Eels, Elvers, and Explorers at the Cold Brook Preserve

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Volunteer Photographer Gerry Beetham

This morning began with brilliant blue skies, abundant sunshine, songbirds singing sweetly, and smiling HCT Preschool Explorers… what a delightful way to start a Tuesday. We gathered at the beautiful 66-acre Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve, excited to discover the many wonders it holds.

Huddled together after our morning greetings, I shared today’s plan as tree swallows watched on from the nest box behind us, their iridescent blue feathers shimmering in the sunshine. Our avian friends remained in our company for my reading of Wonder Walkers by Micha Archer. This wonderful kid’s book written with poetic text follows two curious children’s adventure as they walk through nature, pondering its mysteries with their imaginations soaring – it is one of my absolute favorites.

Setting off for our own wonder walk, we paused on the path to look across the Preserve and discuss our observations. Fresh spring buds in beautiful shades of red, yellow, and bright green decorated the branches of trees. Cattails with fluffy, fuzzy tops swayed in the breeze. A clear path through the bright green plant growth covering the water’s surface hinted that something had been swimming or moving through the winding canal surrounding the bog. Explorers and caregivers guessed that perhaps ducks left these paths, which prompted a chorus of “quack, quack, quack” from youngsters.

Wandering over to Cold Brook, we peered below to enjoy the sounds of the gurgling water. Explorers climbed up a nearby bench to get cozy and comfortable for our second story of the day. Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace shares a beautiful look at the life cycle of an eel with watercolor paintings that are an inspiration for nature enthusiasts decorating each page. Eels begin their lives as eggs in the Sargasso Sea, then hatch into larvae, and grow to become glass eels, then freshwater elvers, and finally into adult eels. This book follows the incredible journey they take to and from the Sargasso Sea through the rivers and estuaries connected to their freshwater homes in lakes and ponds. Wallace explains how eels use time references based on snow melt, moon phases, and seasons to cue their journey.

I next showed children and caregivers the location of the Sargasso Sea on a globe. It is located entirely within the Atlantic Ocean and is the only sea without a land boundary. Instead, it’s named for the free-floating seaweed called sargassum that grows there. How amazing to think of eels traveling from the Sargasso Sea to Cold Brook right in the heart of Harwich Port!

I laid out a large mat for my preschoolers to sit on for our art project, then handed each child an image of an eel to be decorated with markers. Caregivers assisted their young artists by writing the letter ‘E’ for Eel on their creations.

As artists were busy making colorful drawings, I set up our lab station. I filled totes with water and added cooked spaghetti cut up into pieces the same length as elvers. Time for some more tactile learning! Explorers played with “eels” and “elvers”, trying to pick up the slippery noodles (just like slippery eels) to move them from bucket to bucket, assisting their swimming journey. What an adorable sight to see our Explorers’ focused faces working on their project as they played outside, bathed in sunshine and the beauty of this Preserve.

Time to take some of the pasta elvers out of their swimming places to become part of another art project. We ripped blue and brown construction paper into strips and squares, then glued the pieces onto a canvas to create waterways and patches of bog replicating the Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve. Markers were used to make trees, cattails, animal tracks, and budding trees. Leaves, pine needles, and lichens were added for texture. Lastly, we glued our pasta elvers to the waterways, wiggling up Cold Brook all the way from the Sargasso Sea! While artists finished their projects, I read Ellie and Ollie Eel: A Tale of a Fantastic Voyage by Suzanne Tate, a captivating little story packed with fun science content.

Once everyone’s masterpieces were completed, we continued our wonder wander down the trails and pretended to be eels, wiggling and wriggling our bodies as we went. After circling around the trails to find another vantage point of the brook, we spotted elvers! So exciting to notice spaghetti-sized eels swimming in the waters of Cold Brook!

Continuing on the paths we admired an osprey circling up above. We spread our arms wide and pretended to soar on the thermals to save energy during flight because we were happily exhausted at this point of our adventure. What an awesome morning with fun discoveries!

Returning to our starting point, I wished my HCT Explorers a wonderful week. I can hardly wait for our next adventure!

Happy Exploring.

Ms. Andrea