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“Never Saw a Discontented Tree”

Oak tree in the sun with shadows

“I never saw a discontented tree.They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!” ~John Muir

Trees in winter are amazing. As much as I like the leafy greenness of spring and the blazing colors of autumn, a winter tree with its bare branches showing is so appealing to look at…almost like a sculpture.

Hiking the Trail with Fog Over the River

Our local area has been plagued with fog for the last week and it makes me so grateful that we live just high enough in elevation to be above the fog line. Sunday afternoon we decided to venture the trail to the river and as we started out we could see the fog sitting low in the distance. It is about a mile and a half walk from the parking lot to the river along this winding ranch road and where the fog is lies the river.

Boulders with tree, moss, and lichen
Along the trail are lots of trees and rocks. My son and I both really liked the way these particular rocks were stacked and painted with lichens and moss. The oak tree on the left seems to be holding them all up but in fact, I think the rocks are sheltering the oak.

American River with Greenstone
The rest of the hike was refreshing because it is a gentle downhill slope to the river. The sun was bright and as we approached the river we could hear it roaring! I scrambled up onto the rocks for a closer look at how wide and deep the water is this time of the year.

That is pure snow melt….freezing cold and crystal clear.

American River with rocks and sky

The fog had lifted and now the skies over the river were blue and cheerful. We sat for a long time and watched the water flow by. As long as you were in the sunshine it was warm.

Winter Weed Colors
Not all of us hiked on this day. Mr. A brought his mountain bike and he took the high trail up on the ridge…somewhere up on the top of that hill. He was a muddy mess when we got back up to the car but he had enjoyed the time alone on the bike.

I’m sure we will travel this trail a few more times this spring and with each trek we will see the progression of grasses and wildflowers. For now we were content with the trees, the sky, and the refreshing goodness of a good hike down a familiar trail.

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Miscellaneous Nature Study Using The Outdoor Hour Challenges

NOTE: If the challenge is included an ebook, it is noted directly after the challenge. If you have an Ultimate Membership, you will be able to pull up the ebook and print any notebook pages, coloring pages, or other printables for your nature study.
Handbook of Nature Study Ultimate Naturalist Library


Outdoor Hour Challenge Mushrooms Lichen Moss Fern Index @handbookofnaturestudy

The links above are Amazon affiliate links to resources I own and love.

Mushroom, Lichen, Moss, Fern Challenges
Bracket Fungi -Autumn Nature Study Continues
Ferns – More Nature Study Spring
Field Horsetail – Autumn 2015
Hedgehog Fungi – Autumn 2015
Moss and Lichen
Moss Observation Notebook Page
Molds, Puffballs, Morels
Mushrooms -Autumn ebook
Extraordinary in the Ordinary – Mushrooms
Mushroom Cap Shapes Notebook Page
Scarlet Cup -Winter Nature Study Continues
Stinkhorn Nature Study -Autumn Nature Study Continues
Parts of  a Mushroom Notebook Page

Newsletters With a Mushroom, Lichen, Moss, or Fern Theme (If you have a membership, you have access to all archived newsletters.)

  • March 2013 – Mushroom, Lichen, and Moss study grid printable. Mushroom coloring page. Types of lichen.
  • March 2016 – Lichen and moss nature study ideas. Lichen Study notebook page. Lichen vocabulary.
  • November 2016 – Mushroom Cap notebook page. Nature study ideas for fungi.


Outdoor Hour Challenge Weather Index @handbookofnaturestudy

Weather Challenges
Autumn Weather – Autumn ebook
Autumn Weather Challenge #1
Autumn – Signs of Autumn
Cloud Observations 
Fall Seasonal Weather Challenge -with free printable notebook page
Fall Color Walk – More Nature Study Autumn
Seasonal Weather with Four Seasons Notebook Pages
Snow– Winter Wednesday
Spring Splendor Walk – More Nature Study Spring
Spring Weather – Spring ebook
Summer Weather – More Nature Study Summer
Weather Record Chart – printable notebook page
Weather Study with Weather Sounds Printable Notebook Page
Weather Walk – Four Seasons free printable notebook page
Winter Weather  -Winter ebook
Winter Wonder Weather– More Nature Study Winter

Seasonal Challenges
December World-free printable notebook page
November World– Autumn ebook
The Winter World

Newsletters With a Weather Theme (If you have a membership, you have access to all archived newsletters.)

