Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's Do the Gumbo Limbo and Celebrate Spring!!

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Boca Raton, Florida
March 17 and 19, 2009

Happy Spring from The Nature Teacher and Every Child Outside!!

The Spring Equinox was this past Friday at around 11:34 am. We tried to balance an egg on it's tip, but lo, and behold, it didn't work! We tried again later, it still didn't work!

We did have just about 12 hours of day, and 12 hours of night - with the sun sharing it's warmth and light equally between us and the folks down undah (code for the southern hemisphere).

Spring is the time of birth and rebirth, a time of renewal and growth. Here in Florida it's a bit different then up north where the snow is melting, allowing green buds to spring forth. Down here it is a time of renewal through rain. Last week was perfect! In the beginning of the week we were puckered like lemons due to the lack of rain and moisture (on Tuesday we were about 11 inches below our average rainfall for March), by Friday we were soaked through and ready for the sun to shine again.

Personally, I love the rain. At the end of the dry season I start craving the humidity, the dark and brewing clouds, and the sound of thunder. We had one little weak peep of thunder one of the days, but barely enough to send the dog under the bed!

The lovely spring rain ushered in a new season for us here in South Florida, not quite the Wet Season, but definitely the Spring Season.

Life has come back, the grass is greener, the leaves are perky and ready to photosynthesize, the flowers are blooming and the birds are cheerful. The air is clear and fresh and the skies are blue and we are staying below 80 Degrees Fahrenheit. It's paradise!

It was a perfect time to be visiting the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton. If you haven't been there yet, you must go!! It is a place small in structure, but large in content. There is an extensive nature center and gift store, full of fun stuff for adults and children. Out back is a building dedicated to Sea Turtle research by FAU students, another building dedicated to teaching visiting children from nearby communities, 4 giant tanks full of reef fish, sharks, rays, and turtles...oh, I can't forget the GINORMOUS lobsters that parade around the tanks! There is an adorable Loggerhead Turtle and a much larger Olive Ridley Turtle.

There are cute little baby turtles - Green, Loggerhead, Ridley- donned with cute little backpacks, training to go out into the endless depths of the ocean (they will be tracked by satellite from their little packs). You can learn more about the research programs and watch the turtles movements in the ocean if you go to their site - http://www.gumbolimbo.org/.

They also have a fabulous Gopher Tortoise habitat, complete with several tortoises of different sizes demonstrating their tremendous digging abilities.

I must not forget the hammock! There is a lovely and historic strip of hardwood hammock at Gumbo Limbo. It is a bit different from the hammock we visited in Key Largo - the ground is higher, more rich in soil - the limestone is buried deeper, allowing for taller and larger trees. Because it is quite a ways north, the hammock doesn't have all of the same trees and animals as in Key Largo, but does have many in common; such as, the Gumbo Limbo, the Lancewood, the Pigeon Plum, the Strangler Fig, and more. It is tropical jungle (as I heard a tourist proclaim). The land here was an important homesite for natives for thousands of years - you can see their landfill - a pile of shells left over from ocean harvests and feasts - a waste pile much more ecological then our mountains of waste.

When there on Tuesday it was dry and shriveled, returning on Thursday we met a different place - fresh and lively - it even looked greener!! We climbed the tall tower and got a view of the intracoastal and the Atlantic - blue and sparkling. We looked down to the canopy of the trees, spying for a view of life in the tops of the trees.

There is another trail over on the other side that is home to the butterfly garden and a mangrove beach that lies along the intracoastal waterway. While strolling in the butterfly garden we saw Zebra Longwings and Monarchs and Giant Swallowtails. We observed and collected seeds and learned about birth and rebirth.

Our focus was on new life and how it all starts in nature - through eggs and seeds. They are so alike!

The seed and the egg (the ovums) are patient. They sit and wait - hoping to be sprinkled with the magic fairy dust of the sperm. Then they wait some more - hoping for the perfect conditions - nourishment, light, energy, a place to grow. Then they sprout, or hatch, or are born forth into the world - again, needing the perfect conditions so that they can grow, and then, themselves continue the cycle.

The children were eager to find seeds. Once they knew what to look for, we saw them everywhere - hitching a ride on our pants (Spanish Needle), or blowing in the wind, or hanging in pods on the Cassia tree. We found tiny mango fruits on the shore and opened them to see the seed.

We found Red mangrove propagules (long cigar-like seeds) floating by or stuck in the sand. We then noticed that some of them had taken root and were sprouting new little mangrove leaves - open to the sun.

We looked at a chicken egg and examined it's insides.

You'd think this wouldn't be exciting to most people, even kids, because almost everyone has opened a chicken egg. But, no, it was sooooo, very exciting. We saw the stringy white chord that would attach to the embryo if it was fertilized, we learned that the yolk is like the placenta - food for the embryo, and we noticed how very similar the egg was to the inside of the seed!!

To tie it all together we looked at some beautiful books I discovered while researching: "A Seed is Sleepy", and "An Egg is Quiet" - both by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long, and "Eggs" by Marilyn Singer. They are gorgeous books with wonderful, detailed illustrations. You will be amazed at the variety of eggs out there in the wide world - the round ping pong eggs of the sea turtle to the unusual "mermaid's purse" of the rays and sharks.
We joyfully sang the song: "Roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds". Then, to the excitement of the children, we had egg races! There were two teams, the first person in line had a wooden spoon, and the lines faced each other - single file. I placed an egg on one spoon and the child had to carry it on the spoon and transfer it to the other team's spoon, and so-on. I added some challenges - like turning in a circle, walking backward or sideways, or stopping. It was great fun, even the little teeny tinies loved and did so well. I think our youngest was 2!!

After playing, we visited the nature center. One of my favorite things about this facility is how well they educate their many, many visitors. The boardwalk is lined with informative signs - describing how we, as people, are destroying what we love. While walking along the boardwalk, we learned that it takes 450 years for a disposable diaper to decompose and 650 years for plastic fishing line to break down! During those hundreds of years, the waste might be the demise of a sea turtle or bird or fish - strangling or choking a hungry animal. We learned that street lights confuse the turtles once they hatch - they are supposed to head to the light reflecting on the ocean (which should be the brightest light around), instead they head toward the street and their likely deaths. We saw that balloons are usually unnecessary and may choke a sea turtle who thinks they are eating a jelly.

We hiked through the "jungle" and learned amazing facts about the life that calls the forest, "home".

Most memorably, we spent a good hour excitedly watching the sea life in the giant water tanks.

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is an extraordinary place, a place that reminds us just how extraordinary our world is!

You better get outside!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to tell me what you think of the blog, I'd love to hear from you! Christy