Information from Naturalist Guide

JP, our new Ranger guide, arrives. We head out toward Mt. Baldy with Katy's class.

The kids want to know why JP has a walkie talkie. He says it is for bad weather and an emergency situation. As we walk, R plays soccer with C's apple. Katy tells the girls to "get with the class."

We pause and gather at the Mt. Baldy sign. The Ranger says, "I'm Jean Pierre." "My buddies call me J.P. I like questions."

He asks the kids, "Why do you think it is called Mt. Baldy?"
They say, "Because nothing grows on it." and "It sticks up in the air."
He says it is also called "smoking dome." "Why is this? There is nothing to catch fire."
The kids say that the wind blows the sand.
"Yes, it is the wind off the lake that blows the sand and it looks like fog or smoke."
He tells the kids that Mt. Baldy moves 4-5 feet a year.

It is moving into the forest that lies between us and the sand dune. "What will happen next?" he asks.
"The forest will be buried in sand," the kids predict.
JP tells them that there is a very special kind of tree, the cottonwood, that cannot be buried. He tells us to listen for why and how later in the hike.

JP tells us that there are three rules to follow on the hike.
"I'm going to be the leader."
"Stay on the trail," and
"Let's have fun, but of course you have to listen."
We head out.

He spies a columbine in bloom and goes to it, pointing it out as "one of my favorite flowers."

Farther down the path he points out poison ivy. "Leaves of three, let it be," he says.

But he explains that many other plants have leaves of three, so he holds up his fingers to explain how the vein structure is shaped and the shape of leaves with a middle leaf "like a football" and the outer leaves like "hands with thumbs."
In addition, the leaves can be red, the berries are white and the leaves are shiny.
"If you contact poison ivy," he explains, "wash the contacted area with soap and water. Use cold water, because hot water opens your pores. Cold water closes the pores."
Poison ivy is not useless. "Animals eat the leaves and birds eat the berries."

I am struck by the diagram of this activity. We move from station to station and hear the appropriate information. We are "receivers" that can fine tune the information by asking questions. I wonder whether students will be able to set the agenda (or reset it,) whether this structure can be open to responding to the moment, or whether the weight of the time limit and set number of stations closes the process to serendipity.

We pause on the trail for JP to point out a Virginia Creeper vine on a tree. We move down the trail.

We pause again for JP to point out a tree trunk standing near the trail. It is a giant black oak. JP explains the tree is decomposing.
He grabs a fist full of soil from the center of the tree
and passes it around to some boys standing near him. The kids smell the soil in their hands. We move on before many kids get to touch the "soil."

We pause and JP explains "this is a habitat. It is a black oak forest. What other kinds of habitat are there?" The kids call out others -- savanna, marsh, dunes, wetlands. JP adds desert and the lake, "Lake Michigan is a habitat. Habitat must contain food, shelter, water, air and space," he explains. "Food, water, shelter, space. Habitat is a wonderful space," he chants. Like the Pied Piper, he leads the kids on down the trail chanting this couplet.

We pause by a tree that hangs over the trail. You can see beneath it that the soil of this area rests on a sand dune.

We pause again. JP points out witch hazel. He explains that it disperses its seeds by shooting them out when the tree is disturbed. Then he talks about other means of dispersal. There are clinger seeds that attach to animals. There are seeds that are eaten by animals and then dispersed in scat. These "are distributed in little fertilizer packets." he explains.

We come out of the forest and into the bright sun.


A boy finds a snail and brings it to me to photograph, but does not interrupt the Ranger.


JP leads us to a recent "blow out" in the dunes, where the children gather around him, sitting on the sand. From my perspective on the rim, it looks like he and the children are sitting in the giant scoop of a hand

JP explains that there is a leeward and windward side of a dune. "Which is leeward?" he asks. (these questions give kids a chance to draw upon their previous knowledge.) C says it is the "side of the dune that is sheltered."
"Exactly," JP responds. He then illustrates both concepts with his hands.

Charlotte is standing next to me. She comments, "If you don't teach the children young enough, they won't get this. And then its too late."

JP explains that marram grass stops sand from moving across the area, it makes the dune stable.

"This is a blow out," he explains. It used to be filled with sand, but the wind has blown the sand away. "What happened to the plants that grew at the top of the dune?"
"They are gone," the children say.
JP explains that once a "trail cut across the living dune." and "People walking on the grass killed the grass. There was no vegetation to hold the soil, so (wind) erosion created the blowout, making this big hole in the dune."

