Reflections by HCT walk leader, naturalist, and Kripalu Mindful Outdoor Guide Andrea Higgins.
Photos courtesy of SAIL and SHORE staff and parents.
On Wednesday, August 9th, students from Monomoy High School’s SAIL and SHORE program joined me at Harwich Conservation Trust’s 30-acre Hinckleys Pond Herring River Headwaters Preserve. I was excited to see students disembarking from the buses and vans wearing bright beautiful smiles and the awesome shirts they created during last week’s adventure at Pleasant Bay Woodlands!
After warm welcomes, we set out exploring the small grassy hills beside the trail to look for saucer-shaped earthstars – a fungus found in the detritus and leaf litter of hardwood forests around the world. Native Americans called these mushrooms ka-ka-toos meaning ‘fallen stars’. In addition to discovering earthstars, students also spotted bright green grasshoppers, magnificent mosses, and cottontail rabbit sign.
Gathered in a circle we practiced some breathing exercises, inhaling deeply to soak up the fresh summer air and audibly exhaling to let go of our busy morning hustle, allowing us to settle our minds and fully experience the beauty all around. Homing in to each sense, we noticed the temperature of the air, the feeling of the breeze on our skin and in our hair, the sweet scent of blooming flowers, and heard bees buzzing, crickets chirping, birds singing, and leaves rustling in the wind.
Arriving at a shady section of oaks and pitch pines, students sat on blankets for a chat about the butterfly life cycle. I read Scholastic’s Caterpillar to Butterfly by Lisa M. Herrington, an engaging nonfiction text filled with fun facts and vivid photos introducing its readers to the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. I also shared photos from Insect World Butterflies by Mari Schuh and Sylvia Long’s award-winning illustrations of caterpillars from A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston.
After admiring all the colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes of the eastern tiger swallowtail, zebra swallowtail, common buckeye, American copper, blue morpho, and monarch caterpillars, we gained inspiration for a nature-inspired art project. With crayons and markers, sections of egg cartons transformed into bright and beautiful one-of-a-kind caterpillars each with incredibly unique designs. I asked the students to describe what their caterpillars would look like after their metamorphosis into a butterfly. They shared detailed descriptions of their winged beauties’ appearances, with stories of stripes, polka dots, and other patterns splashed with color.
Next, we headed down towards Hinckleys Pond, where I had set two minnow traps the night before. I slowly pulled up the first trap to find a very energetic green frog inside, which I promptly transferred into a larger container with some water for all to admire. The second minnow trap revealed two crayfish inside. While I was carefully adding them to the same container, the frog saw an opportunity to escape and quickly hopped back into the pond with barely a ripple. Students and staff delighted in watching the crayfish quickly scoot backwards while propelling through the water, then took turns carefully holding them to get a closer look at their anatomy. After releasing the crayfish, we were pausing to take in the incredible pond views when a large snapping turtle surfaced, poking its head above the water and revealing a large portion of its shell.
After sauntering around the bog with a keen eye out for dragonflies, butterflies, and damselflies, it was time to settle down in another shady spot for water and a snack. Students chatted about crawfish, turtles, frogs, butterflies, and two dogs we had met along the way. Next, we headed out onto the bog and tested its springiness while jumping up and down. Everyone plucked a strand of cranberry vine to add to their nature journals from this summer’s adventures. On our way back to the parking area, we stopped at a rosa rugosa bush to admire its red rose hips. I picked one for each student to snack on. The fruits were packed with seeds and tasted like a cross between a tomato and an apple.
During our closing circle, we discussed our favorite moments and discoveries of the day. Students and staff recounted the joys of finding turtles, crayfish, frogs, and making an art project. Full of fresh air and memories from all the magical moments of the morning, students boarded the bus and vans to head back to school. Thank you for making Wednesday mornings so wonderful! I am so looking forward to seeing you all next week.