  • December 2011 – Know Your Own Backyard in December notebook page. December World study grid.
  • January 2012 – January World study grid.
  • February 2012 – Know Your Own Backyard in February notebook page.
  • March 2012 – Know Your Own Backyard in Early Spring notebook page. Early Spring study grid.
  • April 2013 – April study grid.
  • May 2013 – May study grid.
  • July 2012 – Beat the Heat study grid. Know Your Own Backyard When Its Hot notebook page.
  • December 2012 – Weather study ideas. Weather nature table ideas. My Weather notebook page.
  • September 2013 – Fall Fun grid study. Fall Time Field Trip notebook page.
  • November 2013 – Weather Observation study grid.
  • January 2014 – Winter Fun study grid.
  • February 2014 – February Fun study grid.
  • March 2014 – Lion or Lamb notebook page.
  • June 2014 – Summer Fun grid study printable.
  • February 2015 – Winter nature study ideas.
  • March 2015 – Calendar of Firsts for nature observations. Printable nature calendar.
  • December 2015 – Weather chart printable. My Seasonal Weather notebook page. Weather Study big grid printable.
  • October 2016 – Weather nature study and nature journal ideas.
  • December 2016 – Silent Autumn Nature Walk notebook page.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Reptiles Amphibians invertebrates fish index @handbookofnaturestudy

The links above are Amazon affiliate links to resources I own and love.
Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates, Fish
Banana SlugCreepy Things ebook
Black Widow Creepy Things ebook
Catfish –  Autumn 2015
Common Shiner – Summer Nature Study Continues
Crayfish  –Spring Nature Study Continues
Earthworms– Spring ebook
Fish Nature Study and  Definition Copywork Page
Frogs – Summer ebook
Frog Field Guide Notebook Page
Goldfish Nature Study-free printable notebook page
Johnny Darter – Summer Nature Study Continues
LeechCreepy Things ebook
Lizard, Gecko, Anole Study –Autumn Nature Study Continues
Millipede Creepy Things ebook
Newts -Spring Nature Study Continues
Snakes-Spring ebook
Snails -More Nature Study Spring
Sphinx Moth – Creepy Things ebook
Spring Peepers -Spring Nature Study Continues
Sunfish – Summer Nature Study Continues
TarantulaCreepy Things ebook
Trout and Salmon –Autumn ebook
Turtles and Pondweed-More Nature Study Summer

You may also want to read my review of this awesome resource: National Audubon Society First Field Guide to Reptiles.

Additional Links You May Find Helpful:

Newsletters With a Reptile, Amphibian, Invertebrate, or Fish Theme (If you have a membership, you have access to all archived newsletters.)

  • April 2013 – Reptiles and Amphibians study grid.
  • July 2013 – Fish grid study. Fish Study – Trout notebook page.
  • October 2015 – Reptile Study notebook page.
  • August 2016 – Invertebrate nature journal and nature study ideas. Snail Study notebook page.
  • May 2017 – Fish study grid. Fish nature study and nature journal ideas.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Rock Index @handbookofnaturestudy

The link above is an Amazon affiliate link to a resource I own and love.

Rock Related Challenges
Calcite – Autumn 2015
Crystal Study– Winter Nature Study Continues
Feldspar Study– Winter Nature Study Continues
Granite Study and Other Igneous Rocks – More Nature Study Book Summer
Limestone – Autumn 2015
Magnets and Compass – More Nature Study Winter
Marble – Autumn 2015
Mica Rock Study  – Autumn Nature Study Continues
Quartz Study -More Nature Study Winter
Rock Observation Challenge – free printable chart
Rock Study Using a Magnifying Lens – free printable notebook page
Rock Collection Ideas – free printable activity
Rock Study and printable game activity
Salt Study – Winter ebook
Sand and Soil -More Nature Study Summer

Newsletters With a Rock Theme (If you have a membership, you have access to all archived newsletters.)

