Guiding Kids to Nature
This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.
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by Cindy Ross
Sierra and Todd 'sailing ' their kayak in a tail wind. Photo: Cindy Ross
Look how fast we're going, Mom, and we're not even paddling!" my daughter Sierra yelled from her tandem kayak. She and her father were using their paddles and outstretched arms as sails to move down the Kouchibouguacis River to our campsite.
"Did you order this particular wind direction just for us?" I said, teasing our guide, Victor Savoie, a naturalist and interpreter at Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick, Canada. Victor owns and operates a guide touring business, with his wife Nicole Daigle, an award-winning naturalist.
Victor was leading me and my husband, Todd, and our two children, Sierra (12), and Bryce (10), to barrier islands where up to 500 Grey Seals live. And to the largest Common Tern colony in eastern North America (over 6000 nests). Here is a place that fewer than 1/2 of 1% of park visitors get to experience.
Our family enjoys going off on our own kayaking adventures, but we felt this particular outing could only be enhanced with Victor's presence and expertise. Over a couple of days, Victor would teach us all sorts of interesting things about the marine ecosystem and the natural history of this beautiful place.
We have a budding natural scientist in the family and Todd and I like to expose our children to rich learning experiences as well as good family fun. Victor would show us the correct behavior to approach the seals so we could view them without disturbing them-a feat we'd never have been able to accomplish on our own. "
Checking out a jellyfishes mouth. Photo: Cindy Ross
We set up camp on the tip of the mainland, with the barrier islands just a short paddle away. Victor unloaded supplies brought in by a supply boat: drinks and fresh food, including lobsters.
Victor showed us how to dig for soft-shell clams and the kids excitedly tried their hands at it-hoping to make a contribution to supper. They crawled in the shallow water on all fours and shouted with joy when they found one.
Another reason we chose to bring our family to Kouchibouguac is that the sheltered lagoons have the warmest water north of Virginia.
We walked along the shore and learned to identify sea parsley and taste its tangy flavor. We learned about the Micmac people who have been living here for thousands of years and to her delight, eagle-eye Sierra found a 'worked' point. Victor showed the kids how to handle a jellyfish without being stung and how to stick a finger into its harmless muscular mouth.
My son, Bryce, found clay along the bank and the kids dug up balls of it to bring back to camp to sculpt. It's never difficult to be entertained in this big outdoor playground.
Although we enjoyed Victor's company and relished the knowledge he shared, he also gave our family space and private time. We cuddled, watching the sunset, listening to the howling seals, knowing the best was yet to be.
The lagoon was still as glass next morning and the children bent over, mesmerized by the open book beneath them. The clear shallow water showed fish, crabs and moonsnails creeping along, and all sorts of delicate sea greens undulating gently in the tide. Victor asked the kids if they had ever seen a clamshell with a tiny hole drilled in the top at the thickest part.
"Yeah!" Sierra replied. "We string them into necklaces through those holes."
Victor explained that that hole is made by the moon snail. "It attaches itself to the clam and drills through in order to suck it up and eat it!"
We headed towards Tern Island and crept slowly along its shore. Victor pointed out wobbly, downy chicks that probably won't make it to adulthood.
"Predator!" he yelled as about 10,000 terns rose from the island to attack and defend their colony from an eagle, who nabbed a chick just twenty feet away.
I saw my children's eyes open wide. Off in the distance, we saw the seals beached on a sandbar, so many hunkered together it looked like an island. "
As we approach them," Victor warned, "the children should stop paddling altogether and you and Todd paddle very low on the side away from them." Victor handed Sierra his binoculars and from then on they remained glued to her eyes.
We stayed a respectful distance from the curious creatures, but close enough that we could smell their fishy aroma. A few playful seals surfaced right by our kayaks and snorted water from their nostrils, surprising the kids. For half an hour we floated peacefully among them, watching the morning sunlight shine on their bobbing heads, content to be in each other's presence. There aren't many experiences in life that come close to this type of communion with the natural world… a world only revealed through the power of your kayak paddle.
Family Paddling Tips
Maintaining your children's interest is probably the greatest challenge on a paddling trip. Mine become somewhat bored when crossing open expanses of water or paddling wide rivers where they don't "feel" the shore. Narrow, winding streams and small rivers are their favorites, or trips involving wildlife viewing, such as Kouchibouguac Park. Bring fishing rods, and nets for catching minnows. Take lots of breaks. Build sandcastles with them on sand beaches. Pull over and take walks. Swim. Play ball between kayaks.
If you want to enrich your adventure or don't feel skillful enough to be on you own, book a paddling trip with a guide/ naturalist.
Victor Savoie can be reached at Kayakouch, Inc., Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick, (506) 876- 1199. www.kayakouch.com/
For information on Kouchibouguac National Park, contact Parks Canada at 800- 414-6765 or 506-876-1277. http://parkscanada.pch.gc.ca/
© Cindy Ross is outdoor travel writer from Pennsylvania who loves to paddle, cycle and hike with her family. Her sixth book, Scraping Heaven-A Family's Journey Along the Continental Divide , (Ragged Mtn Press, Maine), is the narrative adventure of the family's llama hike along the 3100 mile National Scenic Trail (coming September 2002).