With a summer filled with days that are either super soggy or super hot and humid it is fun to take a moment and dig into the archives to remember a cool and creative winter wonderland P.L.A.Y. day in which all the rainbow Capkins lined up to feel the love in the soft seasonal snow.
When Mitzi arrived at our home she had already lived with other humans. Some of these folks had unfortunately mistreated her and others simply misunderstanding her needs and all having called her by other given names. And so at the age of roughly 10 years old she began “again” with her new human family and was given her new name by my 20 something year old daughter who would now be her new caretaker (in addition to her own small herd of goats).
The first thing we learned was that we had to meet Mitzi on her terms or else she would bite or scratch you. Some of us took longer to learn this than others. You see, she looked very soft and cuddly, she would purrrrr as you approached, and would even roll over and expose her belly to you as if inviting a few good rubs. However, she rarely accepted these gestures and typically swatted you quickly with her claws or nipped at your hands hence the warning “don’t pet cat – she bites!” that now graced our doorstep.
The humans, both family and community members, over time learned to give her space, talk to her in a gentle manner, and when properly suited up (as in wearing a snow suit head to toe) you could actually have her sitting in your lap for a brief moment. Then as the seasons passed and she settled into her new space Mitzi began to allow my daughter to fully pick her up routinely and my husband was granted this same pleasure on occasion too. Harmony, for the most part, had settled in at our front door.
Mitzi became very much a part of our daily comings and goings always there to greet you at the front porch and often seen out our windows going on adventures in the meadow. She spent time in our gardens whenever we were weeding or planting and seemed to enjoy our company. The goats learned to tolerate her and she them especially on long winter days in the barn when a snow storm was piling the inches up outdoors and they were stuck inside together. And when my daughter spent time in the barn with all of them they could be content if she laid in the middle and they each sat to one side. It had an essence of Fern in Charlotte’s Web about it except my daughter was navigating her early 20’s and simply found it soothing to be with her fur babies.
And now after sharing the past 3 years with us Mitzi has passed away of natural causes. My daughter was hesitant to put the “don’t pet cat – she bites” sign on her grave, located near her butterfly garden, as she felt Mitzi had come such a long way in her behaviors towards humans. In the end though it seemed most appropriate as it was done with love and acknowledgement of how we learned to take her on her own terms and what a special gift she left us with in learning how to P.L.A.Y. and connect in her own special way.
This experience has had me thinking what a true gift it would be if we all learned to apply the lesson Mitzi taught our family:
Simply meet everyone on their own terms.
See, hear, value, and learn to understand a person or animal as is versus trying to change them into something you’d like them to be.
This is the truest and simplest gift of being present and embedded in the very nature of P.L.A.Y.
Sending wholehearted hugs and wishing you many P.L.A.Y. days with your loved ones- both your fur and human family.
We’ve had quite the odd summer so far here in New England. It has been either full on hot sunshine or full on rain for most of this season thus far. There hasn’t been too many days with clear and moderate temperatures.
We began with super dry conditions and wondering if we would ever get the chance to enjoy building a campfire in the fire pit out in our community meadow. The garden seedlings needed constant tending to with frequent watering and folks adding mulch or wood chips to help retain the moisture.
There were very hot days that clustered together to make a heat wave more than once in both May and June.
Then the rains came in and everyone gave thanks for the assistance in watering the gardens and had much gratitude for the green lushness that naturally arrived too.
And now we are in the opposite situation where we are having day, after day, after day of rain. And the rain comes in quantities that have been raising the water levels in both the brook (seen above/below) and in the river adjoining our community property. A gain of 7 inches of rain was recorded in our personal gauge in just the span of a few days.
The gardens are now well watered naturally and the hoses sit all curled up wondering when they will ever get used again. The forest has mushrooms that are not typically seen at this time of year and the red efts have been seen in larger numbers on top of the leaf litter on my walks in the woods.
My daughters 6 year old goats, who are not known to thrive in rainy conditions due to hoof rot and other ailments, are tired of being penned up at the barn and eagerly await a dry day to be back out in the meadow munching on all that greenery that has been growing “like weeds”!
And that fire pit, well it has been mowed during one brief reprieve in the rain and now it sits all soggy waiting to dry out just enough to welcome our community to circle up and sit on the benches and share stories, roast marshmallows, and return to summer P.L.A.Y. time traditions.
May you and yours be taking the moment to soak in both the sun and the rain and being present for all the P.L.A.Y.nature moments in your neck-of-the-woods this summer.
On Mother’s Day this year a rare Sun Halo or Whirling Rainbow appeared over Massachusetts. It was a magical moment that hovered in time and caused me to pause and take notice as nature so often does.
