Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Solstice, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Twice a year, once on December 21st and once on June 21st, we have what we call a solstice. The word, "solstice" translates to "the sun standing still". Here in the northern hemisphere, June 21st is the Summer Solstice - the longest day of the year, the day when we have the most sunlight hours. It beckons in the first day of summer and the slow waning process of the sun - heading to the shortest day which will happen again in 6 months.
The time of the solstice has always been a time of celebration and ritual. The sun is an all important factor in our lives - it is the reason our crops grow and the reason for warm weather - more time to raise food and hunt. People see the longest day of the year as a time to thank the gods for the warmth and the food and to have some fun! It has been the tradition in cold climates, like in Europe, for millenia to build huge bonfires and party all night long to say "thank you" to the sun, to please the gods so that the sun will return again the following year after the winter to come.

I look forward to the seasonal holidays, like Midsummer, so that I can return to my roots, plant my feet deep in the earth, and celebrate the traditions and rituals that have been a part of us for so long. I feel more well-rounded, more whole, when I welcome in ancient celebrations - celebrations that are in tune with the seasons and the movement of the Earth.

Intertwining old stories and past-times into my class routine is essential to my philosophies and goals as a nature teacher. It is so important to reconnect and rebuild the ties to our Earth so that the children can see how everything they do is connected in some way to the rhythms of the planet.

To create a new tradition, I like to take a bit of the old and weave it into a bit of the new.

This year,we decided to make flower wreaths. Flowers have always been symbols of happiness, love, new life, and luck. Cultures all over the world use plants, especially flowers as symbols - it is common to weave the flowers and plants together into a wreath. Wreaths are circles, circles are symbols of eternity- of the cycle of life and death, and never-ending love. The cycle of the sun is part of the circle of life, and therefore, may be part of what is symbolized with a wreath of flowers.

We brought flowers and vines and herbs from our garden, and I was lucky enought to get some inexpensive baby's breath at a road side stand (a common site in Miami) on the way to the park. I know now how to be a bit more organized next time we do something like this (the crafting part of my class is never my forte). It was a bit chaotic, but the kids made some beautiful wreaths. We got in some lovely pictures by the palm trees and then headed to the beach.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is on the southern tip of Key Biscayne, surrounded by Biscayne Bay. In April we visited Biscayne Bay - Crandon Park, and scooped up lots of wonderful creatures in the sea grass with our nets. See my archived blog post about our explorations.

This beach is different than the beach at Crandon Park. The bottom is sandier, with less grass growing. However, because of the shape of the beach and the rock jetty jutting out from the lighthouse, there is an accumulation of sea bracken - dead sea weeds floating in on the current. I was hoping the bracken would be teeming with critters, unfortunately it wasn't.

My goal as a nature educator is to encourage nature appreciation and discovery- which we always accomplish; nonetheless, it is still disappointing when you don't find anything, especially when that is the specific highlight of the outing.

Now, I shouldn't say we didn't find "anything". We found lots and lots of beach fleas and other intertidal bugs; we also found one teeny, tiny shrimp, and a Checkered Nerite sea snail. We looked at the different types of sea grass and learned about their importance as a habitat for baby animals and as a food source for animals, such as the Manatee. I told them about the phenomenon that is the Sargasso Sea and showed them the Sargassum Seaweed that was floating around.

The sun began to edge its way downward to the horizon as we played in the water, parents and children swimming and enjoying the warm, calm water and discovering as they went. Children dug and searched and explored, hoping to catch a glimpse of the world under the water.

I called the kids together and offered them a choice of games to play - either Race for the Sun or Sharks and Minnows. As usual, they chose Sharks and Minnows - the in-the-water version. The lone shark had to eat as many minnows as possible in order to reproduce and make more sharks - so they could eat MORE minnows. None of our minnows got away, we had very hungry sharks!

The sun was touching the tips of the Sea Oats in the dunes by that point, but there was still enough light for sitting on the blankets to eat a picnic dinner. We sat and talked and ate while the kids continued to play. After awhile we wrapped up our beautiful almost summer solstice (it was a few days ahead) evening with a walk along the golden dunes back to the cars.

Once again, thanks to all of my young naturalists, their wonderful families, and, of course, the amazing photographers.

See you outside!

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered that I'm on your bloglist. Thank you! For some reason our paths have never crossed in Blogland, but I'm guessing the connection is The South Florida Watershed Journal. I'm enjoying reading your impressions of homeschooling. We did the same with our kids when they were much younger and have wonderful memories of the experience. I only wish I could have blogged about it "back in the day."


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