Witches and fairies uncovered
By Cassie Lennox
Witches in Schmeeckle Reserve?
Well, not anymore, as the children of Portage County perhaps have spotted them all.
Kids donned their hiking boots and outdoor camouflage clothing in order to hike the fall woods of the Schmeeckle Reserve to look for witch hats and caterpillar fairies, as well as other plants with unique stories.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) students Patrick Jambor and Megan Sparks led the tour group through the woods Saturday, Oct. 21, stopping along the path to ask the kids some questions.
There were lessons about nature in general – like why pine trees don’t lose their needles like other trees lose their leaves: “Just think about it,” Jambor said. “If pine trees lost their needles, what would your Christmas tree look like?” It was a question that caused many children to look at their parents in alarm.
Children learned pine needles have a strong, waxy coating that helps them resist the cold in the fall and winter, and each was able to touch them to feel the waxy consistency.
And other lessons lined up more with the holiday season.
In one spot, Sparks held up a yellow leaf – not one fallen from a maple or oak or other typical yard tree – and told children they were on a mission to find leaves that looked exactly like the one she was holding.
The kids sprang into action, taking their new mission very seriously, and hunted along the trail for the distinct yellow leaves.
A couple of yards away, a discovery was made, and Sparks passed around the find for the children to experience through sight and touch.
The leaf was bright yellow, a kind of blend between a light green and canary yellow, with two or three little pointed bumps sticking up that when the leaf was turned flat and viewed from the side looked exactly like a witch’s hat settled on the surface.
Jambor explained to the kids that the plant was called Witch Hazel, and that it has multiple uses.
“How many people have been sunburned before?” he asked.
The children all shot their hands into the air, jumping up and down to make sure he knew they had suffered a sunburn.
He told them that Witch Hazel can be used to treat burns from the sun, dry skin, acne, dandruff, body odor, bruises, bug bites, itching and rashes.
“Ewww, rashes – but also cool,” said one little boy when Jambor finished the list.
Next, the children traded in the witches hats and flew over to an open grassy field to look for “fairy pods.”
Sparks held up a silk pod, and explained to them that caterpillars that turn into monarch butterflies can spin similar silk just before it changes into the chrysalis needed to transform into the butterfly.
She then went on to pass around some of the silk seeds inside each empty pod, and told the children they could blow them around on the count of three.
The children blew their silk into the air, then chased around through the field to try to catch some more of the floating white silk seeds.
As a light drizzle moved in, the group moved back towards the Visitor’s Center, but the moisture didn’t dampen the children’s spirits.
“Nature is the best,” said one boy to his mother as the program came to a close. “This has been the best day of my life.”