I took my two-and-a-half year old grandson to the nature center near his home on Friday afternoon. We left almost as soon as he got up from his nap because I knew that they closed the gates at 4:00 pm in the wintertime. We hadn't been there since the fall and I wondered if the ducks had come back.
The building which houses the neat displays of snakes, bugs, frogs, and fish was already closed when we arrived, so we went on a hike along the path that goes up the sides of the canyon. He is big and strong now, so he can climb the wood tile steps all by himself. We walked quickly by the "no-touch" Prickly Pear plants. He remembered when he picked up a fruit of this plant last summer and it was days before we got all the almost invisible prickles out of his fingers. We noticed that the Sugar Bushes were blooming, the Black Sage had new green shoots, and the Toyon! Just full of beautiful red berries. But don't eat them. The birds eat them he told me.
Back down by the creek we discovered that the ducks were back, Wood Ducks, with their white stripe down the side. Some were placidly paddling in the water and some were sitting on the bank. "What's a bank?" he asked. I really struggled to explain that word to him. He learned that if he ran to the edge of the bank and yelled at the ducks they would fly away upstream. So we sat down quietly, shhhh, and watched them for awhile.
He climbed around the multiple trunks of the oak trees and we had a discussion about roots. No, the trees don't move once they put their roots down into the ground. The ground had been littered with acorns last fall, but now there wasn't a single one to be found. Had the Acorn Woodpeckers and squirrels gathered them all? While collecting acorns last fall and taking off their "hats" we had talked about seeds and how these big, tall trees had grown from the small seeds. This time we found catkins that looked like little caterpillars. He is very good at finding very small things.
We checked under the platform they use to give nature talks to see if the Bobcat was still sleeping there. Nope. We walked up the path on the other side of the canyon and found the butterfly garden. The big metal butterflies that they have set out here reminded him of umbrellas. His comment reminded me of seeing him standing at my door with his little Thomas-the-Train blue umbrella last December.
We found some old rusted farm tools. He was full of questions now. What's this? What's this? I was at a loss. Uhmm... That's a spring. That's a bolt. Those are wheels. I tried to explain that this was a plow and that a horse would be attached to the front to pull it. It would make a furrow, ditch, hole in the ground and then the farmer could plant his seeds. We examined this tool for a very long time.
We found another "no-touch" plant. This one conveniently had a sign next to it with a picture warning about its presence, Poison Oak. The hummingbirds buzzed angrily at us. No wonder. Their feeder was nearby and it was empty. As we walked along, I would ask him which way he wanted to go next and he would reply, "Follow me, Grandma!" He is growing up so fast. He is no longer Baby C., not even Toddler C. anymore. What do I call him now?