  • January 2013 – Rock study grid. Rock collection ideas.
  • February 2016 – Rock nature journal and study ideas.
  • March 2017 – Rock nature study and nature journal ideas.


Outdoor Hour Challenge Sky and Stars Index @handbookofnaturestudy

Sky and Stars
Moon and Moon Names– More Nature Study Winter
Moon and Craters Nature Study-free printable notebook page
My Backyard At Night Notebook Page  (free printable)
Night Sky Study- Cassiopeia – Autumn Nature Study Continues
Orion Study – Winter Nature Study Continues
Winter Sky and Stars  – Winter ebook
Winter Sky– Winter Wednesday
Year-Long Big Dipper Study -free printable notebook page

Newsletters With a Sky or Star Theme (If you have a membership, you have access to all archived newsletters.)

  • August 2013 – Night sky study ideas. Night Sky study grid.
  • July 2016 – Sky and stars nature journal and nature study ideas. Big Dipper study notebook page.


The link above is an Amazon affiliate link to a resource I own and love.
Pond, Beach, and CreekStudy
Cattail Seasonal Nature Study  -free printable notebook page
Pond Seasonal Study -free printable notebook page

Newsletters With a Pond, Beach, or Creek Theme (If you have a membership, you have access to all archived newsletters.)

  • August 2011 – Pond and marsh study ideas. Summer Pond Study notebook page. Pond study grid.
  • June 2012 – Beach and tidepool nature study ideas. Beach grid study printable. My Seashore Study notebook page.
  • July 2013 – Year long pond study ideas.
  • February 2016 – Creek nature study in four seasons. Creek Study notebook page.

Miscellaneous Challenges
Brook – – Autumn 2015
Small Square Study – Winter ebook
Small Square Study – free printable notebook page
Winter Berries –Autumn Nature Study Continues
Winter Colors – Winter Wednesday

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December World – Texture

12 23 10 Mushrooms tall

We had a break in our rainy weather so that meant we seized the opportunity to get out and walk with the dog on the walking trail. Our surprise nature study subject of the day was “mushrooms”. They were in abundance on this trip down the trail.

After looking at all the photos when we got home, I decided the theme of the day was “texture”.

12 23 10 Lots of Mushrooms
Must be something rotting underneath the debris….makes for a great photo.

12 23 10 Moss

Lots of things going on in this photo…reds and greens make a nice contrast to each other.

12 23 10 Moss and Lichen
This is my favorite image of the day….wow! Look all those textures and colors and layers.

12 23 10 Mushroom

Someone or something had knocked a bunch of mushrooms loose along another section of the trail. Love the gills in this mushroom image.

12 23 10 Mushrooms and needles
Last one for today….mushrooms and brown grass make an interesting composition for this image.

We are enjoying our winter break and spending lots of time outdoors, both in the yard and out on walks. I haven’t had any nature study subjects in mind except to enjoy the pleasures that December has offered. I am sort of itching to get started on a more focused nature study plan again in January.

I am off to San Francisco today to spend the day looking at some great art….Post-Impressionists! Of course the museum is in Golden Gate Park so we will more than likely be taking a walk to see what we can find.

Have a great week!

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December World – Colors

Our December days are accented with color….right in our own yard.

12 10 10 Moss and Lichen

My husband brought some granite rocks into the front yard when we remodeled and I am so happy to see that they are alive with moss and lichens of a variety of colors. Now when I walk down my front path I will see some living things that have made themselves at home…that makes me happy.

12 10 10 Red Leaf

There are still leaves falling each day from the colorful trees and I love the way this red leaf fell among the yellow-green leaves. Now that I look at the photo closely, I notice there is a mushroom peeking through on the top left side.

12 10 10 Sweet Gum Tree

The gray skies of December have a different feel to them and give the afternoon a somber cast. The sweet gum tree is all dressed up with its sticker balls and a few remaining red-orange leaves. I find myself looking up at the sky more in the winter….checking the sky for clouds, looking for birds, viewing the world that opens up when the leaves are gone.

I feel a whole series of December World posts coming on as I work my way through my photos from this week. Using photography to capture your world is not only an easy way to document your time outdoors but it can be therapeutic to see the world through the lens of your camera. You get to focus on the small and the big.

