Today was a cold, but clear and beautiful day for our last New Experience of 2012. We went to Duke Farms, a gem of a preserve in Hillsborough, New Jersey to learn about trees. This area of New Jersey is not near the shore, but the high winds of Hurricane Sandy destroyed many of the natural landscapes. When I found out that Duke Farms lost over 2,000 trees on its property, I was flabbergasted. It’s hard to imagine so many trees down in one nature preserve.
While checking out its website, I was happy to see that Duke Farms took a terrible incident and turned it into an opportunity for visitors to learn about trees. Its self-guided activity called Trees Inside, Outside and Upside Down encourages families to use all the fallen trees to learn more about them.
My kids were excited to go hiking in winter. While the days surrounding Christmas were lots of fun, we didn’t have much of an opportunity to get outside. We all needed some time in nature. On the way to Duke Farms, I explained what we were going to investigate and talked about how we can always find something positive in a negative situation. We talked about Hurricane Sandy and recalled the week it happened.
Both of my children experienced some anxiety after the hurricane. While we were very fortunate to have minimal damage to our home, we were without power for a week and schools were closed during that time. Our neighborhood was like an island as we had no way in or out for a few days. The kids made the best of it and had fun climbing on a few down trees in our backyard area, but having no power or heat was unsettling to them. Once we were able to connect with our family, we were saddened to learn that my aunt and uncle lost their home in the storm. My kids took this news much harder than I expected. It caused some sleepless nights for them. To prevent more nightmares, I avoided talking about the hurricane with the kids.
Now that time has passed, I thought they were ready to understand that we can take any event and turn into a learning experience. So, with our little printout in hand, we walked through Duke Farms.
We came across an area where evergreens looked like they just snapped right in half from the winds. Thanks to the information on the website, I learned that evergreens didn’t fare as well as other trees because their branches can acts like sails in high winds. Luke laughed thinking about branches sailing away.
Next, we came to an area where trees were sawed to clear the path. We counted the rings we saw and looked for areas in which rings were closer together (which indicates drought) and further apart (which indicates a healthy rain fall).
We worked on a little scavenger hunt about trees. My children will walk twice as far with no complaining if we are doing a scavenger hunt. They love to find things to cross off a list. We found animal holes, birds’ nests, fallen trees that looked perfectly healthy and fallen trees that were rotted in the center.
The kids walked along fallen logs and got close to root masses of trees that were over 100 years old when they fell. We hike all the time, but this was the first time we concentrated solely on learning about trees. I think we will spend more time doing the other self-guided tours that Duke Farms has on its website. Focusing our attention on just one aspect of our walk really deepened our learning about trees.
We were back in our car after an hour and looking forward to drinking some hot chocolate to warm our bodies and celebrating the completion of our 52 new experiences.
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