February 21, 2011

Wild Walks with a Three-year Old

by Margaret Gillespie

What do you get if you go walking in the winter woods with a three year old girl and a one year old poodle? A wild walk in more ways than one! My wild walks with my niece, Yesi, and poodle, Mica, began in December 2010 and they have become a learning experience for all three of us. I knew from working with the young children in the Science Center’s new Blue Heron School that I wanted to grasp this important time in Yesi’s life to make connections to the natural world. On our first walk, we returned along the same path and I pointed to her little boot track in the snow. “Who walked there?” I asked. Yesi responded, “You!” I make a boot track next to the little one and Yesi laughed as she recognized the small track as her own. Then we looked at Mica’s paw prints with the claws showing. Our tracking career had begun!

Early in January before the major snowstorms, we walked in the forest across from our family farm in Canterbury. Imagine our glee when we found that several deer had been there before us. Yesi delighted in putting two fingers in the paired tracks of the toes and saying “deer track!” We even found two sets of small prints – Yesi decided those were made by baby deer. Next to a pine tree we saw tiny prints of a mouse and followed them to where they disappeared into a hole. Yesi spoke in a whisper (unusual for her) so the mouse wouldn’t wake up. On the way back she had fun making a track and asking, “Whose track? Yours?”

After more than two feet of snow fell, our travels became restricted. Fortunately for us (and the owls), mice still ran on top of the snow. One mouse had scampered down a bank and we laughed as we made tiny snowballs and rolled them down the hill, making snowball tracks!

Yesterday, we explored a little used, but well groomed, snowmobile trail. The night before, animals had taken advantage of the easy walking and left their tracks. Yesi slipped her two fingers into a print and said triumphantly, “Deer tracks!” Needless to say, I was a proud aunt! Further up the trail, hemlocks crowded over the snowmobile trail and a major deer “highway” went off into the woods. We had discovered a deer yard! Yesi and Mica were eager to follow the tracks but we will be back again soon when we have more time.

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