Hope you are enjoying the series so far.

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Winter Hike to the River

Before all our rain and snow, we had the opportunity to visit one of our favorite spots on the river.

Cronan Ranch 1 Long Valley Trail
We chose the Long Valley Trail this time which is a little less than two miles down to the river. It is a long sloping walk so it is very enjoyable even on a chilly, hazy day.

Cronan Ranch 2 Cattails
The first thing we noticed was that their were many brown cattails along the trail where there is a little creek running. Of course we had to stop and take a look.

Cronan Ranch 3 Cattails
You see right where the water runs because the cattails are growing along the edges of the creek.

Cronan Ranch 4 Homestead and Oaks
About half-way to the river, there is an old homestead with some lovely old oaks. The tree swallows were swarming in the tops of the trees and we enjoyed stopping to watch them and listen for a few minutes. I love the silhouettes of the winter oaks.

Cronan Ranch 5 Moss Lichen and Plants
The greens and reds on this rock caught my attention and I loved the composition of the various mosses, lichens, and plants growing together on the rock. Very pretty.

Cronan Ranch 6 hazy day and the river
Once we reached the river, the kids and our dog were all off and running. Some climbed rocks, some skipped rocks on the water, the dog went swimming for sticks and I spent some time enjoying the reflections and ripples in this little eddy off the main part of the river.

Cronan Ranch 7 Tree in the rocks
How do these trees grow so large out of the middle of a huge rock? Perseverance.

Cronan Ranch 8 rocks in the river
Eventually we all sat at the river’s edge and watched the water flow by on its way down the mountain. This is the American River where gold was discovered in 1848. We all joke about someday finding a gold nugget along the edge but for now we are content to marvel at all the different types of rock found all together in one spot.

Cronan Ranch 9 winter weeds
One last photo to share of our day. Winter weeds can be quite lovely if you really take a look at them. I found these growing on the edge of the water and with the nice backdrop, it makes for a nice photo.

Well, there are a few of our experiences from last weekend. What started out as a chilly, dreary day turned out to be quite refreshing. We headed home hungry so I was glad I had planned a big spaghetti dinner.

If you are looking for some winter nature study ideas, you may want to check out the entry I wrote last year giving some simple ideas for winter nature study…most indoors.

Winter Nature Study-Taking it Inside

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The Last of Our Snow: Oaks Falling Down

snow walk with Kona 12 09
We decided we should take our Kona dog out for a proper walk. She has not been out for her long walk in days. She was happy and we were feeling good too. The interesting thing about this walk was how many trees were down all along our regular walking trail. Many were actually across the trail and some were down in the meadows alongside it.

broken oak
Mostly oaks had fallen which makes me sad, but they are clearly not designed for such a great snow like we had this week. The live oaks especially fared badly in the snow because they don’t lose all their leaves in the fall.

oak leaves
The leaves were my favorite part of the walk. The snow was sprinkled with leaves of all colors and shapes and sizes.

When the oaks fall down, you get to glimpse at what is going on at the top without climbing. The various kinds of lichen were amazing. We really must learn some more about lichens this winter. I will add it to the list.

The rains are coming and that will be the end of the Really Big Snow for us. My youngest is the one who will miss it the most. He was sick most of the time we had our big piles of snow to play in and he really needs to get in some more snow time. Perhaps it will snow again in the months to come and then he will be able to build his big snow fort and have snowball fights with his dad and brothers. It seems that snow is the great equalizer…..all my men love to get out and play in the cold stuff no matter their age and dignity level.

Looking forward to our next snow….

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Desert Nature Study-Joshua Tree National Park and More

I wanted to share some more of the photos from our trip to the desert that we took a few weeks ago. The photo above is from Joshua Tree National Park. The scene is typical of what you will find as you hike along the trails of the park. It has taken me three trips to the desert to begin to develop a love for the animals and plants that live here. In this strange and wonderful landscape, you can find the most beautiful of things if you look carefully enough.

There really are blooming plants here and if you get the chance to get up close, you realize that there are bees and other insects as well as birds that are attracted to the color and fragrance.

I will admit that there are sections of the park that are more rock than anything else. My two boys couldn’t resist a good climb when they saw it.

