Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Family Winter Campfire Program

This last weekend we had our Family Winter Campfire program.  Despite some rather brisk wind chills, it was a good time, thanks to a toasty warm fire.

We started the program with learning how to build a fire.  The family had some good skills, but without enough fine tinder, their flames soon died.  We finally succeeded in getting a good fire going, thanks to some very dry wood from our sugarshack and the splitting axe one of our volunteers donated to us.

Once we got some coals glowing, we made appetizers:  dough on a stick.  To make these tasty delights, you get a tube of Pillsbury French Bread dough, break of a blob, roll it out like a snake, and then wrap it around a green stick.  Then you slowly rotate it over some nice hot coals until it is a golden brown and puffy.  When it cools, you eat.  Mmmm!

Next we had to prepare our foil dinners.  It was gourmet:  sweet potatoes, carrots, red potatoes, red sweet pepper, onions, and chicken.  You put a couple cubes of butter onto some heavy duty foil, add your ingredients, then fold and seal up your foil packet.

Place your packet in the hot coals and keep an eye on it.  You want to leave it on long enough to cook, but not so long that it burns.  We nailed it this time - about 20 minutes!  And oh, it tasted sooooo good!

The meal wrapped up with that classic campfire dessert:  s'mores. 

All told, the program was a success!  We're just sorry we didn't have a few more folks out there with us.  If you'd like join us for a toasty and tasty campfire program in the future, please let us know!

Soapstone Carving Class

Back in December, we were very lucky to have John Hoskins back to teach another soapstone carving class.  John's schedule is so busy that successfully getting him onto our calendar practically requires an act of congress, we were just thrilled to have him back.

John is a fabulous soapstone artist, as you can see by just these two carvings:

Since this was he second time out here, we changed up his class just a little bit.  Usually when he teaches, he has everyone carve a loon.  It teaches are the basic skills and techniques, and leaves you with a piece that looks like a pro did it. 

This time, however,  he also had Inuksuks as an option for the carvers, since we had a few carvers sign up who had already made loons.  The Inuksuk is an Inuit art form, essentially a pile of stones that look like a human figure.  They were originally used to mark caches or trails for hunters to follow.  Ours were much smaller and were made from a single piece of soapstone.

Soapstone is very soft, and once the rough shape is carved out with a saw, one uses rasps and files to "carve" out the details.  Dental picks work really well for fine details.


After you get your carving to where you want it (with the Inuksuks, we wanted to make it look like rough, carved stones stacked one on top of another), you start the sanding process.  Keeping your stone and sandpaper wet, you sand away, gradually working your way from 200 grade sandpaper to 800 grade.

After you get it as smooth as you want it, you are ready for the final steps:  heating it up (toaster oven or blow torch) and then applying beeswax.  This seals the stone, 

and then you buff it to a great shine.

 Interested in doing some soapstone carving?  Let us know, and we will try to schedule John again.

Thanks, John, for your time and expertise!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

In the Words of the Children

This fall we hosted four classes (two schools) at Dahlem for Annie's Big Nature Lesson.  This break-through outdoor education program brings classes out to a local nature center for five full days of lessons - a whole week!  It is immersion education with a whole new twist:  immersion in nature.

Students from Hunt Elementary School and Frost Elementary School participated in ABNL the first two weeks of November (respectively).  We lucked out with the weather the first week, and even the second week, while much cooler, we still had good conditions.  [While we all believe that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, it can be a hard sell to those who don't have the right clothing, or who are not already in love with the outdoors, to buy into that concept, so we are always grateful for "nice weather."]

Each day students get one naturalist-led program, while the rest of the day is filled with lessons and activities led by the teachers.  With our naturalists, the Hunt students got to do some aquatic studies, 

learned how to use compasses, 

did some extensive studies on skulls, 

 and learned how to use a hand-drill to start a fire.

Some lessons are learned in ways that are unexpected, like how to work together:

The teachers from Frost chose some different activities, and this week we received some thank you letters from the students that express the value of programs like ABNL.  I'd like to share some of those with you here:

"Thank you for telling me how to make tea out of cedar trees!  
I was fascinated by the info you gave me!"

"The two things I liked most were searching the water trying to 
find creatures.  I like finding creatures in the water.  
I like looking at little bugs in the water.  
The other thing was building shelters.  My shelter was perfect to me.  
It had no holes and it was warm, also."

 "I like tearing apart owl pellets for bones.  It wasn't poop, it was just 
feathers bones and other stuff the owl could not digest."

