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The Eyes of the Young

It took a bus load of kids only a few mnutes to find this Ring-necked Snake at Little Bluff. Photo by Terry Sprague

Leading kids on an interpretive hike can be a challenging task, especially if there are 30 or more of them as I have had occasionally. Often the only thing you can hear are the sounds of birds and animals getting out of our way as fast as they can. I seldom do hikes for kids anymore, but I have fond and, sometimes humorous, memories of some of the trips I have done with them in the past.  Like the time, after getting back with a very noisy group of young students, the teacher finally got them settled down, and spoke to them in a low voice that reminded me of Mr. Rogers. “The animals of the forest are very displeased with us today.”
But there were perks. Their eyes were keen and often spotted the small and seemingly insignificant. They had the advantage by being lower to the ground, and could spot the invisible, at least, invisible to me, anyhow. At Sandbanks, they could find wolf spider holes and antlion pits faster than I could, and I had over 20 years experience with these two insects, compared to their five minutes. As we explored the stone ruins of a grain storage structure at Little Bluff Conservation Area another time, it was less than three minutes before small girls were screaming and tripping over stones. The boys had found a tiny ring-necked snake and were holding it up proudly for all to see. It was the first time I had ever seen this somewhat reclusive species.
The Monarch butterfly larva on another trip was easier to see as it fed purposefully on the leaf of a milkweed. It paid no attention to the rows of staring eyes. There was no time. The larva needed to stuff itself on plant material to accumulate the cardiac glycoside its body needed to protect itself from the predators it knew were about. It would carry this toxin into its adult stage and woe betide any bird that chose to snack on the adult as it would suffer a bitter, unforgettable taste. The same bird would never experimenting with Monarchs again. The kids were fascinated.  But, after explaining that the plant was toxic, their mouths fell open as they watched me pluck a tender young pod from the milkweed and chomp it down as their eyes stared in morbid fascination, expecting me to keel over any moment. For consumers of our size the minuscule amounts of toxins do us no harm, as long as we don’t acquire an addiction. Tastes vary, but the one I chewed on was very much akin to cucumber. They didn’t trust me enough to sample one.
 
For the kids on these interpretive hikes, it was a chance to examine the small and the insignificant, in areas where these creatures are most surely overlooked by casual passersby. Kids were great to work with, and they often were generous with their praise. After one 45-minute presentation at a local school where I was but one of several presenters, one Grade 8 student e-mailed me outlining what he had learned, and casually volunteered, “Overall, I enjoyed your talk; in fact, it was one of the presentations I could actually sit through.”

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About the Author: Terry Sprague became interested in nature at an early age. "Growing up on the family farm at Big Island, 12 miles north of Picton, on the shore of the beautiful Bay of Quinte, I was always interested in the natural world around me. During my elementary school days at the small one-room school I attended on Big Island, I received considerable encouragement from the late Marie Foster, my teacher in Grades 6 through 8. Her home was a short distance from where I lived and through the years she was responsible for developing my interest in birds. The late Phil Dodds, a former editor with the Picton Gazette, also a great nature enthusiast, suggested I undertake a nature column - a column I have submitted weekly since 1965. The column has since expanded to the Napanee Beaver and the Tweed News. Life has been good, and through the years I have enjoyed working with such nature related agencies as Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator. As a nature interpreter, currently working from my home office, I now create and lead numerous interpretive events in the area and offer indoor audio/visual presentations to interested groups. Could one who is interested in nature have enjoyed a more exhilarating period in the work force?" Terry's website is www.naturestuff.net

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  1. Margaret Ferguson says:

    Hi Terry, we follow your blogs and do have some laughs.
    When is your book going to be available and who is publishing it? We can`t run down to a book store in the County anymore, thanks. Margaret

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