A sense of calm and quiet fills the air as I walk from Bannister Park to Fair Oaks Bridge and boat ramp.
As I stand on Jim’s Bridge, I watch the river move swiftly underneath. The air is so still, I listen to the whoosh of the water flowing downstream. I search for spider webs stretched across the side rails. I listen to birds fill the morning air with songs and enjoy the vibrant green on trees and plants and grass as I pass. The air is still cool and fresh and still. I greet many other walkers and runners also enjoying this peaceful morning. I continue walking down the Jedediah Smith Bicycle Trail toward Fair Oaks Bridge.
Shortly after I walk on to the bridge, an Egret glides underneath it heading west. I always admire the Egret’s graceful, quiet flight and watch until it lands on the riverbank 100 yards away.
One boat sits in the water near the boat ramp. A fisherman stands at the end of the ramp casting in the water, drawing his line in and casting again. I walk down to the boat ramp for a closer look. Halfway across the river is an unusually colored small duck floats in the water. It is different than any other duck normally swimming in the river and continue to wonder about this. Suddenly it disappears. That is when I notice a fisherman throwing his line out and the duck is attached at the end. Once more the duck bobs in the deep green water.
I stand and watch the fishermen throw their lines in, the men in the nearby boat as they sit and wait for a tug on their fishing line. I look up to Fair Oaks Bridge and see walkers, runners and cyclists cross the bridge.
I look across the river corridor at the deep colors of Fair Oaks Bluff and its reflection in the green shimmering water.
The morning is so peaceful, even the two ducks standing in the water at the end of the ramp are standing in quiet contemplation. Occasionally a lonely rooster calls from a distance. Returning to Fair Oaks Bridge, I see two turtles are sunbathing on the log extending from the riverbank parallel to the bridge. They have been away for several weeks. I finished my morning walk not knowing the temperature had risen by more than 10 degrees and that I had been out walking, watching and listening for more than two hours.
Two roosters call to greet me at Bridge Street on my way to Fair Oaks Bridge. Fishermen sit patiently in their boats out in the river. A feeling of peace and calm washes over me as the cool, gentle wind crosses my face. Birds call softly to greet the new day.
So many spider webs line the bridge this morning. I stopped counting at 12. Maybe more than two dozen webs stretched all the way across the rails on the west side of the bridge. They range in size from two inches to eight, all woven into perfect intersecting lines. The sun is a glowing yellow ball of fire hanging in an empty pale blue sky. Runners, walkers and cyclists pass by. No one stops. No one looks side to side.
They all miss the intricate spider webs – graveyards for hundreds of flies hanging in storage for future meals. With so many flies lining the entire span of the bridge, I wonder if catching so many flies is for the sport or the need to eat.
Today I look over the side of the bridge that is closer to the bicycle trail near the riverbank and see a fallen log lying on the river bottom. The tree uprooted during the early 20017 flooding and lays in the same spot as if held captive there to rest. I suspect that many visitors have long forgotten the destruction caused by the flooding when Folsom Dam released heavy water flows down the river. The river still holds memories of that turbulent time.
Visitors crowded the bridge during those weeks of heavy flows to see water swirl in a dizzying frenzy under Fair Oaks Bridge, Sunrise Blvd. and submerging Jim’s Bridge farther west.
Scanning the riverbanks, I can still see trees bent over and debris and tangled bushes lying on the landscape. Animal homes along the banks may still be flooded.
The American River continues to hold its own stories for anyone to discover.
Who hasn’t greeted ladybugs with surprise and delight? These beetles are full-grown at less than a half-inch and live for 2-3 years. Children of all ages seem fascinated by ladybugs because of their small size, bright color and their willingness to walk a while on your finger and fly away when they tire of the adventure. Ladybugs are speedy – flying at 15 MPH.
When your family is out walking in the neighborhood, look for ladybugs feasting on aphids – their favorite food – or other small insects. They use their antennae to touch, smell and taste and eat as many as 50 aphids a day! The instant they are born, ladybugs start eating. By the end of six weeks, they can eat 5,000 aphids. Because of their huge appetites, they are an important way to protect plants. Farmers use them to protect crops instead of using chemicals.
