5–The little blue herons have definitely returned to their regular nesting site.  Why do they nest in our so-suburban neighborhood?
  • May 2–Honeysuckle shrubs are blooming, releasing their sweet-smelling fragrance.  Take a walk at night and see if you can tell when you pass one.  (Honeysuckles are a problem plant, but the nectar smells and tastes sweet.)

April 2010

  • April 30–Spotted a heron in our neighborhood.  Looks like this will be the 3rd year for them to nest here.
  • April 30–Black locust trees are full of blossoms.  Stand under one and smell the sweetness!
  • April 26–Yards, sidewalks, and streets are filled with the “helicopter” seeds of maple trees, alsa called “keys” and “samaras”.  Flowers from oak trees also abound.
  • April 15–About an hour after sunset, one lone firefly is flashing
  • April 12–White redbuds are blooming.  Lilacs are close.  Spotted some poison ivy, sigh….
  • April 10–Max is seeing lots of “snow butterflies”, actually spring azures.  This is a sign of spring.
  • April 8–Heard first-of-year thrasher in the neighborhood.  Their songs come in pairs.  Listen here.
  • April 6–For the first time ever, heard a frog in our neighborhood.  At sunset, after an evening of rain.  I think it was a western chorus frog.
  • April 5–Our first real spring thunderstorm?  Occurs soon after dawn.  A couple cardinals keep singing through the storm.
  • April 4–Redbuds are budding.  Elm tree seeds are dangling.   (See elm tree seeds and other tree seeds and flowers in this blog about neighborhood nature in Chicago.)
  • April 4–Kevin spots butterflies in our backyard!
  • April 2–Forsythia and vinca are in full bloom; the invasive Japanese honeysuckle is leafing out.
  • April 1–Turkey vultures have been back for several days.  Watch for them soaring, with wings in a V-shape.   Some birders say it’s not spring until the vultures return.

March 2010

  • March 30–Forsythias are budding yellow
  • Mar 13–Grackles have returned!           As spring progresses, watch for lots of male grackles chasing a single female from tree to tree
  • Mar 12–Sandy thinks she hears a catbird mew
  • Mar 12–Some vinca is blooming, and daffodils are budding
  • Mar 7–Max spots a bumble bee and earthworms
  • Mar 7–Kevin finds crocuses blooming under our dogwood trees
  • Mar 6–Kevin spots a bat flying, around sunset
  • Mar 5–Sandy sees gnat-like bugs flying about
  • About Mar 4–David spots a red fox running through his backyard, daytime
  • Early Mar–Sandy hears lots of bird sounds, including blue jays, crows, robins, cardinals, flickers, red bellied woodpeckers, juncos, tufted titmice, chickadees
  • Early Mar–Sandy hears, then sees, hundreds of snow geese flying overhead.  Looks like they’re heading for a stopover on Clinton Lake on their way north.

February 2010

  • Feb 10–Sandy hears a fox barking, around 9 p.m.             Sounds like this
  • Jan and Feb–After multiple snows, Sandy sees alleged fox tracks in her yard and the yards of neighbors              Fox tracks in the snow may look like this

Want to share your observations?  Add a comment or e-mail me ( and I will add to the log.  Send first name, age (if you’d like), observation, and your location in relation to a public school.

Or, start your own nature notebook at home, with your family.  Sometimes hard to keep at it, but lots of fun to look back at previous years to see if events are happening earlier or later.  We got a big kick out of observing our first-of-year bat on the same day two years in a row.


Max, the Mud One March 6, 2010

Filed under: Getting Outside with Kids — Sandy Beverly @ 1:35 am
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Today, on this fine, spring-like day we got out the rakes.  I’ve found yard work to be a great way to get my little boy human (age 3) outside.  (Less so for my bigger boy human, then or now.)

Max says, “Mom, can I rake the mud?”  “Sure,” I reply, as I rake oak leaves from the vinca before it begins to bud.  And he rakes happily for some time.  “Mom, I’m the ‘mud one’; you’re the ‘leaf one’.”  I like the sound of that.

A little while later: “Mom, can I have my work gloves?”  So we go to the shed for the work gloves and then get back to work.

A few seconds later: “Mom, can I have my blue shovel?”  (I kid you not, every sentence out of his mouth begins with the word “Mom”.)  I don’t really want to search for the little blue trowel.  Luckily, I’ve just spotted the little red shovel, which spent all winter in the vinca bed.  This satisfies him, and he meanders somewhere to get a large dump truck.

Now he’s happily shoveling dirt and decomposed wood chips into his dump truck and driving it over to me.  “Mom, I brought you some more mud,” he says proudly as he dumps.  “Fabulous!” I reply as if I want that mud in the middle of the rock path.  But check it out: This little boy of mine shovels til the sun goes down!

Aside: We’ve found that child-sized tools make yard work much more fun.  Now the small humans can be like the full-sized humans they so admire.  Yard sales (and the mother-in-laws who shop them) are good sources for little rakes, gloves, shovels, and wheelbarrows.  The cool, bamboo-looking rake came from        

Also helpful, if you’re actually trying to get yard work done is an implausible tolerance for interruptions.  🙂


Welcome to the MUD! March 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sandy Beverly @ 9:04 pm
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Welcome!  It’s a new blog about all things children and nature.

  • If your kids are tracking mud in your house, or you wish they were
  • If you yourself are tracking animal footprints in the mud, or snow, or sand (and maybe  your kids don’t care…)
  • If you’ve got it all figured out, or you don’t know where to start

..let’s talk!  I’ll share some ideas, resources, joys, and struggles.  You share yours.  We’ll learn together.

Sound interesting?  Come on in, muddy feet and all!