It was a hot afternoon during the aftercare hour, strolling through the woods near the playground with one of the JE girls. We were discussing mosquitoes – how they seemed to be especially thick right here, on the drainage pathway from the tutoring building. As we walked, I poked around among the rocks, recalling that we had found a number of toads and wood frogs in this area, too. Maybe they fed on the mosquitoes?
Then she pointed: “What’s that red thing?”
That red thing was cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), a strikingly scarlet, wetland-loving plant that I had never before seen at Jemicy. This one was growing in partial shade and apparently thriving in the rocky soil. Other than the occasionally damp location, there was nothing that would have led me to believe I’d find it there. That it was so unexpected made it all the more brilliant. We examined the developing seed heads and made a plan to return when they were dried, to collect for planting in other areas.
A day later, I hiked with M Group out to the upper woods. While searching for acorns, we spied something snaking away, its muted brown pattern perfectly camouflaged in the leaf litter. Corralled, it coiled up into a protective ball, revealing pinkish and faintly iridescent ventral scales. It was not, as I’d first thought, the ubiquitous garter snake, but another common species: DeKay’s brown snake (Storeria dekayi). Another first for Jemicy’s biodiversity checklist!
The acorns we were searching for belonged to chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), a species that was once represented in the back campus area by an enormous specimen tree – recently and regretfully removed due to fungal damage. We hoped to find another mature tree producing acorns, so that we could try sprouting and planting more on campus. In the process of successfully locating the chestnut oak, one of the kids held up a different type of acorn: “What’s this?”
To our delight, it was black oak (Quercus velutina) – another species whose beloved lone representative on the central campus – “Erma” – had also recently been lost from the hill overlooking the playing field. Returning with these treasures felt like fulfilling a promise to the ancient trees whose presence had graced our canopy for so many years, and whose removal had left painfully empty spaces.
Great hopes in small hands.
For a sampling of other recent recess finds: