This is the season when the sun shines up from the ground. The golden leaves of birch, maple, and aspen now carpet the forest floor, and reflect a special glow even on gray and rainy days when dense clouds hide the real sun. The sweet smell of damp, decaying leaves reminds us that they were sugar factories all summer long, making food out of thin air.
From the feel of chilly morning air pouring into your lungs, to the nostalgic smell of wood smoke, and the tinkle of skim ice breaking, fall is a season for the senses. Harsh and exciting calls from wild geese rise above leafless, bony gray twigs, and drift down to our ears with the first flakes of snow. Those fallen leaves crunch and rustle underfoot. At dawn, they sparkle with a rime of fairy-dust frost, then darken and molder slowly into a soggy wet mat as the sun softens the frost and starts the biological engines of decay chugging.
This is also the season for MuseumMobile programs, and several times a week I visit local schools for a full day of teaching in the classroom. I share a 30-45 minute nature lesson with each classroom of kindergarten-through-sixth graders. We talk about things like symbiosis, coal formation and mining, owl adaptations, food webs, tree parts, and spiders.
The kindergarten lesson is one of my favorites. Excitement stirs in the children as soon as I enter the room carry a large tub. “What’s in there?” They can’t wait to see! We talk briefly about exploring nature through our senses, and point to our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and tongue, reviewing just what those five senses are. Then I pass around a screen-covered sniffing-cup full of white cedar needles, and three cloth bags filled with various natural items from the Museum’s collection for the students to explore only with their sense of touch.
What fun to watch their eyes light up as they recognize a deer antler by the smooth feel of the bone! Little noses scrunch up to help eyes stay shut to keep from peeking. Sometimes excitement gets the best of someone and they blurt out the name of the object. They are just so proud to know something about nature! Five year olds here in our beautiful Northwoods know more about nature than the twelve-year-olds I used to teach from inner city San Francisco.
The grand finale of the kindergarten lesson is the snapping turtle shell. Bigger than my popcorn bowl, its shiny brown scales are fun for little fingers to rub and explore. We look at its backbone, and feel our own vertebrae, too. Then, everyone gets to be a turtle! One by one I place the shell on the back of a huddled student, and announce “Bobby the Turtle!” and then “Susie the Turtle!” to a swarm of their giggling friends. As the “turtle” beams up at me with the joy of fun and natural connection lighting up their eyes, I think again: this is truly the season when the sun shines up from the ground.
For over 44 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. The new exhibit, STAR POWER: Energy from the Sun, opened in May 2012 and will remain open until April, 2013.
Find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Discover us on Facebook, or at our blogspot, http://cablemuseumnaturalconnections.blogspot.com/