"I loved doing the ow [sic] pellets.  I think I even found a whole rodent, awesome!

 "My favorite part was breaking apart the owl pellets.  
I've never been so happy with science before..."

"My favorite part was when we did observation time, I remember 
Wednesday when I saw a real Blue Jay, but it flew away by the 
tractor [sic] and everyone had to evacuate the road."  
"...I got poison ivy.  The thing is, it didn't stop the joy from running through me." 

"My favorite thing was going outside for about an hour and writing 
about the weather and things around us.  I really loved 
seeing a hawk.  That was the best part of the whole trip."

[One of the requirements of ABNL is that each day the students must spend one hour
 sitting silently and recording their observations in a journal.] 

"I also liked when we learn how to use the compasses, 
Fred would not stay in the shed."
"My classmates acted quite differently than what they usually act like, 
so I know they enjoyed it."

 "The memories were great...It was cool when we found hibernating toads."

"At first I didn't want to go, but it turned out to be fun."

"Thank you for all that you have done for my class.  I appreciate it 
very much and I know it cost a lot and I am very thankful.  
It was such a great experience being out in the wild learning science.  
Ms. Ellen and Ms. Carrie are great naturalists."
[Yes, this was a student, not the teacher.] 
"Ever since last week, my parents have said I've been more naturey."

 "I also liked going on hikes in the woods because I just love looking 
at all the beautiful nature!  I though I was going to hate it, but I actually
 loved it so, so much!  You guys taught me more than my brain can hold. 
 I just wanted to tell you, thank you!"

I don't think we could've gotten better endorsements if we had asked for them!  Wow!

Many thanks to Margaret Holtschlag, who developed ABNL, and to the Blakely Foundation, whose generous grants have made it possible for us to offer this wonderful program to the students of Jackson.

If you would like your students to participate in ABNL next year, please give us a call!  Training for teachers takes place in September. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Faerie Fest 2015 a Success

This past Saturday, Sept. 19, was Dahlem's 4th Annual Faerie Fest and Dragon Day.  Weatherwise, things got off to a shakey start, but as the day progressed, the sun came out and it turned out to be a pretty nice day.  Over 200 visitors came out to build dwellings for the homeless faeries and dragons of Dahlem!

This fun, family-friendly event builds on the natural connection between nature and imagination.  It's an ideal way to get children of all ages reconnected to nature in a fun and non-threatening way.  How?  By using all natural objects, from pine cones to old bones, to build homes for denizens of the invisible realm.

An event of this scope is not possible without the generous donation of time by many volunteers.  Some came as costumed characters:

Holly, the Sorceress

 Gypsy with her furry friend

The Rain Fairy

Angus Folksinger, storyteller and minstrel

The Fortune Teller 
 Others were vendors:

 One of the books for sale was written about characters who
were here at last year's Faerie Fest!

Potion-making is usually a big hit, and this year was no exception!  Hope there are too many new toads out there!

But the main event was building homes, and we had builders of all ages come out to create.

This little boy, apparently, didn't really want to be here, and he resisted for a while, but then he saw some of the bones at the Fairy House Depot, and soon he was as enthralled as his sisters.

I love his creation (below).

Business was booming at the Fairy House Depot.  We never know from year to year what the big seller will be, but this year the turkey feathers proved to be very popular.

Getting things placed just right can be a multi-person endeavor.

These boys were very proud of their house.

I love it when visitors come to this event in costume.  This little boy was a dragon, and he really liked that large pine cone.

Our Fortune Teller was kept quite busy.   She did tarot cards and palm reading...and at the end of the day she still had a line of customers waiting for their turn!

This was one of my favorite creations.  The skull has a beard of leaves, so it was called the Bearded Dragon.  I loved the backbone bridge down at the water's edge, and under the winged shell was a cage for the dragon's pet cicada.

Family in full concentration:

This year instead of the Dragon Egg Hunt, we did a Magic Fairy Ring craft, making "viewers" from large washers and beads on a string, and using them to see what we could find of the Magical Realms.

We watched bumblebees, discovered dogwood sawfly larvae, watched a slug, and even found a few amphibians, like the toad the girl below is holding.  (She is the frog whisperer.)


 Ultimately, though, it was all about the building of homes, and we had some stupendous dwellings created.  As always, the event wraps up with the Grand Tour of Homes.  Here is a sample:

And then there were the Rogue Builders who left this treasure along the Nature for All Trail.

Be sure to stop by Dahlem to see all the wonderful homes built by local imaginations before they disappear!

Many thanks to EVERYONE who made this event possible this year!