I was perfecting paper airplane designs with several kids at a library program last week, when an airborne bit of nature arrived. “Wow, look at that! Is it a moth or a butterfly? Can we go see it?” A luna moth, one of the most elegant members of the moth family, completely disrupted my program, so we decided to look it up.
These lovely, pale green moths are large, with wing spans of 3-4½ inches. They have no mouths and never eat in their adult “moth” stage, which lasts about a week. Their wings have eye spots to distract predators and long tapering “tails” on their hind wings. They complete most of their life cycle in the woods, but ours was in something of a more urban environment on the front patio of the Fremont Public Library.
The kids’ interest in the moth was brief and memorable. Having a good experience with kids in nature can be — and sometimes should be — brief. Nature experiences, like hiking one of ACRES’ preserves, are free. You don’t have to stay all day to “get your money’s worth.” If your hike lasts 15 minutes and everyone had fun, it was successful.
My twin nieces first hiked with me when they were about 5. We were at ACRES’ Bicentennial Woods, and it rained. They cried, “I’m scared. We’re lost.” One of them scraped a knee. They had never been in a large woods before. In the end, though, they found delight in their adventure and the camouflage-patterned bandages my daughter gave them when we got back to the car. They were ready to go the next time.
Packing to hike with kids is a balancing act. Less is more. Sneakers are good. Hats and sunglasses might be useful. Spray the tops of your shoes and your hat with a bug spray recommended for mosquitoes and ticks. Personally, I have a light-weight, sleeveless, hooded jacket that I wear. It’s been sprayed with bug spray and has the added benefit of protecting my neck from deer flies. I can squeeze in a quick hike, and not smell like bug spray the rest of the day.
Although we have exactly one bear in Indiana, who walked in the western side of the state a few weeks ago, the most dangerous things in nature you are likely to encounter with kids are mosquitoes and ticks. Discourage kids from picking up or pestering snakes and turtles, although they are fun to watch if you see either.
Have water and a small first-aid kit in the car. Don’t carry in anything you need to carry out while also carrying your smallest hiker.
In a nature preserve, you are already at your destination. Go slow. Try to make it a brief, fun part of your day. It’s a sort of a recess from life. When I hike with little people, sometimes we might go 20 feet in five minutes. There are various nature scavenger-hunts available online. Print a few out and keep them in the glove box.
Check out the ACRES website to find a preserve near you. They are free and open to the public all over northeast Indiana. They are a great place to stretch your legs, see a little nature, and have an adventure with the kids. Just don’t forget the bug spray and camouflage bandages.
This month’s Discover ACRES is contributed by Jill Noyes, Steuben County resident and outreach volunteer for ACRES Land Trust. Membership-based, ACRES is dedicated to preserving significant natural areas in northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern Michigan.
Save the date!
• ACRES’ annual kayak event at Wing Haven Nature Preserve, 180 W. C.R. 400N, Angola, happens on Aug. 15 from 2-4 p.m. Bring your own canoe and enjoy this once-a-year opportunity to explore the preserve by water. Nate Simmons hosts.