Sunday, July 26, 2015

Blazing Trails

The midpoint of the summer camp season is now a memory. Three of the four weeks of Trailblazers camp have passed. Each week has its own character, with the first week (the only week without Leaders In Training counselors) probably being the most challenging (relatively speaking)since there were a couple of kids in my group who were pretty helpless when it came to doing anything for themselves (perhaps they have parents who do everything for them). The second week, there were a couple of kids who stood out in a good way, with one boy constantly picking up trash whenever he came across it while we were out and about, and another kid who boiled over with enthusiasm for being outside and exploring nature (he even took home a dead Pine Sawyer beetle that we found in the pool filter - the big one in the picture below).

Last week, I had an unusual group for two reasons: all 14 of my kids were girls, and it was perhaps the quietest group I've ever led. They had a good time, but it was sometimes hard to tell. Most of them were very intelligent too, which is always nice. One girl managed to pick up a rather disgusting piece of trash though. I found her holding a piece of poopy toilet paper that someone had left near a trail. This illustrates perfectly why we have a "leave no trace" rule when it comes to never leaving anything behind in the woods (especially something that has already been used to wipe a behind).

The little Chorus frogs were all over the reeds near the pond, affording kids with opportunities to quietly sit and spot them. The longer one observes, the more one sees.

In the hole near the field, we saw rattlesnakes mating. This is only the second time I've observed this in the wild. The next day, I overheard the kids telling the bus driver about it, so I guess they were impressed.

Other than the usual rattlesnakes, we haven't seen to many others this summer. I haven't seen a single Garter snake up by the reservoir (perhaps because of the presence of Herons and Egrets, which eat snakes). On Friday, we did stumble across a small Garter snake sunning itself in a dry wash in the forest though. It looked like it had shed recently.

Speaking of Friday, I've been having the campers create nature mandalas at the end of the short Friday solo hike (which functions as a way to have them reflect on the week and think about the future, which is Friday's theme). Here is what my groups have created at the end of the last two weeks:

In the middle of the week, instead of sleeping over for the first Trailblazers overnight (the first two weeks didn't have one scheduled), I played hooky and took Willow and Sophie (along with a couple of their friends) to see Five Seconds of Summer at Shoreline Amphitheater. The girls had a great time, and I had one too, if only because they were having one. I can't say that I'm a fan of the band, although they were good at what they did.

Tomorrow, we start the fourth and final week of Trailblazers for the summer. After that, I'll be working the last two weeks of regular summer camp, followed by three weeks off. The summer is blazing by in a flurry of dust and sun.

Finally, by way of reply to a comment received on a post (yes, that one) but not published. I never mention the name of the camp that employs me on this blog because this is a personal journal and I don't necessarily want or need our customers (parents and/or kids) finding it reading it, so if a comment mentions the name of my employer, it doesn't get published. Sure, my blog is on the internet for everybody to read (and anybody who digs deeply enough will probably find it), but I like to keep it as unsearchable as possible because... well, because I like to keep a boundary between my private and my professional life, I guess. Plus, I don't really want to continue talking about the event mentioned in the post that was commented upon. Let it suffice to say that the writer of the news stories about the incident, while mostly keeping things factual, is very clever when it comes to injecting opinion and fanning flames. Over the years of my existence on this planet, every newsworthy event that I have been peripherally involved in has been misreported in some way, whether through the asking of inflammatory questions, or being vague with facts, or countless other journalistic tricks. This is done to sell the stories and keep people reading and yes, it has a negative impact on innocent people as well as the guilty ones.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Chicken Party, Plus Trailblazers

Here are some photos from Penelope's 7th birthday party. We initially thought of making party hats for the chickens, but figured they would just fall off. The bibs stayed on better, although the chickens were somewhat confused. I've since come to the conclusion that the only thing harder than putting a bib on a chicken is removing it afterward.

Mrs. Charles:



After receiving her bib, Dot promptly vanished into the coop. Dash lived up to her name, rushing about as usual. Once birthday snacks were offered, the chickens converged for a feast of mealworms, raisins, and other tasty morsels.

