unschooling

Southern California

We took a week and made a trip to California, to visit the ocean.

On the way we stopped and explored Zzyxz, an old mineral springs spa town which has been taken over by a school for wildlife research but still has some abandoned buildings to roam. It was so incredibly hot, but still worth a short detour. The bath house was there, with an outdoor pool and some window frames looking away toward the mountains.

Here Gavin is “swimming” in the pool.

Nearby is a lodging house with tiny rooms in a long row. We found the whole area fascinating.

We also spotted some bighorn sheep along the road there.

The tide wasn’t super low for tidepooling when we were at the beach but we looked in them anyway and found a bunch of creatures roaming. We saw anemones, an urchin, a few ochre stars, mussels, barnacles of several types, hermit crabs, bigger crabs, fish, sea hares ranging from the size of a finger to the size of a melon, periwinkle and moon snails, a keyhole limpet, and some serpula.

 

The kids spent a bunch of time bodyboarding and wading and Chris and I got in a bit too. One afternoon we spotted a small bunch of dolphins off shore.

I had a lot of fun trying out my new macro lens that attaches to my phone! It was tricky to use on tidepools because it needs to be so close the subject so I mostly used it on dry or recently washed up items. These are a lobster tail, a crystalline iceplant seedpod, kelp, driftwood, seaweed. I really enjoyed messing about with it and am looking forward to doing much more. Thanks, Mama and Daddy!

Several nights, Chris and I got to take night walks on the beach as there was one a block from the place we stayed. It was lovely. We watched the waves and the birds.

On the way out of town we stopped at a sculpture garden to see “Bunny Henge.”

Farewell for now, Ocean. We’ll see you soon.

On our drives, we listened to the first two books in the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, and began Rivals, Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick.

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summer mountains

In the past month we’ve been trying to squeeze in a lot of mountain time. It’s been so hot here in the valley and cooler in the canyons, plus there’s more wildflowers, wildlife and cleaner air.

We’ve been up in City Creek Canyon and Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood and all the way over to Ophir Canyon with friends and on our own.

Yesterday we went up in the Uintahs, a little further from home for the first trip of the season and it was so lovely! There was a short rainstorm so we sheltered under some pines. The flowers were blooming everywhere and the kids and I are enjoying saying hello to the ones we already know and using iNaturalist app to identify and observe things we don’t know the names of. We only had a little over an hour yesterday so we’re planning to go back next week and spend some more time up there.

We took the path around the lakes, further from the other hikers, and got to see some fish hiding under logs in the water and lots of birds.

There were so many dragon and damsel flies and the heartleaf arnica, columbine, monkshood, corn lily, paintbrush, fireweed, yarrow, elephant head, shooting star, white bog orchids, pearly everlasting, western bluebell, wild geranium and penstemon were all plentifully blooming along with others I don’t yet know. I love learning to identify flowers and plants! It’s so fun to be able to call them by name.

We spotted several fungi types and were able to identify a few of those too.

I had the amazing experience of finding a hidden bird nest on the ground, totally obscured by the flowers and plants growing near the lake. I was stepping toward the water when a bird flew out from right in front of my feet, so, figuring there had to be a reason the bird stayed with me so close for so long, I carefully looked through the plants in front of me, hoping I had not stepped on eggs. A foot or so away, I found a nest hiding so well, it would be impossible to find unless you saw the bird going in or out. There were three or four tiny babies inside, hoping for food. Such a thrill! We identified the mom as a White Crowned Sparrow but the babies were just pink lumpy creatures with beaks and tiny whispers of down.

I’d hoped to find the nest again the next week and see how they were growing. So we went back and we did find them! They had changed a lot in 6 days!

We also spotted a boreal chorus frog. I saw it leaping and was able to catch it so the kids could see it too. Lilah held it for a while and we listened to the tiny noises it made.

The kids spotted a beaver dam across the lake from the frog.

I can’t wait to go back into the summer mountains. They are so beautiful and exciting and full of life.

 

 

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Snow Canyon

We camped in Snow Canyon this past week. It showed us an array of Southern Utah spring weather while we were there from chilly and rainy to windy to warm and sunny and finally, hot and sunny!

We did a bunch of hiking as well as some just sitting and enjoying.

We saw many lizards, bats who came out at dusk and flitted around looking for insects, a canyon tree frog, a tiny scorpion who’d been sheltering underneath our tent and who we found as we were packing up, tadpoles in pools, tent caterpillars roving around their netted homes in bushes and trees, mountain bighorn sheep, deer and we heard an owl our last night there.

 

The rock formations there are beautiful, large and sloping and white, coral, pink, red sandstone. There is some black volcanic rock there from an old volcano as well. It is a fun place to explore and near so many other great places too, like Zion and Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We played in the sand dunes for a bit one evening and enjoyed the orange sand.

There are petroglyphs nearby from Anasazi people who lived in the area long ago. They’ve found many artifacts and remnants of houses and other ancient spaces made by the Anasazi there too though the one we passed by wasn’t much to look at since it was an underground space and has been buried by years of sand and weather.

