Girl Scout Camp

I've been spending the week at our local Girl Scout day camp in Briones Regional Wilderness Park; I participate every year as head of the Nature Unit. I take two days to rove around the camp, doing some sort of activity that fits the theme (this year, it was "Come Play With Us!"), and then two days are spent taking groups on hikes. The last day is always spent preparing food for the camp and helping out with the 'Friday Fair.' The week is always a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, though I'm always so filthy and tired when I get home, it's hard to appreciate it in the moment, and absolutely nothing gets done at home or in the garden. Usually about a week afterward I'm like, hey, that was cool! And I know I'm going to do it again next year.

It's always a challenge to figure out nature activities that fit the theme, and it occurs to me now that I should blog about it ahead of time, because I'm sure you all would have some ideas. One year the theme was Native American, and I did a fun thing where we collected a bunch of veg and fruits and stuff from nature, then smashed it with a hammer into fabric to see if we could create natural dyes. Green cabbage made purple! Onions made bright yellow! It was interesting. One year the theme was Halloween, so the kids and I made habitat webs and figured out if one thing vanishes in nature, it affects all other parts of nature. This year I decided to help the kids make compasses using needles, magnets, and a bowl of water, then we talked about directions, and found something interesting in each direction to learn about.

I also usually figure out something fun to do on the hikes, so we're not just walking up a hill and sweating. This year I made a nature scavenger hunt, and truly there is so much to discover while hiking, we're never bored and always seeing something new.

For instance, one of the kids found a lizard skin; at first we thought was snake skin until we saw a little claw/hand shaped bit on it. I had no idea lizards shed their skins, but they do, and in fact alligator lizards shed them all in one piece. Inside the skin we found a chrysalis. Odd!!! and cool!!!

Another kid found a jawbone with teeth still attached, right in camp. Turns out it's a mule deer jaw, and I didn't even know deer had sharp teeth.

There are always a couple of kids, on the hikes, who clearly hike a lot with their parents, and know as much as I do about what we're looking at. That's fun, and I can count on them to help me present everything to the rest of the group. But it's even more fun to expose the rest of the group to nature. Many of these kids don't ever spend time outside, camping or hiking or climbing trees and rocks. Most of them don't know what trees grow in their neighborhood, or what the flowers are, or the difference between a robin and a blue jay. I love those kids. One said to me, "This is the first hike I've ever been on!" and I adore that. I have a chance to help them fall in love with it. What could be better than taking them to a blackberry bramble, showing them which ones are ripe, and watching them eat the sour, warm fruit? Or pointing up high to a Valley Oak and showing them mistletoe growing in clumps hanging from the branches, the same mistletoe that put in their doorways at Christmastime? Or finding coyote poop, and trying to figure out what the coyote ate that day? Or coming upon a steer, grazing in the open space right in front of us?

So, as tired as I am, and as dirty as I am, I feel satisfied that it was a good week, and the kids learned something. Now, I've got to get back to cooking stuff from the garden, ASAP, or we're soon to be overrun!

Morning Flag Ceremony

Mule Deer jawbone

Lizard skin