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Everyday Nature: Looking under Leaves


Today we're going to muck about a little in the yard. The ground is softening, the earth smells fresh ... what better time than early spring to dig a bit and look for new life?

For it's certainly stirring now, and in all kinds of places. Sometimes it's plain to see - a nest in a tree, buds on a bush, a bee flying by. But there's a whole lot going on in places we hardly ever think to look.

Or at least, I hardly ever think to look - anymore (I did as a youngster I'm sure). No, usually my first instinct upon discovering a pile of withered, slimy leaves is not to poke around under there - Heaven only knows what might come crawling out! But of course, that's the point. And when we do get down and close up, and carefully lift and look, what we see is almost always amazing.

My young boys seem to know, instinctively, where to go to find the neatest bugs, worms and other cool creatures at this time of year. They gravitate towards the muddy and messy areas of the yard and they are richly rewarded in their exploration.

Today it would be fun to meander around the backyard and lift up things like rocks, logs, piles of leaf litter or even toys that have perhaps spent the winter months parked in one spot. What might you find?

A possible checklist:

  • ants
  • earwigs
  • grubs
  • beetles
  • earthworms
  • sowbugs
  • centipedes
  • millipedes
  • spiders
  • slugs
  • salamanders
  • various kinds of fungi

Ask the children to ponder: why is there nothing green growing under there?

Take a small field guide with you if you'd like (an insect guide would be helpful). Equip the children with magnifying glasses and a small clean jar. Let them dig around and explore for a while. Guide them to move slowly and quietly so as not to harm any living thing (they'll also get to see more if they're careful). If they find a small creature they'd like to observe, carefully deposit it into the jar, making sure to add a bit of soil first.

(Note - we are not experienced bug-keepers so we always return our specimens to their habitats after a short while. There are undoubtedly many books and online resources for information on keeping bugs permanently with care and respect.)

Books for exploring this type of habitat:

Before I sign off, just a quick word about my Everyday Nature posts. I don't want you all to think I'm some kind of nature expert. Oh, so far from it. I am decidely not a very outdoorsy person, in fact. I don't camp (yet), don't hike (much), don't canoe All_things(ever) or do any of those other rugged wilderness things.

But I do love nature. I love my small habitat and getting to know it better. I love showing my boys the wonders of nature, and specifically that which is right under our feet, outside our door, in view from our windows - every single glorious day.

There's so much to learn and even more to love. I think of Everyday Nature as baby steps towards nature study. It really can be as simple as taking five minutes a day to just be aware. Some days we might spend an hour walking through the woods, identifying trees and listening for birds. Some days we might just open a window and feel the wind change as a front moves through. It all adds up, in my book.

And it is all a gift, every little bit.

With every bit of nature we observe - the beautiful and the not so beautiful - it is good to remember Cecil Alexander's timeless words:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.