We admired many wildflowers and blooming shrubs and trees, beautiful in the rain with tiny jeweled drops perched on their leaves and petals and in the sun, glowing.

 

Now we are home and enjoying spring in our yard, opening our windows, picking flowers, reveling in the sunshine.

 

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camping in Anza Borrego & Organ Pipe

We headed down south to find some flowers and sunshine with my parents.

Our first stop was a night in Las Vegas with Chris before he had to head back home to work. We enjoyed Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. It was beautiful and fun and funny and we had a lovely time watching it together.

Next my parents and the three of us headed further south into California to Anza Borrego, a high desert which often boasts desert superblooms early in the year. This year we were a bit early for some of the flowers but we found a few spots where the sandy desert was covered in rich colored petals and it was magical. The smells were so lovely in the windy air.

We found a slot canyon (my kids favorite natural formation type!) and that was a fun hike. It was narrow enough to have to go sideways in spots and Lilah spotted a tarantula in the wash. Wow!

Almost every morning we were there we saw rainbows.

We spotted some desert bighorn sheep traveling along the mountain above our campsite and got a good look with my parents’ spotting scope.

Up the canyon from the campsite there’s a palm oasis, such a strange change of environment from a mile lower where the world seems to be just sand and rock. There was quite a bit of water and the palms looked happy and healthy with little ones sprouting and fruits hanging from the big ones. The kids found a spot behind the dry palm leaves and the rock that was sort of like a little cave.

We heard frogs each night so one day just after dark we headed to the pond the noise was coming from with our flashlights and after some long minutes we spotted one and then two! We watched them blow up their necks and make incredibly loud songs to each other even though they were only the size of a quarter or so.

Each night we saw more stars than you can ever see at home. We looked at constellations and I saw several falling stars.

Then we moved camp to Organ Pipe National Monument. I’d never been there before. It was gorgeous with cactus everywhere in so many varieties and stages of life and death. We saw saguaro, organ pipe, senita or gray bearded, barrel, prickly pear, hedgehog, cholla. We really enjoyed watching (and listening to) all the birds in the campsite! There were so many and they liked all the cactus and bushes near camp. We identified quite a few varieties with my parents’ guidebooks. Two types I know I spotted were the Gila woodpecker which liked sitting  on the saguaro tops and the cactus wren who seemed to be interested in building a nest in a cholla, covered in spikes everywhere!

We ventured into some washes right near the US-Mexico border and saw lots of huge cactus with some wildflowers and lots of dead and decaying cactus too which was fascinating to see. Lilah particularly liked the giant cholla skeletons, full of lacy holes. The sunsets were beautiful. Lilah captured this one.

We hiked up a mountain searching for flowers. We didn’t make it all the way to the top of the trail because it was super steep and we only had an hour of daylight left but we saw plenty of beautiful views on our way.

We learned saguaro don’t put out arms until they are ninety years old. We learned there are bats who migrate from Mexico to feed on and pollinate the pipe organ cactus every year. We checked out some natural water tanks (spots in rocks that fill up with water) and an old adobe building.

We looked for elf owls who nest in holes in saguaro but never saw any. We did luck out, spotting a big horned owl nesting in a saguaro and got to look at it with the scope as well as some of us spotting it’s mate in a nearby tree on our way out.

We stopped for a night in Tucson on our way home and visited the Sonoran Desert Museum, which is a bit more like a zoo. They had great live animal exhibits. We particularly enjoyed seeing the cougars, bear, bobcats, ocelot, screech owl, burrowing owl and hummingbirds. The hummingbirds let you get very close to them which was really fun. Some were very quiet and some were very talkative. Lilah identified each of the four types in the aviary.

It was a wonderful time with my parents and in nature even if it was a bit windier than we had hoped for. I’m SO lucky to have family who love nature and camping and who I love spending lots of time with.

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owls, bison and ghost towns

We’ve been heading further out lately to enjoy the fall weather and look for wildlife and ghost town remains and beautiful views.

Antelope Island is an amazing place to see bison, antelope, birds of all kinds. We found an owl but missed the burrowing owls and plan to go back soon and look again. We had fun looking at the old farm machinery and buildings and spotting so, so many animals.

We drove south to see if we could find the ghost town remains we’ve heard rumors about. It took us two separate trips to find what we were searching for but we got lucky and found a great spot with old mining town remnants. Most of the structures we found were collapsed but Lilah found some pottery, we found some old metal mining cable, and this that was still upright.

I love ghost towns. I love the mystery and romance of them and knowing that what I see today may be gone by next year, or not. I love watching nature regain her territory, root and branches, wind and snow and time.

I love exploring and I love watching my kids enjoy exploring. This Earth is such a beauty filled place!

 

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out to the great salt lake

We adventured out toward the Great Salt Lake with friends. We stopped at Golden Spike Historic Site, where the transcontinental railroad completed it’s route across the western U.S. They brought out the two engine cars and we got to see (and hear) them driving along the tracks.

Spiral Jetty is not too far from there, out on a dirt road. It’s a land art piece that is at the edge of the lake, except with current drought conditions it’s about a half mile from the water line. The kids enjoyed walking the spiral path and looking for lizards who love to sun themselves on the dark volcanic rocks there.