However, this moment in particular had a special meaning as I shared it together with my family as we were just emerging from a stretch of mental health challenges that rocked our world and we each seemed to be carving out time to spend in the great outdoors as a part of our recovery.
Actually what I have noticed most since our heightened mental health moment is that we have not only been carving out specific time to spend in nature many of us are actually craving it.
Whether it is gazing upon a bed of tulips mindfully planned to bring forth a painter’s palette of color as we exit the last of winter’s embrace and stretch towards the longer daylight hours of spring and begin new plantings in the butterfly and veggie gardens or . . .
spying dandelions springing up in unexpected places with a burst of golden yellow in both the meadow and wherever the seeds have spread over the years, all of these beauties and outdoor activities fill our tank with a much needed sense of calm and renewal.
Stumbling upon the graceful unfurling of the ferns down near the river’s edge on a nature walk or . . .
seeking out the apple blossoms on a bird walk as they are beckoning bees, hummingbirds, and humans to share in the celebration of their annual return bringing new hope to the landscape for another season of sweet goodness.
May you and yours always find your way home again, especially when it feels like your mind or body or spirit have lost their way, by relying on nature to nurture you in times of these great challenges and may every day be a time to focus on your mental health so that you may all bloom and continue to grow into the very humans you were meant to be.
Mental Health Matters
Your unique and beautiful presence in this world is very much needed and is the gift that keeps on giving.
“There,” said Mother Nature, pointing to Prickly Porky the Porcupine, “is the next to largest member of your order, which is?”
“Order of Rodents,” piped up Striped Chipmunk.
“He is the next to largest and very good at escaping predators,” continued Mother Nature.
“Actually, escaping his predators is no real credit to him. They are only too glad to keep out of his way; he doesn’t have to fear anybody,” said Chatterer the Red Squirrel to his cousin, Happy Jack.
His remark didn’t escape the keen ears of Mother Nature. “Are you sure about that?” she asked. “Well there is Pekan the Fisher”
She was interrupted by a great rattling on the old stump. Everybody turned to look. There was Prickly Porky backing down as fast as he could, which wasn’t fast at all, and rattling his thousand little spears as he did so. It was really very funny. Everybody had to laugh, even Mother Nature. You see, it was plain that he was in a great hurry, yet every movement was slow and clackety.
“Well, Prickly Porky, what does this mean? Where are you going?” asked Mother Nature.
Prickly Porky turned his eyes towards her, and in them was a troubled, worried look. “Where’s Pekan the Fisher?” he asked, and his voice shook a little with something very much like fear.
Mother Nature understood instantly. When she had said, “Well there is Pekan the Fisher,” Prickly Porky had waited to hear no more. He had instantly thought that she meant that Pekan was right there somewhere. “It’s all right, Prickly Porky,” she said. “Pekan isn’t anywhere around here, so climb back on that stump and no need to worry. Chatterer had just said that you didn’t have to fear anybody and I was starting to explain that actually you do, that despite your thousand little spears you have reason to fear Pekan the Fisher.”
Prickly Porky shivered and this made the thousand little spears in his coat rattle. It was such a surprising thing to see Prickly Porky actually afraid that the other little folks almost doubted their own eyes. “Are you quite sure that Pekan isn’t anywhere around?” asked Prickly Porky, and his voice still shook.
“Quite sure,” replied Mother Nature. “If he were I wouldn’t allow him to hurt you. You ought to know that. Now sit up so that every one can get a good look at you.”
Prickly Porky sat up, and the others gathered around the foot of the stump to look at him.
He was a little bigger than Bobby Coon and his body was thick and heavy-looking. His back humped up like an arch. His head was rather small for the size of his body, short and rather round. His neck was even shorter. His eyes were small and it was plain that he couldn’t see far, or clearly unless what he was looking at was close at hand. His ears were small and nearly hidden in hair. His front teeth, the gnawing teeth which showed him to be a Rodent, were very large and bright orange. His legs were short and stout. He had four toes on each front foot and five on each hind foot, and these were armed with quite long, stout claws.
The oddest thing and the most interesting thing about Prickly Porky was his coat. Not one among the other four-legged folk of the Green Forest has a coat anything like his. Most of them have soft, short under fur protected and more or less hidden by longer, coarser hair. Prickly Porky had the long coarse hair and on his back it was very long and coarse, brownish-black in color up to the tips, which were white. Under this long hair was some soft woolly fur, and what long hair he had hid chiefly was an array of little spears called quills. They were white to the tips, which were dark and very, very sharply pointed. All down the sides were tiny barbs, so small as hardly to be seen. On his head the quills were about an inch long and on his back they were four inches long, becoming shorter towards the tail. His tail was rather short, stout, and covered with short quills.
