From winter preparations to inevitable senescence, our forests and waterways are busy winding things down. Sometimes it’s easy to miss from indoors, but this time of year, the natural world around us bustles with year-end activities.
Looking to get our boys outside to check it all out, my wife and I brought them for a November scavenger hunt at Warren-Weld Woodland in Essex.
Owned by Essex County Greenbelt Association, the woodland reserve offers more than 100 acres of old oak forest, surrounded by marshlands, swamps and spring pools. It provided us a perfect family place to explore a forest and all that it does after we close our windows for the year.
We arrived armed with a checklist, cameras and kid-sized binoculars. From a small roadside parking lot, the trail rises gradually into the forest and follows a gorgeous web of old stone walls left over from farms years before. Super-tall oaks tower overhead, and huge, moss-covered boulders line the trail.
Patches of sunlight scattered the leaf-covered ground ahead of us while the sweet smell of gone-by ferns and fallen leaves filled the air. As beautiful as it all was, however, we were on a mission: to search for items on our list!
With nine open-ended items, the boys were free to search and determine for themselves if their discoveries indeed satisfied their list. Is bark alive, or is it part of the tree instead? Do squirrels live on or inside the trees? In the end, they both agreed that a big, beautiful mushroom, striped in cream and bronze, satisfied their quest for “something that lives on trees.”
After marking a quick red check on the list and taking a couple of pictures with their camera (for solid evidence of their find), they were off in search of the next item, “something preparing for winter.” And so it went, from discovery to discovery, they led the way, pausing, running, climbing, peering under rocks, and looking into old stumps and dead trees. It was absolutely awesome to watch.