R. raises her hand.She has noticed that there are fragments of wooden walkway mostly buried in the dune.

"Why did they build the walkways there?" she asks.
JP explains that sometimes managers will sacrifice one area by making a trail. It is better to have a guided disturbance than it is to have everyone crossing an area off the trail.

"But didn't that (walkway) cause a disturbance?" R asks.
"Obviously things got worse because now there is only sand covering the wooded walkway."

"You're right," says JP. "It didn't work. They messed up. Sometimes the planners do mess up. It was silly to place a trail through a living dune. You should only make a trail on a stable dune. That's the best question I every had."

He then talks about "succession."
C. says it means "the order of what happens with dunes, how the sand gradually becomes covered by plants."
JP explains, "This blow out is the best place for succession to happen. It is like a baby growing older. Changes happen. A fresh blow out is a baby. In time it changes. Look over here, plants are already moving in here."
He points to new tufts of grass at the edge of the dune.
"If left alone, succession would happen here. Plants would stabilize the dune, make soil, more plants would move in, it would become forest, eventually.

Katy asks the kids, "What is the missing ingredient in succession?"
"Time," they respond.
JP says that he wants to talk about diversity next.
"Bio-diversity," the kids call you.
"Yes," he says, "You guys are incredible."
He tells them that there are 370 National park lands. The Indiana Dunes is ranked number 4 in bio-diversity. There are 1400 different plants and animals living within its boundaries. He names 6 different kinds of snake.
L asks, "Do you allow parties here?"
"Sure. People picnic here all the time," JP says.
"Won't that ruin it even more?" she asks.
For the first time, JP does not quite know what to say.


He moves on to how Lake Michigan was formed.
Using the sand, he shows how the glacier pushed up hills and left a giant hole that formed the lake.

Charlotte uses this moment to say that some kids need to go down to the lake and get a water sample. They will test the water when we return to school.

We move along out of the blow out toward the leeward edge of the big dune.

E and C are dismissed to go down for the water sample.

They are told to meet up with us on the far dune. We take the path, they head down the dune to the lake shore.

K and L come up to me.
"Look at the beautiful bug over there." they say.They take me to a bush with a sparkling bug on it, that is very beautiful. I photograph it. Then we hurry to catch the group.

The group pauses to inspect the vista of a power plant on the water's edge.

It is coal powered. JP explains that it pollutes the air, but then people also want electricity. "How do we strike a balance?" he asks. "You have to get your power from somewhere. Would you do with less electricity to reduce the pollution caused by its production?" he wonders.

We walk on. We notice a black line curving on the dune's surface. It is the line of the old forest, JP explains.

We reach the top of the leeward side of the dune. The dune drops off at a steep slope.


A few cottonwood trees stand on the rim.

JP explains that as the sand covers the tree, it sends out roots and keeps growing. The cottonwoods here go down 35 feet. That's how they keep from being covered by the sand, by growing taller as the dune gets deeper.

He tells the kids they can go down the dune, but not to run.
"Either walk or go on your bottom." he directs.
"Can we roll?" someone asks
R says to L, "I'm going on my butt."
As the kids start down the dune,

Katy tells them to stop and wait at the bottom.

E rolls down the dune, going very fast.

The other kids watch. At the bottom he stands up and cries out, "Roll down, its the awesomest." The other boys start to roll. Then some of the girls roll.

When everyone is down, Rick takes a photo from the top, and then walks back using the inside trail with T. who did not want to go down the steep slope.

JP gives his final part of the talk.
"This place, like other park areas, belongs to you." he tells them. "So take care of it. Come back often, but remember, you cannot collect anything." He says that when he was a kid he collected stones and mushrooms. "I didn't know" he explains. "But now I know, so I don't do it."

He takes out a cottonwood branch he took from some girls in the group who had picked it from a tree. He says, "They should not have picked it, but they didn't know." Then he shows us how the seeds disperse, and passes the branch around. C comes to me and asks me to feel the center of the seed cluster." It feels silky," she says.

We leave the dune.

When we arrive in the bus area.

The kids brush off sand and dump sand from their shoes.

"Let's make a dune, guys" one of the girls says.

C says that it was hard to climb back up the dune from the lake (after getting the lake water sample.) We could hear E panting from where we were," R says.

Rick and Katy talk about the last part of the trip. The roll down the hill was "a good way to end it." Rick says the kids "learned stuff," but also had "fun." The afternoon reinforced the information presented in the morning.

On the way home, Charlotte shows me her sketch book.She has worked out perspective of different drawings and settled on pastels and water color as medium for the work next week.

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