As he sat there on that old stump some of Prickly Porky’s little spears could be seen peeping out from the long hair on his back, although they didn’t look particularly dangerous. Peter Rabbit suddenly made a discovery. “Why!” he exclaimed. “He hasn’t any little spears on the under side of him!”
“I wondered who would be the first to notice that,” said Mother Nature. “No, Prickly Porky hasn’t any little spears underneath, and Pekan the Fisher has found that out. He knows that if he can turn Prickly Porky on his back he can attack him without much danger from those little spears, and he has learned how to do that very thing. That is why Prickly Porky is afraid of him. Now, Prickly Porky, climb down off that stump and show these little four-legged folks what you do when a predator comes near.”
Grumbling and growling, Prickly Porky climbed down to the ground. Then he tucked his head down between his front paws and suddenly the thousand little spears appeared all over him, pointing in every direction until he looked like a giant chestnut burr. Then he began to thrash his tail from side to side.
“What is he doing that for?” asked Johnny Chuck, looking rather puzzled.
“Go near enough to be hit by it, and you’ll understand,” said Mother Nature. “That is his one weapon. Whoever is hit by that tail will find himself full of those little spears and will take care never to go near Prickly Porky again. Once those little spears have entered the skin, they keep working in deeper and deeper, and more than one of his predators has been killed by them. On account of those tiny barbs they are hard to pull out, and pulling them out hurts dreadfully. Just try one and see.”
No one was anxious to try, so Mother Nature paused only a moment. “You will notice that he moves that tail quickly,” she continued. “It is the only thing about him which is quick. When he has a chance, in time of danger, he likes to get his head under a log or rock, instead of putting it between his paws as he is doing now. Then he plants his feet firmly and waits for a chance to use that tail.”
“Is it true that he can throw those little spears at folks?” asked Peter.
Mother Nature shook her head. “There isn’t a word of truth in it,” she declared. “That story probably was started by some one who was hit by his tail, and it was done so quickly that the victim didn’t see the tail move and so thought the little spears were thrown at him.”
“How does he make all those little spears stand up that way?” asked Jumper the Hare.
“He has a special set of muscles for just that purpose,” explained Mother Nature.
“When those quills stick into someone they must pull out of Prickly Porky’s own skin; I should think that would hurt him,” spoke up Striped Chipmunk.
“Not at all,” replied Mother Nature. “They are very loosely fastened in his skin and come out at the least little pull. New ones grow to take the place of those he loses.”
“Also notice that he puts his whole foot flat on the ground just as Buster Bear and Bobby Coon do. Very few animals do this, and those that do are said to be plantigrade. Now, Prickly Porky, tell us what you eat and where you make your home, and that will end today’s session.”
“I eat bark, twigs and leaves mostly,” said Prickly Porky. “I like hemlock best of all, and also eat poplar, pine and other trees for a change. Sometimes I stay in a tree for days until I have stripped it of all its bark and leaves. I don’t see any sense in moving about any more than is necessary.”
“Does that kill the tree?” exclaimed Peter Rabbit.
“Well, maybe, what of it?” replied Prickly Porky. “There are plenty of trees. In summer I like lily pads and always get them when I can.”
“Can you swim?” asked Peter eagerly.
“Of course,” grunted Prickly Porky.
“I never see you out on the Green Meadows,” said Peter.
“And you never will,” replied Prickly Porky. “The Green Forest is for me every time. Summer or winter, I’m at home there.”
“Don’t you sleep through the cold weather the way Buster Bear and I do?” asked Johnny Chuck.
“No, cold weather doesn’t bother me. I like it, ” said Prickly Porky. “I have the Green Forest pretty much to myself then. I like to be alone. And as long as there are trees, there is plenty to eat. I sleep a great deal in the daytime because I like night best.”
“What about your home?” asked Happy Jack.
“Home is wherever I happen to be, most of the time, and Mrs. Porky has a home in a hollow log or a cave or under the roots of a tree where the babies are born.”
“You might add that those babies are big for the size of their mother and have a full supply of quills when they are born,” said Mother Nature. “And you might like to mention how fond of salt you are. Your fear of Pekan the Fisher we all saw. I might add that Puma the Panther is to be feared at times, and when he is very hungry Buster Bear will take a chance on turning you on your back. By the way, don’t any of you call Prickly Porky a Hedgehog. He isn’t anything of the kind. He is sometimes called a Quill Pig, although his real name, Porcupine, is best. He has no near relatives.”
