The kids had been playing a make-believe game inside that involved sitting in their toy bins (which they had first poured out all over the floor, of course) and scoping out the landscape ahead with their binoculars. I sat nearby, observing but not interfering; I greatly enjoy the sound of their imaginations.
So it was that binoculars were on my mind as the kids and I took the dog for a stroll. As I came upon a curious mound of dirt I had seen the other day and forgotten about, I suddenly had an idea. First, I took the kids up to it and asked them what they thought. It was a tall mound with a hole directly on the top of it and continuing down into the ground. Now, usually the gopher holes are on the edge of a pile of dirt where they have been pushing it out. But this looks like an animal built a mound around a tunnel.
Everett’s first response was physical, he kicked it. I reacted to him initially with, “no!” until I saw the little black sunflower seeds he had uncovered with his foot and I changed my reaction to, “oooh, look!”
“I think it’s a muskrat. Because muskrats eat seeds and live in holes,” stated Everett with authority. I don’t know anything about muskrats, so I can’t be sure he is wrong, but personally I’m going with ground squirrel. However, I didn’t offer my opinion. I want to encourage their creative and critical thinking. Plus, I greatly amused by his thoughts.
We continued to stand there and I excitedly asked them if they wanted to go back and get their binoculars to spy on the hole to see if an animal would come out.
Binoculars in hand, we crouched nearby, focused the lenses, and waited. It didn’t take much time before spying was abandoned. We did theorize whether the animal was out collecting food or inside taking a nap. Food gathering was the unanimous theory.
We continued walking around looking at birds through the binoculars. Actually, let me correct that, Ember and I continued with the binoculars. Everett had abandoned his pair in favor of a folding pocket calculator. This calculator however was not a calculator. It was an “animal finder”, – a special computer that told him facts about animals. He followed close behind me shouting, “a bird can fly 15 million thousand miles” and “see, muskrats eat seeds”.
All the while, Ember paused at a plant, “can we eat this one?” I told her we could eat that type of plant, except this particular one didn’t look healthy. I reccommended we find a young healthy one. After some more bird watching, we wandered over to an area with more of the curly dock plants Ember had spotted. Her attention had wandered by that point away from the edibility of curly dock and was taken instead by the pleasing qualities of cleavers, which has tiny hooks under its leaves and will cling to your clothing. Both of the kids giggled as they pressed stems to my pants and watched them stick.
As we had made a complete circle through the yard, we found ourselves back at the front door. I was delighted by the flow of our walk, the leisurely time to talk, to explore, and to play.