My work week was fun and fast, our enjoyment aided and abetted by much cooler temperatures (including a few drops of rain on Thursday). This was the first of four weeks of our Trailblazers program. The program is a bit more structured than regular summer camp, and focuses more on science and natural history. For the most part, the campers range in age between 8 and 10 years old. We have the same four staff members as last year, which allowed us to quickly slip back into groove. We even had a few of the same campers.

Early in the week, Turkey Vultures were hanging out around camp. That's somewhat unusual.

The rattlesnake that I thought had abandoned the hole on the lower field after shedding was back with a couple of friends. I think I have inadvertently selected the local population for intelligence, removing all of the easily trapped snakes to distant locations so that the only ones remaining nearby are the individuals too wily to be caught. Now, from the looks of it, they're fixing to breed.

As an added bonus, here's a picture of me looking like a lunatic. Honey Badger, one of the mentor counselors for Trailblazers, has been capturing candid pictures of the staff for the last few weeks.

Also, here's an improv session at the pool, featuring drone flute and two staff radios (played by Meerkat and Sniffles) set to "error" mode. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), no recording exists. Summer camp is full of strange little moments like this.

Trailblazers weeks always end with contemplative solo hikes and a chance to reflect. This week, one of the kids, a camper named Jaguar, asked if I'd seen the movie "Inside Out". I replied that I had, and he responded by telling the group that this week helped form a core memory (which won't necessarily make sense to any readers who haven't seen the movie, but since I've seen it, I recognized it as a rather profound compliment). The kids in my group were great, although as always, there were a couple of them who always seemed to be doing the opposite of what they should have been doing. The most vivid example of this was the kid who, when warned about some overhanging poison oak, promptly reached up and grasped it. Actually, two different kids did this on separate days. Sigh.

This coming week, we add LIT (Leaders In Training) to the mix. These are 13-year-olds who will be acting as counselors for Trailblazers while under the tutelage of mentor counselors. Willow will be at camp as a regular summer camper. Next year she'll be an LIT. She's really growing up. This evening, she'll be going to see her favorite band, One Direction, with a friend. I'm happy for her, but I'm glad that someone else is taking her.

Friday, July 03, 2015

A Plague of Frogs, Movies on the Beach, Dancing Planets, and Excessive Heat

The sun seared much of California with renewed ferocity this week, and the humidity made being outside even less comfortable. Despite this, the wheels of summer camp kept turning, grinding out five days of fun and festivity.

I started the week tired due to a weekend full of live music, including Mayhem Fest at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. Then, because free movies play on the beach during the summer, went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Wednesday. We saw The Breakfast Club, which I last saw so long ago that I barely remembered it. I think I liked it better this time through. It helped that a full, yellow moon slowly rose above the fog bank behind us to our left. It was quite beautiful. At one point, the seagulls started freaking out above us, and we looked up to see a hovering drone with red and green lights invading seagull airspace. It eventually turned and disappeared in the direction of the pier, and the seagulls calmed down.

This was the view to our right:

To the west, Venus and Jupiter did their static dance in the darkening sky. I pointed them out to the kids on the night hike the following night.

What else? A camper found a box turtle carapace in the pond yesterday. Not only aren't box turtles native to California, but they aren't aquatic. I envisioned some clueless weekend-warrior turtle owner deciding to free the box turtle by throwing it in the pond. Nobody knows for sure though, so it's a mystery.

The other noteworthy camp-related event this week was the abundance of tiny tree frogs (or Pacific Chorus Frogs, as they are now usually known) around camp at night. There were a bunch of them in the hallway, leaping across the floor and scaling the glass doors. There was one in the kitchen while I was making coffee this morning, and there was one in the Hub last night, which was spotted by a little homesick girl. I told her that she had saved the frog's life because when she spotted it, it was stuck in a spider web near the floor. That brought a smile to her face. Also in the Hub was a boy with a migraine (who ended up going home) and a counselor with a fever (who couldn't get hold of her parents, so didn't). It was kind of a busy night, as summer camp nights go.

At home, one of our Bold Jumping Spiders became a mom and a corpse in a short span of time. I found her little carcass at the bottom of her jar, and her young congregating on the sides. We're going to let them go in the front yard, because if we free them in the backyard, the chickens will eat them.