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Tracking Coyote

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On the way to our campsite we noticed that a large landmark Maple had fallen since last week. The kids quickly took to exploring it, calling it a "pirate ship"! At our campsite, we found a note from Old Man Coyote, explaining how he had taken my bag of horse chestnuts and pine cones. He told us where he was camping (directly uphill at the lone hemlock tree).

Before we began the adventure, we followed another clue he had left us: "Go to grandfather rock and pass the smell challenge." We all ran immediately up to grandfather rock! Part of what I love about these enchanted scavenger hunts and quests is that it really gives a name to certain landmark features, trees, rocks, etc... The excitement of the "pirate ship" Maple now provides some great learning opportunities for getting to know that tree, for example.

What we found at grandfather rock was somewhat baffling: a bag of cotton balls and a water bottle filled with vinegar. After some questioning, I realized that Coyote wanted us to use our sense of smell as our primary means of travel. We created a trail of vinegar soaked cotton balls, got down on hands and knees and smelled our way to the end of the trail. Besides getting in our own senses and exploring the world differently, we talked about how many animals use their sense of smell or hearing primarily over sight. 

Before we were to stalk up to where we thought Coyote would be, we had snack and talked strategy. We also told funny stories of Old Man Coyote, making sure to emphasize that his love of tricking us is always playful and nothing to be afraid of. Nonetheless it was a brave endeavor to sneak up the hill and attempt to regain our goods! We moved quietly uphill, using the signals and group togetherness practiced last week. As we approached the hemlock tree, and spotted Coyote sleeping with his back to us, I could almost literally see magic light up in their eyes! A few kids snuck into his camp and snagged the bag, we could hear Coyote mumbling in his sleep and at one point he seemed to wake up and looked at us! We excitedly ran down the hill, gave high fives, and checked out what was in the bag. Pine cones, horse chestnut nuts and shells were used to make some neat craft. We stressed to the Wooly Bears that horse chestnuts are not the kind you eat—in fact, they are poisonous!

We split up into a groups; some focused on a craft, others gathered firewood, and others continued to work on our shelter. Part of the motivation for a fire was the enormous and marvelous Giant Puffball mushroom that Emma brought in. The kids loved seeing the insides and also eating it once cooked! We again stressed the importance of not eating anything in the woods without asking first, particularly with mushrooms! 

After lunch we played a big game of Hawk and Bird Tribe, in which the kids use different bird calls to communicate various things such as "frozen" (tagged by the hawk), "located food," "just saying hi," or "watch out, Hawk is close!" Once all the food (water bottles, in this case) is brought safely to the nest, the birds win and a new round begins!

—Dan Corral