A Naturalist Voice
Field notes by J. Cantrell
I’m not a doctor, I have never played one on TV and I’m not an “indoor” guy so I don’t think I have a prospect working on hospital grounds. However, I casually find myself prescribing hikes, adventures and nature activities for people of all ages and abilities. I like recommending a walk in the forest, it is best physical therapy I know. Many people feel the healing powers in nature’s solitude, beauty and abundant life within the woods.
The most familiar acclaim of the year’s deer season I hear from sportsmen is that they simply enjoy being in the outdoors or sharing the woods with a youth, a relative or a friend. Being in a deer stand often gives a busy person the medicine needed for slowing down their pace and delighting in their forest-influenced observations.
I find myself having a soft spot in my heart for grandparents who say they don’t care if they get a deer or turkey or even find a patch of fall chanterelles or other edible mushrooms, as long as they get to share the experience with the grandkids. In a “nutshell” it is about the company they keep.
What potential a hickory nut or acorn have! Today they can be collected with two fingers. Years from now at maturity they can harbor barred owls, luna moths and even a treehouse. The potential for adventure, human stress relief and wildlife benefits are intertwined.
An author I often reference is Richard Louv. He has written several books targeting people’s disconnect with nature and offers remedies in his texts and website. Louv remarks in Last Child in the Woods, “Now, my tree-climbing days long behind me, I often think about the lasting value of those early, deliciously idle days. I have come to appreciate the long view afforded by those treetops. The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.”
The social, mental and health benefits of the woodland can appeal to all senses. Many fall smells are pleasing. The foliage color is stunning. And taste, yes there are culinary healthy benefits too. Scattered on the autumn forest floor are black walnuts, pecans and a few edible species of hickory nuts. The native nutmeats are high in healthy fats and proteins. Walnuts and pecans can dress up salads and a variety of desserts.
I grew up with a massive mocker-nut hickory tree flanking our back porch. So, I suppose I’m imprinted with the mocker-nut as a favorite tree, I find them harboring fat squirrels, fascinating caterpillars, spectacular fall color and tasty oily nutmeats. They are challenging to harvest, but worth the cracking effort.
I’m an educator by profession and work with a shoestring budget. So, I relentlessly fall back on free nature materials and the forests of the Ozarks never fail to provide. I tote nature related activities and share my findings and experiences with educators ranging from preschool teachers to senior citizen center directors.
A favorite study is sprouting and growing oak tree saplings. It is so easy, and works well in the classroom or kitchen windowsill. There are several species in the white oak family in the OZARKS region. They are the group of acorns that sprout on top of the ground in the autumn. They don’t have to be buried or go through a cold spell, which makes them ideal for class room and home school study.
This month gather a few fresh ones. Don’t let them dry out, but hurry to find out if they are still viable by placing the acorns in a glass of water. Discard the ones that float, you want the sinking acorns. Then lay the acorns on top of the soil in a flower pot or even a shallow saucer of soil. Water occasionally and within days, the adventure of the forest floor takes place indoors and the drama will be performed before the students’ eyes.
A big reward coming from a little package and it gives all naturalists a little more understanding. See you on the forest trail these upcoming autumn days. - Jeff
Jeff Cantrell is an education consultant with MDC and technical adviser for MPF. He is also a member and mentor for the Chert Glades Chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists. Our chapter participates in a monthly nature scavenger hunt, Naturalist by Numbers, with topics of interest presented by Jeff to get us outside, observing nature and learning about natural events.
Photos by Jeff Cantrell and Ann Butts