OBSERVATION

When you walk through the woods, animals and birds know you're there and most will run away or otherwise behave unnaturally. However, if you sit still and watch, and are careful to be extremely quiet, it won't be long before they get used to you being there (or don't notice you at all) and begin to act more naturally. Observe the habits of birds and animals that are aware of your presence, and contrast that with their behavior when they don't know you're around.

You can also have a good time watching bugs--at least for awhile! In our part of the country, all you have to do is look closely at a small section of grass. You'll soon see several bugs crawling through the blades of grass, each intent on some errand of its own. Watch their movements and compare it to how you would expect to act in a similar environment. If you see the same types of bugs I normally manage to find, you'll probably wonder, A.) How do they move so fast on such short little legs, and, B.) If they can't run that fast without running into grass stems and tripping over dust particles, why don't they slow down?!

Still water is also a good place to observe insects and bugs. Some "skate" around on the top of the water, while others actually swim about in it. Don't spend too much time around stagnant water, as mosquitoes will be numerous. I don't know about you, but I've seen enough mosquitoes to last me a lifetime!

EATING

Yes, eating! You need to be extremely careful in your identifications, but there are all kinds of edible plants and berries out there, and it can be fun and educational to find and eat some of them! Again, though, be very careful so you don't wind up eating something poisonous. Some plants have poisonous look-alikes, and some are even edible at certain times of the year but toxic at other times.

One of my personal favorites is wild raspberries. They're thick as can be around here toward the middle or end of June. They prefer well-drained soil and can often be found on slopes alongside highways (although some people say berries growing too close to roadways may accumulate toxins from the passing cars). Raspberries are easy to identify by their leaves, which are arranged in groups of three or five, and are green on top and silvery-green on the bottom. Raspberry stalks can be light green or dark purple and have sharp thorns, so be careful when picking! Wild raspberries are ripe when they reach a shiny, near-black appearance and come off the plant easily, sometimes simply falling off at a touch.

Cattails are another "wild food" that you may find interesting. I have heard that cattails always have some edible portions, year-round. There are so many different ways to use cattails for food that I don't have room in this article to go into them all, but a quick Internet search will show plenty of ways you can eat these common plants.

There are many other edible plants and berries, but many of them only grow in specific geographic areas. Do some research for what's available in your area and go on a foraging expedition! (Again, unless you're on your own property, check to make sure this is okay to do as some park districts have rules against picking plants.)

By the way, it's worth saying again – be very sure of what you're looking at before you eat it. Some wild edibles are almost impossible to mistake, while others are difficult to tell from their poisonous counterparts. A wrong guess could cause you to become a little sick, really sick, or even to die, so don't take any chances!

It is comforting to know that (supposedly) very few plants will actually kill you, provided you only eat a small quantity. If you try some wild "food" and find it tastes bitter, soapy, or otherwise unpleasant, you should stop eating it immediately, and probably drink lots of water just in case.

We're coming up on the best time of year to go hiking and enjoy the outdoors. I hope this article has given you some ideas to add some extra interest to your nature hikes this summer! So have fun learning what you can from God's creation, and remember to be safe!

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Matthew Lewis, a homeschool graduate, is a self-taught web developer who enjoys writing computer code almost as much as eating a good raspberry cobbler (and much more than making one). He admits to having never tasted cattails, but sheepishly says he nearly tried pine sap once as a substitute for chewing-gum (not advised).

This article was originally published in the May/June '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine, a national publication dedicated to encouraging and equipping Christian homeschoolers. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com