When you get up close you see all the intricate patterns and designs of the desert plants. I believe this is some kind of cholla cactus.

Now here was something that surprised me and I examined it carefully for some time. Can you see all the different colors of lichen on this rock? There is a moss green, a grey-green, an orange and a soft yellow-green all living right here on the side of this rock. Beautiful.

Many times as we hike along we name the rock formations we see. The boys named this one “Whale Head”.

Not to be confused with “Whale’s Mouth”.

They keep me smiling…..and thinking.

We came across a wash on our hike and the wildflowers were already blooming. There are three different flowers blooming in this photo…two white and the desert sand verbena.

How about a video? (Why does it take so looooong for the videos to load onto Blogger anyway?)
This squirrel was entertaining us with his acrobatics…trying to get that certain pod to eat.

Here is what the squirrel was gathering to eat. This is a palo verde tree.

I took a lot of photos at the Living Desert Museum and I shared a lot of the butterfly and hummingbird photos already but here are a few more of the larger animals we saw that the boys spent a lot of time observing.

The giraffes…there were four of them.

The cheetahs..there were two of them. I love this photo….look at that face!

For some reason I threw our nature journals in my backpack and we took the opportunity in the afternoon to slow down and do some sketching at the museum. It was a great way to remember our time there.

What a great memory.

It was great way to end our stay at the museum. The desert holds so many interesting and surprising creations for us to learn about….a life time of learning just one plant and one bird and one animal at a time.

So whether you venture out in the national park or you stay in town and visit the Living Desert Museum….there is so much to enjoy as a family. Pick your adventure.

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Winter Snow Hike: Joyful Refreshment

There is much to be said for a walk in the woods in the snow….no trails to follow and no one else to distract you. The crunch, crunch, crunch of the snow under your feet and the bite in the air that reminds you that it is winter. I know these woods well but something about the whiteness or the stillness captures me and draws me to go deeper and farther and find something new each time. You know by the tracks that someone has been there before you….human types and mammal types and probably some rodents too. That is okay since all they left behind are some prints and dents in the snow and you can choose to follow or you can choose to meander. We did a little of both.

We were alert to the many different kinds of tracks in the snow and it was fun trying to guess who they belonged to. It didn’t really matter if we were correct or not because it was fun to imagine who the creatures were and what they were up to. Tracks inspired talk of bears, foxes, rabbits, mice, coyotes, and beavers. It is a fun game to play as you walk through the snowy woods.

This was the most surprising find of the day…a beaver dam in the creek. We have seen evidence of a beaver here before with trees gnawed on and sometimes even a tree cut down but this dam was magnificent. Be sure to click the image to get a better look. You can really see it clearly now that the leaves are gone from the trees and bushes. This is almost the same spot that we saw a bear last fall when the salmon were spawning in this creek.

Have you ever seen something so colorful as this lichen? It really stands out against all the winter drab. Just beautiful.

I never fail to look up as we hike along and this was what I was given for the effort, a brilliant blue sky with fast moving clouds overhead. The trees were perfectly silhouetted as you looked across the horizon.

We had our eyes out for interesting things to discover and here are some little cones we found hanging on a bush.

Reflections have a way of creating a different dimension to a landscape. The stillness of the water made me feel peaceful and I took a few moments to say a little prayer of thanks to the one who created all these wonderful things for us to enjoy. What a gift…what a gift to enjoy as a family.

I told you on this afternoon we had the place to ourselves but there had been others before us. This area leads down to the lake but right through an eagle habitat and we decided to steer clear…are the eagles still here or do they migrate? I know, so many questions to answer. These tracks are probably all covered over by now since a storm blew in overnight.

This short video shows the creek where it is moving fast over the rocks. There were birds wading around in the water above this spot but we saw no real signs of life right here on the bridge.

Just so you know it wasn’t all peaceful and idyllic on this walk, one last photo of what happens when a teenage son nails his dad with a big snowball….a little of what my family affectionately calls “snow tussling“.

Boys will be boys. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Learning Something New: Our Family’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #42 Moss and Lichen

In our part of the world it is the perfect time to be looking for and observing closely the mosses and lichens in our yard. Last week I posted an entry sharing one of our favorite local hikes that has literally come alive with mosses.

