Thursday, February 16, 2012


Sock-hiking Station (to keep the ticks out!!)

Field trip day!!!

Smiley face / frowny face.

Loaded up my truck with boys, bags, and one other mom. Made it to the park without getting lost. Then...noticed I had no service. None.  No uploading pics. No tweeting. No facebooking. No nothing. Just me and them and nature. For HHHOOOUUURRRSSS!!!  And I instantly regretted not having picked up my venti chai before leaving town.

Pre-hike Huddle
As the naturalist begins to explain the plan for the day, literally rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and combing her bedhead hair with her fingers, it becomes very clear that she must've just rolled in about 5 minutes ago. Unable to decide if we were gonna first go down by the lake or up onto the hill, or whether she even had any actual artifacts with her today to show, or whether she was gonna eat or wear her homemade jewelry, I wondered briefly if anyone would really notice if I just took my kid and ditched.

What luck! Owl puke!!!
Not 20 yards into our hike, though, Nelly the Naturalist stops all excitedly because, oh my God, look how serendipitous, a fresh pile of owl puke! Yay!! scream all the third graders. And then, look, kids, another lucky find, a ton of little dead mice heads nearby. Wait, she says, it's because they were IN the owl vomit!! And then, with all eyes on her, she begins to dig into the owl pellet and pry it open. She brings it up to her nose and inhales deeply. "Ooooh," she says, and all 26 kids take two steps closer.  All 12 parents take 3 steps back.

And Mice Carcasses Inside!!
Another 10 yards and lo and behold, our sharp-as-a-tack guide misses the turnoff for our trail. Yay! Let's put her in charge of leading our children thru poison oak and rattlesnakes!!

How is it, again, that I do not own a flask?

At the top of the hill, she explains to us that the Ohlone people used tulle to make their dome homes because it was flexible, a good insulator, and bouyant. Great info, right? Yeah, except that without taking a breath, she then points to a domed concrete enclosure at the top of the other hill, says something about sewer, and then about football stadiums.

Ohlone dome hut
made from tulle
Everyone looks completely confused. My son, especially, having particular difficulty envisioning Lucas Oil Stadium made entirely out of sewer-laden tulle.  But their teacher immediately shook her head and with quick teacher-to-student gestures, stealthily explained that the two had nothing to do with the other.

All the kids smiled and nodded. Gertie the Guide, completely oblivious, just kept right on trucking.

Taking a turn down the hill and towards the lake, Naturalist Nancy stops and squats. The children descend upon her. I can barely hear what she's saying from beneath the pile of third grader appendages, but she appears to be putting something in her mouth, and a few of the kids nearest her also seem to be chewing something (gum, as it later turned out).

'Shroooooooms, dude!
Two things cross my mind at this point: 1) my child better not be putting anything in his mouth that was growing in the middle of this trail, and 2) she never washed her hands after the owl puke thing.

As she begins to explain the nutritional aspects of mushrooms, which she unnervingly continues to refer to as "'shrooms," one of the kids asks her how people back then knew which ones were poisonous. Rather than provide the obvious answer that when someone died, that's how you knew that one was poisonous, she instead launches into a whole diatribe about how THE Coyote told them.  With arms swirling in the sky, she sing-songs about the great spirits who created the world, and how there are Animal People all around us, her eyes wistfully searching the trees and valleys.  I looked around at the terrified parents, wide-eyed and mouths agape, and was just about to interrupt when Nature Girl finally comes back from her 60's reverie and says, "Soooo that's another answer to your question, Eva, where was the beginning?"

"Ummm..." says Eva.

"Ok, let's keep moving," says Oblivious Olive.

The dazed and confused followed Sleepy Scenic Sue around another corner and down another trail. And just as we were about to step down towards the lake, one of the kids points to a pile on the ground and yells, "Owl pellets!" They all rush in, bend down, and are just about to touch it when our naturalist luckily snaps out of her nature zone just in time to stop them from picking up and shoving into their faces what was actually mountain lion poo.

Find of the day: a dead crawfish
So we tromp off around the muddy shoreline where single-file-please means absolutely nothing to anyone, when suddenly the third graders are all squealing and congregating again. Why are the grown ups always the last to know? By the time we get over to them, they're passing around a dead crawfish that Chago found and claimed, like it's gold, and they're all giggling at the smell of it and making jokes that only 8-year-olds and, apparently, state park naturalists, get.

Once we finally make it up to the education center, and I'm looking desperately towards the sky for the rain clouds we'd been promised, she pulls out a bunch of recreated artifacts for the kids to touch and feel. Every few seconds, she runs her hands thru her hair, looking a lot like Gene Wilder and more than a little flustered by the presence of so many children, as though she had just looked up and they'd suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

Chago as a tree
"Oh, look," she says, pointing to the top of a nearby tree. Her face is instantly awash with regret. All 26 children get up from where they'd been quietly seated and run over to where she is, encircling her like Lord of the Flies as they ooh and ahh over the tiny little blackbird whose name I didn't catch between her exasperated sighs.

Did she not know she was working with 8-year-olds today, I wondered? Did our real guide call in sick?

one of the bezillion versions of 3rd grade tag
But then it was time to picnic, which was truly the best part of the day. We all pulled out our no-waste lunches, spread out our blankets and munched under the sun. And for the first time since we've been here I noticed how beautiful this space is. It wasn't hard to imagine the Ohlone people living here. It's a perfect little self-sustaining valley. Rolling grassy hills covered with mature oak trees. A lake that, although sadly depleted right now, could easily have been filled with all manner of fish and wildlife and laughing children.

But then, with the sun on my face and the slightest cool breeze in my hair, just as I was beginning to imagine how lovely a very large glass of syrah and a generous charcuterie and cheese plate would be, we moved into Ohlone games and activities, which, among other things, resulted in a surprising little lesson about how peeing on deerhide can make it soft enough to rub against your cheek.

Uh...yeah...thanks for that one.

Ohlone "dice" game
Spearing the rolling hole game

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