“Tomorrow morning, instead of meeting here, we’ll hold our session on the shore of the pond that Paddy the Beaver has made.”
Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y.nature journal!
What do people actually mean when they say ” that person was as prickly as a porcupine”?
What other animals eat bark, twigs, and leaves just like a porcupine? I’ll get you started by naming goats(!) as fantastic eaters of bark and leaves. How many more animals can you list?
*Start “branching out” into other topics mentioned by Prickly Porky such as the hemlock tree as his favorite food. What does a hemlock tree look like? What size cones does it have and who eats the seeds within them? How are the branches arranged to shed the snow or shelter birds? What is the color of the foliage? Does this change with the seasons?
Visit this LINKto the Mass Audubon Society for more information and photos of porcupines.
Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.
If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.
In his search for the latest newcomer who had come to the Green Forest, Lightfoot the Deer no longer stole like a gray shadow from thicket to thicket as he had done when searching for the beautiful newcomer with the dainty feet. Now he bounded along, not caring how much noise he made. From time to time he would stop to whistle a challenge and to clash his antlers against the trees and stamp the ground with his feet.
Now and then he found the larger newcomer’s tracks, and from them he knew that this newcomer was doing just what he had been doing, which was seeking to find the beautiful newcomer with the dainty feet. Each time he found these signs Lightfoot became more frustrated.
Of course it didn’t take Sammy Jay long to discover what was going on. There is little that escapes those sharp eyes of Sammy Jay. As you know, he had early discovered the game of hide-and-seek that Lightfoot had been playing with the beautiful young visitor who had come down to the Green Forest from the Great Mountain. Then, by chance, Sammy had visited the Laughing Brook just as the larger newcomer had come down there to drink. For once Sammy had kept his tongue still. “There is going to be excitement here when Lightfoot discovers this fellow,” thought Sammy. “If they ever meet, and I have a feeling that they will, there is going to be a challenge.”
Of course, Lightfoot knew nothing about all this. His one thought was to find that big newcomer and drive him from the Green Forest, and so he continued his search tirelessly.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
Have you ever heard the phrase “A bird’s eye view”? What does it mean?
With Sammy Jay’s use of his “bird’s eye view” what advantages does he have in seeing stories unfold in the Green Forest?
Are there any disadvantages to Sammy Jay’s use of his “bird’s eye view”?
Why does Sammy Jay think there is going to be a challenge when Lightfoot the Deer meets this newcomer? What does he know? or not know?
Why does Lightfoot the Deer say he wants to drive the newcomer from the forest vs. welcoming them? What natural behavior is playing out for this deer?
The game of hide-and-seek between Lightfoot the Deer and the beautiful newcomer whose dainty hoofprints had first started Lightfoot to seeking her had been going on for several days and nights when Lightfoot found something which gave him a shock. He had gone very softly down to the Laughing Brook, hoping to surprise the beautiful newcomer drinking there. She wasn’t to be seen. Lightfoot wondered if she had been there, so he looked in the mud at the edge of the Laughing Brook to see if there were any fresh prints of those dainty feet. Almost at once he discovered fresh hoofprints. However, they were not the prints he was looking for. They were not the dainty prints he had learned to know so well. They were prints very near the size of his own big ones and they had been made only a short time before.
The finding of those prints was a dreadful shock to Lightfoot. He understood instantly what they meant. They meant that a second newcomer had come into the Green Forest, one who had antlers just like his own.
“He has come here to seek that beautiful newcomer I have been searching for,” thought Lightfoot. “He has come here to take her away from me. He has come from the Great Mountain where that beautiful newcomer must have come from, too. I want her to stay here in the Green Forest with me and I must drive this fellow out.”
Lightfoot stamped his feet and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He threw his head high in the air and whistled angrily. Then he leaped over the Laughing Brook and once more began to search through the Green Forest. However, this time it was not for the beautiful newcomer with the dainty feet. He had no time to think of her now. He must first find this other newcomer and he meant to waste no time in doing so.
Capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!
What time of day do deer move about the most?
Where do the deer sleep? Do the sleep standing up or laying down?
Do the males and the females form a herd together? or separate?
Do deer walk over the same paths or form new paths throughout the forest?
What are you curious about having read 7 chapters about Lightfoot the Deer? Capture your questions in your nature journal!
Deer tracks and scat (aka poop!) and so much more can be found in this handy guide book, Scats and Tracks of the Northeast by James C. Halfpenny, that fits easily in your backpack to take on your next P.L.A.Y.adventure in a field or forest near you!