Tracking in the Mud

All things children and nature

Neighborhood Coyote April 6, 2010

Filed under: Neighborhood Nature Notes — Sandy Beverly @ 9:24 pm

For my outdoor wanderings, I almost always go to a natural area near my home in central west Lawrence.  It’s not the nicest of areas; there’s litter, and the woods is full of invasive honeysuckle (which really changes the character of a forest).  But I can walk there, which means that whatever I observe and experience teaches me something about my neighborhood.

Lately, I’ve been heading in that direction even when I’m going out for a stress-relieving power walk.  Who knows what I might learn, even when my mind is a million miles away?  And tonight, under a yellow, rumbling sky, I spotted a coyote.  I didn’t get a great view, but it was enough.  Enough to know that it was a coyote, enough to make my day, enough to keep me coming back.

So I will go to bed tonight knowing, firsthand, that this coyote and I share a territory.  Doesn’t that make the world a better place?


Neighborhood Nature Notes–April April 4, 2010

Filed under: Neighborhood Nature Notes,Seasons,Spring — Sandy Beverly @ 9:16 pm
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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.  Earlier Nature Notes are posted here.

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.

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.


Nature AND Nintendo? April 3, 2010

Filed under: Getting Outside with Kids — Sandy Beverly @ 1:09 pm
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Last month, in a story called Nature vs. Nintendo, the Lawrence Journal World asked me and other local moms how we balance screen time and outdoor time for our kids.  Helping my kids appreciate the natural world ranks high among my core parenting values, and I feel like we’re doing a reasonable job in this domain. But we’ve struggled to find the right rules and expectations for screen time.  And it has certainly become harder as my older son ages out of the sheltered preschool years.

A part of me feels guilty because my kids have any screen time at all.  “Wouldn’t it be great to have no-TV kids?” I think to myself.  No worries about the content of TV shows, movies, video games.  No negotiating screen-time rules.  Plus, the sense of pride or satisfaction that I imagine comes from raising completely unplugged kids.  Mostly, there’s a part of me who wants what tracker-naturalist-mentor Jon Young calls “feral” kids: kids who catch frogs, call in owls, build shelters from sticks, and sneak up on foxes.

We don’t have a gaming system, but we do allow certain TV shows, movies, and computer games, and my reasons come down to these:

  1. I need a regular breather from parenting–I can’t speak for anyone else, but, for me, parenting is hard work.  I sometimes struggle to keep my patience.  I always struggle to find enough time for my part-time job, my household chores, and, yes, my sanity-savers, like exercise and walks in the woods.  I struggle to find enough quiet. So, I plan my kids’ limited screen time almost neurotically so that I can have 30 minutes or an hour to myself.
  2. I want my kids to fit in–Although I greatly admire the parents who have chosen to surround themselves with other unplugged families (mainly through home-schooling or the Prairie Moon Waldorf community), this has not been our path.  So of course my seven-year-old has friends who play video games.  It sounds insane, but I believe he needs some basic joystick skills to navigate the world of elementary school friendships.  This seems especially true for boys.
  3. I don’t want to be the parent who always says “no”–My sweet seven-year-old calls me occasionally from a neighbor’s house to ask if he can watch a movie.  Sometimes I say yes, sometimes no.  But it hurts me a little every time.  When is he going to start wondering why he has to call and ask?  When is he going to feel more than just short-term disappointment when I say no?  When is he going to feel real resentment because the limits we set are more limiting than those he sees in other homes?

This last one keeps me up at night.  And I’m beginning to believe that the consequences of too many no’s will be more harmful than the consequences of lightening up.

So…..  I’m trying to find a new set of rules or guidelines—something that gives my son some more latitude when he’s with friends but something I can live with.  I guess my husband and I will never have feral kids.  But, with the right set of rules and relationships, can we still have happy, well-rounded, cloud-watching, owl-calling, earth-loving, frog-catching kids?  Can they wield both sticks and joysticks?  Can it be both Nature and Nintendo?


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?