After reading the Handbook of Nature Study, we were on the lookout for some haircap moss. I looked it up in our field guide and it showed that we have it here in California so we were determined to find some to look at in person.

Last week on our hike we noticed the “little parts that stick up” and those are actually the spore capsules as shown in the diagram on page 710. Here is a photo of them as well.

These are about three inches high.

This is a close-up of the moss and lichen we saw growing on so many of the trees. In the top photo of this blog entry, you can see how it grows all the way up the tree trunks in this part of the forest. The greens of the mosses and ferns really show up in the forest as you walk along at this time of year when most of the green leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees.

We found some fungus growing on this fallen tree branch…new to us.

It had such a vivid color and look at the green growing on the branch as well….not sure what it is but it is pretty.

Then as we looked closely, we saw this part of a wasp’s nest on the ground right next to us. It was very delicate and soft.

We found this pretty fern growing all along the trail’s edge on the little embankment. It has a black stem and pretty bright green leaves. I think it is a California Maidenhair fern. I realize now that there are really three different kinds of ferns in the photo…I’m not sure what kind they are but I will update when I find out.

Can you tell we have enjoyed our week of exploring and looking for moss and lichen? We have been out three times on the trail and each time we have found something new to learn about. No nature journals this week yet but I am hoping to add at least an entry showing the parts of the haircap moss or something showing the life cycle. I know that we covered this in biology last year but I want to make it more real for the boys by viewing these things in real life and then making a nature journal entry to show what we learned.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge #42 Moss and Lichen

Outdoor Hour Challenge #42
Flowerless Plants-Moss and Lichens

Inside Preparation:
Read about mosses on pages 709-714 of the Handbook of Nature Study. The information on mosses is limited in the book so I found a link about moss for you to preview and then share if you would like with your children: Life Cycle of Moss (animated and narrated- a real gem!)

There also is limited information in the Handbook of Nature Study on lichen which I think we should study along with moss. I actually like the information on Wikipedia, especially the photo gallery at the end of the article. (As always preview any material you wish to share with your children.)

Or you can try these links for a simple, child-friendly explanation and some photos:

Use the descriptions and photos on pages 712 and 713of the Handbook of Nature Study to see if you recognize any mosses that you have locally. Make sure to pay attention to the diagram on page 710 that labels the different parts of the hair-cap moss so when you are outdoors you can look for the spore capsules and stalks.

I found this printable pdf with lots of specific lichen types to be helpful.

Crustose Lichen (crusty)

Foliose Lichen (leafy)

Fruticose Lichen (shrubby)

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Find 15 minutes to take a walk outdoors and look for some mosses or lichens. Mosses are found in all habitats and if you look hard enough you might be surprised where you find moss growing. Look in sidewalk cracks, along the edges of buildings, and on stones in the garden. Lichen will be found on tree trunks or branches or on rock faces.
  • Bring a hand lens along with you on your walk and use it to examine any moss or lichen you find. See if you can find the spore capsules and the places where the spores sift out. Children will want to touch the moss to observe how soft it feels. If possible, use a few minutes to compare samples of mosses and lichens.
  • If you don’t find any moss or lichen, use your observation skills to find something new to look at during your fifteen minutes of the Outdoor Hour.

Follow-Up Time:

  • If you are able, try sketching any moss or lichens that you find during this challenge while you are in the field. If you are limited in your time outdoors due to weather conditions, decide if you can bring a small amount of moss or lichen indoors to put on your nature table or in a terrarium. Use this sample and a hand lens to draw a sketch into your nature journal. Make sure to observe how it feels and smells as well as how it looks and record these thoughts in your nature journal as well.
  • If you were not able to find any moss or lichen for this challenge, keep your eyes open as the seasons progress and perhaps you will find some moss to draw in the future. If your child is very young, skip the nature journal this week and have a discussion about what you saw during your Outdoor Hour time.
  • Update your list of mushrooms and ferns if you discovered any new kinds during this challenge. Start a list of mosses and lichens if you wish. You can document each item with a photo for later identification if necessary.

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Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy