Plant Identification in the Dunes and Woodland -- Orientation While Passing to Field Sites
(These are ethnographic Field Notes reconstructed from written notes made on site as the activities took place. They are in first person from the point of view of the documenter. The photographs are from slides taken at the same time. --Cynthia Porter Gehrie, Ph.D.)
Phase One: Moving to First Measurement Site

After demonstrating the use of measurement tools, the Ranger led the class to a field site, on the way she pointed out plants and other features of the ecosystems.

CK stops at places along the trail and points out plants to the students. She explains that the kind of plant changes as we enter areas where soil has developed on top of the dune.

CK pauses to point out poison ivy. She says it grows in many habitats and is especially well adapted. "People are the only animals that get poison ivy rash." About 50-60 different kinds of birds eat its berries.

She identifies a plant that has three different leaf shapes at various locations around the plant.

She breaks off a leaf from a mint plant and passes it around for the students to smell.

She points out a spider wort.

CK stops to point out a mole hole. She says she thinks it is a mole hole because it is near a mole tunnel. She points out witch hazel and says that its wood was used to make divining rods when settlers searched for water. Its liquid is used for cleaning.

We are now in a new habitat, the oak forest. CK points out some pine trees that do not belong there. They were planted near a house that used to be in this area. CK also points out bracken.

Next she points out false Solomon's Seal. Why seal? Because the roots, if you dug them up, are shaped like a seal. Solomon was a king who studied botany, so they called it Solomon's seal.

We inspect a black berry. CK explains that it grows in the "micro-climate" that is formed along the trail side when more light reaches the ground because of the trail opening. A boy asks whether there is poison oak. CK says, "It is not supposed to be in this region." She says that in the wetlands there is one poisonous rattlesnake. Katy says that she has seen poison ivy vines as thick as a branch.

CK points out "a new kind of grass."
"Is it Marram grass?"
"No," say the kids.
"Good," she replies, "Why is the marram grass not here?"
"Because it is a different habitat." respond the kids.
CK explains that there is sand here beneath the soil. "You are walking on the dune. Long ago this was a dune and there was marram grass. This is an example of succession, the process by which it became an oak forest. Succession is the changing of plants that grow in an area over time. As plants moved onto the dune, they decomposed and made soil. As the soil increased, different plants were established in the more abundant soil.

It is raining lightly on us.

We look for animals. We listen for birds. CK explains that different birds live in different habitats. Mega notices some ants on a plant. CK responds by saying that they look like "flying ants." and adds, "good observation."
CK tells us we are now near the wetland and we will take a set of measurements here. After taking measurements at the first site, we move down the trail to the second site.

Phase Two: Moving to Next Measurement Site

We start down the trail. The kids walk by many holes and neat things they do not see except for when things are pointed out at a stopping place, directed by CK.

We are now entering the oak savanna habitat. CK says it "needs to be burned to get rid of all the baby oak trees. The flowers don't grow unless the area is burned." she explains. She stops and points out a lovely lavender flower, lupine.

Phase Three: Nature Walk Through the Dunes after Taking Measurements

We start off again down the hill. They move fast, loving the sense of run-falling down the slope. Mr. Sitz (gym teacher) comments to me, "The kids need that, a little bit of burst of energy. They need to take a break."

The path becomes slippery. CK stops the kids and warns them that it is slippery and they should slow down. Then she sets the pace by leading the group slowly, taking the lead position followed by a long line of children snaking down the steep path.

At one point we stop to listen for animals. CK thinks she hears a red squirrel.

She tells of hearing three different birds, each in a different habitat. A whipper will in the woods, a great horned owl in the wetland and a woodcock in a grassy area.

I notice, as we move down the path, that the size of the group pulls it along, down the trail. It is a magnet that keeps kids from stopping to explore. It channels the kids down the path, they do not disperse, their attention is directed by CK, the focal point/leader.

Katy stops to inspect a tree. The group moves on, but then she realizes it is a sassafras tree. She does back to take a photograph.

On the trail, E Whispers to J, "Beware of the cat."

We leave the oak forest and cross to the dunes.


The lake is below us.As she starts down to the lake, R calls back to K, "Mrs. Beck, this would be a good poem thing." K tell me that the students are writing poems about habitat.

The kids are down on the beach, listening to CK.

The teachers have found a skull in the dunes. Rick Sitz says, "I'd say its a dog."
He comments on the teeth shape.

Katy gets some film from me to photograph the skull.

She says, "I'm sorry the kids didn't see this."

Rick thinks that other parts of the animal must be around here. He looks around at other places near the skull.

Meanwhile, the students are on the beach below us, gathered around CK, listening to her. Charlotte (the art teacher) is sketchingon the beach. (Later Charlotte showed me her sketch pad. She explained that she was trying to match the subject with various media she would have the kids use to sketch these habitats back at school.)

The kids are released to look at the water. Some kids start to skip stones.

Soon, all the kids are lined up along the waters edge, throwing stones.

Rick picks up a stone and says, "This is going to be a fiver."

CK calls to the kids, "Okay, you can run up the dune now."

The kids peel away from the lake and run toward the dune.

CK calls out, "You have about one minute, then we have to go."

A minute later she calls to the kids,"All right, pack up, we have to go."

We walk the road back to the ranger station.

Katy falls back with me and two girls. she stops to show the girls a seed pod on a plant along the road. She stops to exclaim at a pine filled with pollen at the new growth of cones. She takes a photograph.

We board the bus. The teachers check for seat belts. We go to the Mt. Baldy area where we will eat lunch.

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