A Day of Nature Study - Eva Varga

June 18, 20085

We started the day off guiding visitors on a walk of the museum grounds, educating them about the Healing Power of Plants. It was a great morning and in our group were visitors from as far away as New Zealand and Great Britain! I love ‘peak visitor season’.

After our walk, we joined our group for the Desert Dwellers show. The desert wildlife displayed their natural behaviors – including birds of prey swooping over our heads – as we learned about the animals’ roles in Native American legends. It was a great show!

I most enjoyed watching the Porcupine. He was so content to sit on the log and eat the Bitterbrush twig, that he wasn’t eager to exit the stage. Normally, he is observed in his habitat curled up and sleeping. I don’t often get to see his face. He was so cute! Buddy liked the Porcupine as well. He said, “I want to touch it! Pet it, Mama. I want to.”

Sweetie says, “My favorite part was that I had to duck my head when the birds flew over me because it was too close.” She also enjoyed the Badger and his persistent personality. “I liked all of the show, Mama.”

After the show, we purchased lunch in the cafe and then the kids picked out a stuffed snake at the trading post. They used the gift certificates they were given as appreciation for their volunteer hours.

We then drove down to Benham Falls to meet our Roots & Shoots group for a Letterboxing quest. We arrived early so the kids and I enjoyed a leisurely walk to the falls (the clues to the letterbox would lead us upriver – the falls were downriver). It was a great opportunity to check-in with each of them to see what plants they could identify. Buddy recognizes only two, Manzanita and Ponderosa Pine. He can share one fact for each as well. Sweetie can identify nearly as many plants of the high desert region as I, including: Ponderosa Pine, Juniper, Manzanita, Oregon Grape, Bitter Brush, Rabbit Brush, Snow Brush, Wild Rose, and Aspen. She knows many facts for each. It is such a delight to share my love of nature with the kiddos.

On our walk, we made a few discoveries. A tent of caterpillars upon a Bitter Brush shrub caught my attention and we spent several minutes watching them wiggle about frantically. I wasn’t able to get a better picture, though. Buddy was fearless and in an attempt to pick one up, caused them all to drop off in an effort to escape. This was such a cool discovery. As we observed them, I was able to share a few anecdotes from the Rainforest Caterpillars Earthwatch Expedition in which I participated in 2001.

As we continued along, we also came across some peculiar looking plant shoots emerging above the decomposing needles that fell long ago. Based upon my prior readings, I believe this to be Pine Drop. A native plant that lacks chlorophyll and has one to several erect stems. It is believed to be dependent on a fungus that develops a mycorrhizal relationship with a coniferous tree to obtain the nutrients it needs. Because there is no evidence that it is directly parasitic on the forest tree, it is considered by some to be a saprophyte, or alternatively a parasite on the fungus.

We thereafter returned to the parking area to meet up with our friends. Unfortunately, no one in our group joined us. This frustrates me and I’ll likely write a post about these frustrations in the near future. As it was, another young family had just arrived and the little girl immediately introduced herself to Sweetie. Sweetie wanted to go on the letterbox quest with a friend so she asked Rose to join us. Her parents obliged and we were successful in finding 2 hidden boxes.

Along the walk, Rose’s mom observed a small snake slither across the trail and called our attention to it. My nature lovers weren’t shy in the least and were so eager to pick up the little fellow that I had to remind them to be gentle and not squeeze him! Rose, on the other hand, was more content to observe from a far. It was a great afternoon and though we didn’t get to meet up with our R&S group, we did introduce another family to the joys of Letterboxing.


  • See Jamie blog

    June 20, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    What a fun day! I’ve never heard of those pine drop things you mentioned! And nice that you made a new friend, too.

  • Firefly mom

    June 22, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Wow, what a great day! Charlotte Mason would be proud 😀 When we get ready to head to eastern Oregon, I know who to ask about places to see!

    We’re trying to learn the names of plants around here. After spending the last 10 years in the southwest, we can easily pick out agave, ocotillo, mesquite, bottlbrush, saguaro, and poloverde. We just haven’t figured out northwest plants yet ;D Have any good books to recommend?

  • School for Us

    June 24, 2008 at 2:39 am

    We love to just find friends when we go someplace. I’m glad the day worked out, even though it wasn’t as planned. And, I’d love to have you and your kids as nature guides! 🙂

  • Sarah

    June 25, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    We would love to come and hang out with you next time you go to the Museum!

  • Barb-Harmony Art Mom

    June 26, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    I appreciate how much you share about your nature study and your children and how natural it all seems to your family.

    We enjoyed our visit to the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson a few months ago and the highlight of the trip was the birds of prey exhibit. They had a raven, an owl, and a hawk that all flew right over our heads just like you described. Awesome experience. Now we can pick out a raven by its flight pattern.

    What a great day for you and the kids. We would love to meet up with you sometime for a walk. 🙂

    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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