A Weekly Wrapup

DSC_5252Mother Nature has given us a taste of spring and then yanked it back.

GoldfinchThis past weekend was absolutely beautiful.  We went for a family bike ride on some new single track.  It was a fairly short course yet very challenging.  E crashed into a tree, but was able to ride out.  (I don’t think I would have fared any better if I had tried to ride that bit.) We are all greatly anticipating our favorite familiar trails drying out enough to ride.  In the meantime it’s mostly paved stuff.  Last week we headed out at about 7 pm for a ride on the towpath and finished in the dark using our new lights.

We finished the Chronicles of Prydain series.  I highly recommend these books.  There are five books in all, but they are fairly short.  The narration on the audio CDs is phenomenal.  We had great discussions comparing elements of the Chronicles with elements of Lord of the Rings.  Since both have roots in Welsh mythology, we have several books on hold at the library to learn more about the original stories.  According to Scholastic the reading levels vary from 5.5-6.5.

We have a more exciting week coming up with a field trip to the engineering department of a nearby university, a visit to a science center, and a trip to the orchestra.

A Morning in the Sugar Bush

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Even though the calendar indicated spring, ice still floated on the river.  Although a few days had been warmer this particular morning was cold and brisk.   The weather was right for maple sap to flow, below freezing at night and into the 40s or 50s during the day.IMG_1760

Our guide led us through the sugar bush, pointing out maple trees that were suitable for tapping.  Since this particular area is set up for educational purposes there were a variety of collection types – wooden buckets, metal buckets with lids, plastic bags, and tubing systems were all represented.IMG_1764

The tour focused on the history of maple sugaring from Native Americans through present day, so they also showed various methods used for concentrating the sap into syrup.  IMG_1766

E had a chance to demonstrate how children used yokes to balance the buckets of sap.  I can only imagine what hard work it would have been to collect enough sap to make syrup.  It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup and I’m sure any farm children working in the sugar bushes wanted to make sure every drop was turned into either syrup or sugar. IMG_1768

 

The kettle over the fire has been replaced by a more modern evaporator system, but finding the exact consistency seems to remain an art.

One of the talking points I found interesting was that maple sugar was a “free trade” sort of product at one time.  The cane sugars exported from the Caribbean almost always used slave labor, therefore maple sugar was the preferred sweetener of abolitionists.

Even though we’ve been on this sort of tour before it had been a few years.  Too often we think that because we’ve done something once it isn’t worth doing again, but I frequently find the kids are processing things on a new level or at least challenging themselves to remember their past experience.

Special thanks to the Cleveland Metroparks and Rocky River Reservation for offering this tour and to NEST Homeschool group for organizing our group outing.

 

Real Spring

IMG_1795We were walking in the woods last week when we heard them, spring peepers and wood frogs.  It’s one of the most beautiful sounds on earth.  When the peepers and wood frogs emerge and sing their mating calls, a person can’t help but feel the hope and renewal of spring.

IMG_1803As we were walking my son said, “There should be two first days of spring.  The equinox and the day the peepers come out.”

It doesn’t look like much.  The trees are still bare.  Only the earliest plants are pushing their way up through the soil.  BUT the air is warming up.

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Many of the local park services are hosting night hike visits to vernal pools.  During night hours the spring peepers can be absolutely deafening.  It’s amazing to me that a creature barely larger than my thumbnail can emit such piercing call.  For just a few days the yellow spotted salamanders come above ground to mate in the pools before heading back to their holes for another year.

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We found this super cool fossil next to a creek the other day.  The shell filled with mud and sand that solidified.  It’s amazing the things we find and the deep learning that takes place when we have time to just explore.