The Great Salt Lake is very salty indeed there, so much so that the bottom of the lake is huge, hard crystals of salt that are tough on feet. It’s pink from the halophilic (salt loving) bacteria and very beautiful and strange looking. The pink waves and white land is so striking! I dug out a few crystals while I was walking around.

They make for sharp stepping and cuts and scrapes.

In a few places there was foam from the waves which was also sparkly with super high salt concentrations. Fascinating!

The kids enjoyed it until the salt began bothering their scrapes and cuts and stinging.

We even spotted some more wild horses!

Afterward we stopped at Willard Bay on the way home which is another part of the lake but is very much less salty so better for swimming. We washed off the salt and the kids played games in the water until it was undeniably late and we headed home.

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strung together

There are so many moments in each day, some notable, some not. Sometimes I ponder my own memories from childhood; what I remember, how it was important or not important but still remembered. I wonder what my kids will remember of their experiences. I hope they will remember love, connection, wonder, delight, comfort, strength. I hope they will remember kissing their cats goodnight, singing silly made up words to songs we know, hugs when they are sad or scared, the excitement of spotting elusive animals and plants, the smell of sunshine in pine trees. I hope Lilah will remember how we go into the public bathroom stall together (her choice) and make funny faces or do dances or pretend our toothbrushes are hairbrushes, microphones, carrots to entertain each other while we wait. I hope Gavin will remember cuddling in our bed and looking at cute and funny animal videos together, having waterfights in the backyard and playing hammock swing tag with Lilah (one of them is on the swing, one is in the hammock nearby and they try to tag each other.  I hope Gavin will remember the time he tried black olives thinking they were mushrooms and discovered he loves olives. I hope both of them will remember becoming other people in other worlds and times for a few hours while they read a fantastic book.

Here are a few moments and hours strung together here that are memorable for me from the last weeks:

We went up to Idaho for my Grandmother’s memorial service and spent some good and fun time with family, enjoying their company and remembering my Grandma. I have so many special memories of time spent with her. A few that come the quickest are: her love of crosswords and reading, Christmas baking projects with help from overeager grandkids (me!), her weavings and her helping me with weaving and beading projects, her laugh, her beautiful white curly hair. While we were in Idaho, Lilah showed off her crafting skills and Gavin thoroughly enjoyed playing long complicated games with family. The drive was beautiful, with fields in bloom, golden and looking like they were aglow with light.

I painted a scene of the glowing fields from our drive for my dad.

Lilah wanted to go to the park and try going down the hills in our wagon. Why not?

Gavin went to a dear friend’s birthday celebration and we made plans for more time together soon.

We harvested some of the first garden bounty. Lilah’s most excited about strawberries and lemon cucumbers. Gavin’s most excited about spaghetti squash and eggplant. I am excited about all of it!

Lilah has spent hours taking her cat out in the yard on leash and harness.

We have a quail family with seven chicks strolling through most mornings and evenings and a pigeon nesting under the deck. There are dragonflies buzzing overhead every time I go out to the garden and hummingbirds zooming about. In the yard today I spotted orioles, hummingbirds, house finches, goldfinches, robins, a woodpecker, and some chickadees.

There’s been a lot of this:

We visited a local ghost town called Ophir with friends. It was a mining town and has equipment, tailings, interesting old buildings and so much to explore. They mined gold, silver and other things and we found a bunch of pyrite nuggets and some chrysocolla in the tailings.

We’ve been trying to deal with ants in the house. Ugh! They come in every summer and look for water and sugary foods. Cinnamon and vinegar do pretty well at dealing with small incursions but not larger ones. We finally hired a company who uses pet and people safe, environmentally friendly treatments to try and get it under control.

Gavin been going to a nature camp a few hours every morning this week with a good friend as well as a Harry Potter camp called O.W.L. camp put on by the county library. He had a wonderful time at both and came home as a Gryffindor, very pleased. He told us he received points for his house for having purple hair.

Lilah and I finally made it to the cat cafe, where you can enjoy coffee, tea, and cats for company, most of whom are available to adopt. It was delightful and we successfully left without bringing any cats home.

We signed up for the local library’s summer reading program. It involves a lot of reading. The kids completed it in about a week and are now doing extras. I’m so grateful that both kids love reading and will do it for love and research, not because of prizes promised.

All four of us have been playing Magic the Gathering, including a draft with the newest set of cards which Chris got for Father’s Day.

The kids hauled out a bunch of large blocks, two chairs, several scarves, the mini-trampoline, a balance beam, a few soccer balls and some other items and set up a cat themed obstacle course game for themselves. It was awesome!

We hiked up in the mountains and saw so many wildflowers! Also, we spotted deer, a moose with two very young… I need to look up what a young moose is called… calves, a weasel or a marten, and lots of chipmunks.

 

We spotted bunches of wild forget-me-nots. Here are some with a paintbrush flower. Perfection! Enjoying the connections between people and moments and nature and choosing how to weave your own life experience and story is a wonderful adventure.

 

 

 

 

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