“Kids and snow go together.”
The words come from 88-year-old naturalist Martha Webber, as she watches three laughing youngsters plunk themselves in the snow during Sunday’s nature walk at the Carp Ridge Learning Centre.
But adults and snow go together, too, as this walk through the woods for more than a dozen people included several adults.
The walk lasted only 45 minutes, but that’s only because the first hour was spent bottling water in film canisters and then in different fabrics (to determine their insulation factor) and building an igloo-like structure known as a quinzee snow shelter.
Youngsters and adults dug into the pile of snow, left by the snow plow, to create their own refuge from the elements.
The answer to the bottled water experiment came at the end of the walk, when it was shown that wool was vastly superior to denim (aka cotton) and a reminder that people need to dress in the right material when outdoors.
While explaining the purpose of the experiment, six-old Sacha Hess asked, to smiles from adults in the group, “Is that science?”
The cost of the walk is $3 per person, or $10 per family of four or fewer, but it’s worth every penny, said Carp residents Anne Bonidan and Marc Lucas who came out with their daughters Claire and Madeline.
“We come out often,” said dad. “We’ve been out snowshoeing in the area, and we like being around Martha. Our kids like being in natural settings.”
There’s already enough television and computer time in kids’ lives, he added.
“It basically needs to be balanced,” said Lucas, noting how there’s so much evidence of how people’s behaviour improves for the better when engaged in outdoor activities.
This particular walk started with an examination of a large white pine tree and the naturalist’s question of how many needles there are in each cluster. She offers a clue, saying, “How many letters in white?” Of course, the answer was five.
Weber’s used to kids. She has two who have grown up, but it could be argued that she’s even more used to nature. The native of Maine received her master’s degree in botany from the University of New Hampshire about 60 years ago, and later came to Canada after falling in love with a Canadian.
Years later, her fascination with the outdoors remains intact.
“I’ve been a naturalist all my life. I was brought up on a farm,” says Webber, whose nature walk included identification of deer tracks, animal droppings and several types of vegetation.
“Deer droppings look like raisins,” says Webber pointing to ones that appear on top of the snow nearby. “Rabbit droppings are flat and one at a time.”
She then points to the deer tracks and says, “He’s not far away because that’s a deep track.”
She also holds up a deer foot brought along for the walk. The foot came from a deer that was killed on the road, she says.
Vegetation visited during the walk included a sugar maple. Weber identified the maple as one of two trees whose opposite branches appear on every stem. The other is ash.
Then she comes to a speckled alder plant, where she tells the group that one can use a knife to peel back the bark and use scrapings to clean one’s teeth.
“It tastes bad,” concludes one youngster after a brief taste-test.
During the walk, student Johvi Leeck of Almonte shares some silver birch buds while equating the taste with that of commercial root beer.
Following the walk, Weber offers boiled tea made from pine needles and linden flowers. The latter are abundant in Ottawa parks, says Webber, largely because they provide such good shade.
Those relaxing indoors after Sunday’s walk included Ottawa residents Detlef Hess and Nancy Elias, their children Annika and Sacha, and one of their daughter’s cross-country ski friends.
“It was wonderful, the combination of being outdoors, hearing interpretations, and the tips and tidbits,” says mom. “It was great. Martha’s very knowledgeable.”
In the same room, Marc Lucas picks up a copy of Paul Rezendes’s book, Tracking & the Art of Seeing. He scrutinizes the book’s illustrations of different wildlife tracks.
Meanwhile, Weber wraps up the day by asking no one in particular what three things are best taken into the wild, in case one is injured or lost.
Her answer is an orange garbage bag, a whistle and a kerchief (or large handkerchief). The bag is visible and can serve as a great insulator. Three blasts of the whistle are an excellent way to identify one’s location and to say, “I need help.” And the kerchief can serve as a head cover or as a rope to tie things together.
Whatever Sunday it is, Webber says she hopes the walks are fun and heighten awareness of our surroundings, especially for children.
“I want them to be aware of what’s out there,” says Weber, who recently received the Dorothy Walter Award for Leadership from the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario. The award was for developing leadership qualities in Ontario youth through outdoor education.
To learn more about the Carp Ridge Learning Centre’s nature walks and other activities, visit www.carpridgelearningcentre.ca or call 613-839-1179. The walks normally happen the first Sunday of the month.