Sunday, August 05, 2012

YMCA Camp Kids Take A Walk on the (Mildly) Wild Side

When I arrived at Pettoranello Gardens to help out with a nature walk for kids in a YMCA camp, AeLin Compton of Friends of Princeton Open Space had already started them on a walk of discovery around the pond.
Next on the list of discoveries to be made was the empty shell of a cicada, of which they found many in a tree next to the pond.

The kids already had a photograph of the cicada shell on their clipboards (prepared by walk organizer Martha Friend), which helped them in their search for this and other treasures.

A post on the adult cicada's magical night-time emergence from the shell, and the dangers they face as slow-flying protein in Princeton, can be found here:
While the group headed towards its final stop, I was distracted by leaves that were a ghost of their former selves.
The leaves had been meticulously nibbled, leaving the veins intact, looking like fine lacework.
The craftsmen, boxelder leafrollers, were working nearby on a fresh leaf.
Box elder is not as statuesque as its close relatives in the maple family, but my respect for it has been growing, not for its beauty but for its hospitality to wildlife. This leaf (three leaflets per leaf) has been made ragged by its generous contributions to faunal appetites.
The trunk is typically knobby and riddled with holes that provide fine havens for birds and other creatures. Boxelder's "trashy" qualities of low-grade wood, awkward profile and short lifespan can be seen as an auspicious weakness that serves the woodland community well.
When I caught up, AeLin was showing the kids how a jewelweed's leaf gains a metallic sheen when put underwater.
After a cup of lemonade and a stirring "thank you" to their guides, the campers headed back across 206, framed by counselors fore and aft, carrying their mementos from a walk on the mildly wild side of Princeton's Community Park.

Walk organizer Martha Friend, science teacher at Little Brook Elementary during the school year, put considerable initiative into making this one-time walk happen. Given how close various summer camps at Community Park and the Y are to the preserved woodlands of Pettoranello Gardens and beyond, and a naturalist just down the driveway at Mountain Lakes House, maybe there's a way, without too much extra effort, for these guided walks to become a regular part of the camp experience.

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