Monday, April 04, 2005

A Walk in the Park

Spent the day wandering Crotona Park with my students and our wild edible plant guide, Wildman Steve Brill. He visited our school in the fall for a guest lecture on mushrooms, and they had been eager to do a plant walk with him, so I set this up. Whatever the radio said this morning about the skies being partly cloudy and a high of 53, the skies were mostly cloudy and the high was nowhere near 53! So it was a brisk walk in the park.

I could have put the kids on a bus to Van Cortlandt Park or Central Park where they would have likely seen a wider variety of species, but I wanted them to see the plants in their own neighborhood, where they could return with sisters and brothers and other family members and show off their new knowledge.

So, we set out for the park this morning with plastic bags for collecting samples and bottled water to stay hydrated. Wildman showed us lots and lots of field garlic (very much like chives, and abundant in Crotona Park), lemony sheep's sorrel, dandelion greens (taste like lettuce this time of year but become bitter once the plant flowers), and several other edible plants growing just blocks from our school. We rinsed the specimens and then tasted. It was fun to watch the kids' reactions when Wildman popped pieces of plants into his mouth - but before long, many were willing to try just a nibble of this green or that leaf.

Another funny moment was when Wildman was showing the kids mugwort. He described how the English used to put it in their beer to add flavor (hence the name), and how Chinese women would pour boiling water over it, let it steep, and then drink it about a week before their periods to prevent cramps. At that point, the girls fairly rushed him to get samples! Who knows if any of them will try it, but it was pretty funny how open they were about their need for this plant!

Spring is at least a couple of weeks late in coming this year, which made the walk chilly and also limited the number of plants we could see. Although this would typically be a fine time for a wild plant walk, I think if we do this again I will either schedule it another week or two later to be on the safe side, or go to one of the larger parks, or both. Although the walk was valuable - and many kids were really, really enthusiastic - some weren't that into it and it felt like we were out for much longer than we needed to be. If more varieties of plants had been available to look at and talk about (and maybe taste!) then the time would have flown by. Instead, it dragged a little and my restless eighth graders became a bit unruly. I guess I'll find out what they really thought about it tomorrow when we debrief; it may be that they loved it and were just being playful and unthinking, but some of the kids came across as a bit rude in my opinion, especially the first group that I took out. I spoke to them about it but they weren't very responsive.

Not a wild success, but not too bad, either, and I certainly got my exercise for the day!


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