A wood duck zig-zagged through the understory yesterday morning en route to the southeast bank of the quarry wetland. Nearly 50 third-graders, teachers and chaperones paused between Cranberry Run and the southwest bank of the quarry. Several children chatted about the possibility of crayfish in the stream and turtles sunning on snags. Others were looking to the northeast at just the right time to see the bird land briefly in an overhanging tree before it spotted humans and took off again.
The Continental Elementary School students were here on a field trip, most for the first time. They traveled by yellow bus across Putnam County at the urging of Charlene Finch. Charlene and her Continental Junior Gardeners were some of our first visitors after The Quarry Farm became official. They made the trip several times until their leader was no longer able to coordinate the group’s adventures.
Two days before we took The Quarry Farm on the road, or at least a snapshot thereof. Miller City-New Cleveland School is rounding out the elementary program year with the theme “School is Wild” and Grades K-5 are getting wild by virtually traveling to other parts of the world. A few months ago we were asked if we could work with that. “What would you think of our talking about how some plants and animals are here that shouldn’t be, like invasive bush honeysuckle and zebra mussels, and how they affect local wildlife?” I asked, and our spot on the agenda was a ‘go’.
North America’s prickly pear cactus is spreading around the Old World, while Eurasian plants like Lonicera maackii, the Amur honeysuckle are going on a joy ride here. One Miller City New Clevelander student exclaimed, “Like a Hydra!” when Rowan explained that, when you cut that honeysuckle down, 20 more grow in its place. So yes, you fine young man, the Amur honeysuckle is exactly like the mythological beast that grows back twice as many heads each time Hercules or another Greek god cuts of one head, unless someone carefully treats the stump or yanks each root hair from the ground.
We ran with the Hydra reference all day and carried it over to yesterday’s field trip. I expect that it’s here to stay.
Birder-extraordinaire Deb Weston crafts gorgeous hiking sticks from Amur honeysuckle. She collected suitable honeysuckle trunks from the nature preserve and finished one for each of the school’s K-5 teachers. Virginia Opossum, Virginia Estella represented native species in Central America and the USA, although the Virginia opossum is considered an exotic (non-native) species in British Columbia. Not much is known about its impact on the province’s native species. Maybe North America’s only marsupials are making a dent in tick populations as they wander.
Getting back to yesterday, the Continental schoolchildren made lasting leaf t-shirts from leaves collected on the hike. There were visits with the farm animal sanctuary residents.
They began their own hiking sticks by threading cord loops through pre-drilled honeysuckle—40+ hiking sticks from just four “Hydra” shrubs. The day was dry, so some bark was peeled. Students were encourage to keep peeling to reveal the lovely woodgrains and insect trails beneath. Teacher Sharon Siebeneck invited the students to each bring something from home, a threadable something that is of value in their young lives, to thread on their cord loop. There were buttons, medallions, charms and beads. All have stories. One little girl shared hers while she arranged her leaf shirt with Rita.
“She kept showing me the bead. I could tell she wanted to tell me something but was kind of shy.” They chatted a little more. Eventually, the girl told a story that made all of us cry, with the anger and sorrow of it, and the honor that child bestowed upon The Quarry Farm by selecting that piece to for her hiking stick. The little girl once had a cat that she loved. One day the cat went outside with the dog. The dog came back but not the cat, not for a long time. When the cat did come home, it curled up on her bed. “We went to church,” she told Rita. “When we came home, the cat wasn’t acting right. My grandma looked her over and someone had shot her.” The cat died from this cruelty and the ashes are stored in that bead.