Not all ladybugs are red. I have seen colonies of hundreds of red, spotted ladybugs. They are also yellow, orange, gray, black, brown and pink. More than 500 species of ladybugs live in the US and 5,000 around the world. Some don’t have spots. As a ladybug ages, spots fade.
Ladybugs play dead when threatened, releasing a foul smelling liquid that helps defend themselves from predators. Dragonflies, ants, crows and other insect-eating birds love to feast on ladybugs.
Make your own ladybugs. With a little imagination, paint, colored markers or pencils, ladybugs can be made using any of the following materials:
Styrofoam balls and pipe cleaners for legs
Paper mache (using starch and newspaper strips and forming the body with a cereal bowl)
Trees are great friends because they have so many stories to tell and so much to share.
Years ago on a nature hike, a ranger gave us this clever hint for identifying Douglas-fir trees. Their cones look as if mice are hiding inside “digging fir seeds” and their tail is all you can see. While your tree is still outside, become an explorer and learn your tree’s story.
How tall is it? Taller than mom or dad? Can your child reach the top by stretching their arms high?
Can you guess how old it is? Take a close look at the rings on the underside of the trunk. What important events happened since the tree was born?
Who can wrap their arms all the way around it?
Reach inside to the trunk and feel the bark. Is it soft, scratchy, rough? What color is the trunk?
Does the tree have needles or leaves? Are needles sticky, sharp or soft? Short or long? Are they arranged in groups of 2, 3, or even 6 on a branch? Are needles or leaves sturdy or limp?
Does any creature make its home in the tree? How can you tell? Do you see a spider’s web or tiny holes in the bark from a woodpecker’s beak?
If you approach a tree that smells like vanilla or butterscotch, then you are looking at a Ponderosa pine.
Celebrate it! Give it water. Decorate. Take photos. Write its story.
Next times you visit a forest, watch the trees sway in the wind, reach high for the sun and down into the ground to its roots for nourishment.
Explore on your own – what do trees give us besides a shady place to rest?
You can do a LOT in one hour! One hour of unstructured play with the natural world.
Alphabet Walk. Stop, Look, Listen, Feel and Smell! Look for letter shapes in your neighborhood. Fall and winter can the best times for careful observation because tree limbs and branches are exposed so more letters are visible. X and Y and relatively easy to find. Be creative as you search for other letters. Look to the sky and on the ground. Sometimes letters are found in unexpected places.
Nature Detectives Scavenger Hunt. One of many things a child can do alone is a backyard scavenger hunt (or any area near your home or apartment). Give your child a note pad and pencil and send them on a mission to find bugs, fallen leaves, spider webs, ladybugs, worms, birds and whatever else they can find in about 30 minutes.
Challenge them to find 10 things they never saw before. Encourage them to draw what they see, make a list, or describe it in a sentence. You can accompany them and incite enthusiasm if they won’t go alone or feel safer if accompanied by an adult.
Make comparisons: Is it as a long as their finger?
Look (or touch) closely: It is wet or dry?
Listen carefully: Does it make a sound?
Describe it: Does it have legs, wings or just a slimy body?
Count: How many?
Once they have returned from their solo mission, share their enthusiasm by reviewing their field journal. Follow up on their investigation by asking questions, inviting them to show you where they searched so you can see first hand what they found.
Visit the National Wildlife Federation website for even more activities you can do during the Green Hour .
“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folks may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only a good shovel.”
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park – Chinook Middle Village Station in Astoria, Oregon.
This newly established site recognizes the Chinook people who lived along the mouth of the Columbia River for thousands of year. Artifact and inquiry-based lessons engage middle school students in a study of Chinook lifestyle and culture.
Did you know?
Chinooks used a river-based economy and used canoes as the primary mode of transportation. Carving a canoe from a single cedar tree could take up to a year. Large canoes were 50 feet long, held 20-30 people and could carry 8,000-10,000 pounds.