This past Saturday morning, I headed out to Scugog Line 10 to cover the annual Nonquon Bird Count - one of my favourite events of the season.
Shortly after parking the car and grabbing my camera bag, I found myself taking slow steps along a frozen board walk in an icy marsh, and I started to feel nostalgic.
I remembered how I used to hike and play in the woods on class trips, at Purple Woods, or in the marshes around Scugog Point. The combination of nature and imagination can be the most fun you have as a kid - especially in the woods of Scugog, hence the first line of this week’s offering.
Anyway, back to the present. I was keeping my ears sharp for the sounds of birds, and my eyes up for the flutter of wings - sort of like a stalking hunter, but with a lens barrel instead of a firearm.
The woods were still and covered in ice, and after a few attempts - it made for some beautiful photos of the colourful birds roosting in grayish brown trees. While feeding a few chickadees perched on my fingers, I learned quickly that they could in fact hear a shutter click, and were very annoyed by it. Small birds have sharp talons.
On this particular chilly Saturday morning, our travel group was lucky to have a very knowledgeable guide named James, who was ready and willing to teach the group of birdwatchers what the various bird calls were, and what a variety of different tree markings meant.
Following in tow, a few adults served as shepherds, for the flock of young children, who played the part of very wilily and excited sheep.
Along our hike, and in between tripping over tree roots and muck, I learned a bit about our local environment and saw how much fun children and young adults can have doing the same.
I personally believe that Outdoor Ed, which takes students out of a classroom and throws them into the woods for fun and hands on learning, has never been more important to our young people.
With the environmental dangers that face our landscapes today, and the ones that will surely develop in the future (if we’re not careful) it really is crucial that we educate and inform kids. When you’re eight-years-old and the teacher tells you to take an extra five steps to throw that water bottle in the recycling and not the garbage, you don’t get it. When you’re eight-years-old and you see mounds of plastic trash piled up beside a walking trail, or beside the causeway, it tends to stick with you.
Try as you might, no amount of theory will ever help a child learn like showing them will. Textbooks and slide shows are excellent for math, English and history - but when it comes down to helping kids grasp the world around them, sometimes they need something to grasp!
While being freezing cold and tripping an awful lot might not be everyone’s cup of tea - this annual event has been a favourite of mine since I first took the hike, and I imagine many other people have similar experiences.
This is going back a few years, but I’m fairly certain I first walked through the Nonquon on an ‘Outdoor Ed’ trip in Grade 4. Back then, the best part of the year was when my classmates and I got to run around in the woods and learn how maple syrup was made, how squirrels pass the harsh winters, and which birds made which noise.
The only part that puzzled us was that we never found out who ‘Ed’ was - we ended up deciding he was a large, hairy, smelly and sasquatch-like creature who roamed the woods.
Later, I discovered ‘Ed’ was actually just short for boring old education. They really had us tricked.