a snack tree education

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IMG_6463Sometime this spring Spud and I began a mostly daily tradition of walking to the bottom of our hill and back in the morning.  Just the right distance for three year old legs and just enough exercise for post-partum mama with baby strapped on.  Somewhere along the way Spud began taking his snack along with him to enjoy at the bottom of the hill.  With weather that is rainy more often than not, we followed our natural inclination to seek shelter under a tree as he ate his snack—a large hemlock, known these last three or so months as the “Snack Tree”.
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Last week, during the week that was, I needed to visit the snack tree, so he strapped on his cheap plastic Play-Doh backpack filled with cars and I strapped on FB, and we were off.  I forgot the snack, but he was o.k. with that—we just picked a branch loaded with huckleberries on the way down the hill and he was happy.  
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As I followed him down the hill, I was struck by how much he has grown in three months.  Just a few months ago my “elderly” toddler held my hand and took careful wobbly steps as he crossed the cattle guard; yesterday a small boy did it on his own with confidence and nonchalance.
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As we settled into our well-worn spot beneath the Snack Tree I began cataloging all of the things I was aware of that Spud has learned simply through our casual conversations and observations on these ritual walks.  FB was sleeping soundly, and I resolved to focus solely on what Spud had to say during our hour or so ramble.
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Most importantly (in Spud’s mind) he’s learned that the woods are full of culinary delights.  He knows every salmonberry, huckleberry, and thimbleberry bush along our path. 
Edible wood sorrel (we learned it by the name ‘sheep showers’ from Granddad) is his current favorite—he correctly identifies it by its heart-shaped leaves and asks permission before eating anything he picks.
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Conversely, he identifies red elderberries and foxglove as poisonous.  He’s fond of shouting out poisonous berry alerts whenever he sees them.  A shrill cry of “Elderberry!” has jolted me back to my senses on more than one walk through the woods. 
What he learns also gives way to interesting observations that seemingly come out of nowhere.  “Big birds eat elderberries and little birds eat seeds.”
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Because of the snack tree we discovered flickers nesting in a snag and watched them learning to fly just days before they left the nest.  “The birds don’t even know we’re here, Mommy!”
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We’ve witnessed the life cycle of skunk cabbage, of all things.  “Oh dear, Mommy, why are these dying?”
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We’ve become more attuned to the subtle shifts in wind and sunlight “Look what is beginning to happen!  We stayed here until the sunshine came out!”, giggled over the varying textures of cow pies, and discovered what makes mole hills “We should come down here after dark and watch the moles poke out their heads.”.
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If you don’t have a Snack Tree of your own—get one.  Or a Snack Bench, or Beach, or Trail, or Log will do.  Visit it often—with or without the snack.  Visit it well.  It’s an education not to be missed.
You might even be lucky enough to see two swallowtail butterflies playing tag.  “Like some chipmunks do.”

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