Nature Study in Bakersfield

One of Charlotte Mason’s nature study ideas is to “adopt” a tree and observe closely how it changes throughout the year. We’ve never lived somewhere for a whole year, so we haven’t been able to observe a long-term continuous seasonal change. But we’ve seen a lot of variety in the natural world. It comes naturally to me to visit museums and archaelogical sites, but without Charlotte Mason I wouldn’t have thought to closely observe the differences in the plants and animals around the world.

Now when I think of Ireland, I remember Axa catching dozens of frogs in the grass. Tunisia reminds me of tiny geckos, gigantic ants and camels. And here in Bakersfield, California, we’ve found some beautiful bits of nature too.

This week we took our nature study outing to the river. It’s nearing the end of summer here, so the river is low and lazy. We found a place where there was a tiny island reachable over a miniature delta. If we could manage to jump over the seven streams, that is. Tony was skeptical, but the children’s sense of adventure and my sense of unmissable educational opportunity together carried the day.

Miraculously, we all made it over without wet feet. Once arrived on our little island kingdom, we found a shady spot and sat down to eat our lunch.

Then we set off to explore our domain.

We got a good close look at a fascinating water-lilyish plant with little bladders that enable it to float down the river until it gets stuck somewhere and sinks its roots into the mud.

Here’s a close-up of the air-filled bladders:

And the lovely flowers:

When I saw the plant and its gorgeous profusion, it made me think of an invasive species I’d read of once, that clogs waterways in California and Florida. I looked it up when we got home. Sure enough, it looks like Eichhornia crassipes, the infamous water hyacinth. The plant is native to Brazil, but is now a nuisance in waterways all over the world. So that will make a great ecology lesson next time we go to the river.

We also saw these beautiful flowers, which look like morning glories from the dinosar age: (They’re almost a foot across!)

Also this tiny pink flower, which like most (native) plants around here, also has wicked spines.

We got quite a few of these burrs stuck in our shoes and clothes:

Raj used his magnifying glass to look at a giant beetle:

And Axa indulged in some precarious frog catching:

Incredibly, she didn’t fall in. Until later, as she was rounding the cape of our little island, and slipped in the rich, loamy mud. We helped her out of the knee-deep water, and then Tony promptly slipped and fell in the same place. I wish I had a picture, but he unfortunately had the camera in his pocket for safe-keeping at the time. Fortunately, it was above the waterline.

Here’s a picture of the mud, though, complete with some cute little bird tracks. Notice that the tracks are just as clear under the water. That’s how glorious this mud was:

Shortly after this incident, since half  of us were half soaked, we decided it was time to bring our little expedition to its close. We packed up all the lunch things and clambered down to the island shore, only to find that somehow the water had risen since we’d crossed it a few hours before. I didn’t know the river had a tide. And there’s not a whole lot of snow up in the mountains to melt, either. (When we got home, Grandpa explained that there are “water masters” who control the river’s flow. Good to know these things.)

In any case, Axa and Tony couldn’t very well get wetter, so they just waded across. And Tony graciously carried the rest of us, without so much as saying, “I told you so.”

One thought on “Nature Study in Bakersfield

  • October 30, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Ha, I was a kid in Bakersfield. I once tried to build a fort out of tumbleweeds.


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