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All Hail Nature

Posted: Thursday 29th May 2014 by OutdoorLearning

All Hail Nature© Zsuzsanna Bird

A woodland walk took an exciting turn yesterday as bright May skies darkened and the air cooled…

Right you lot, gather round, this isn’t working, we need to increase our surface area!

I was leading a walk with seven 12-year-old girls, and we’d just been looking at a fern, considering how it is adapted to cope with the low light levels of the woodland floor. Scooping the leaves into one upright bunch, I’d shown them that it could have grown like this, like trees do, growing upwards towards the sunshine, and then releasing my handful for the leaves to fall back into their upside-down shuttlecock of feathery fronds, asked them why it had evolved to spread out in this way instead. One bright spark surpassed my expectations with her answer of “because it increases its surface area, so it can catch more light”, and at that, the heavens opened. 

As the pitter-patter of raindrops on the canopy began, I hushed them to silence and we huddled, hoods up, listening to that sound with which surely every human until the most recent generations has been utterly familiar. The girls responded beautifully, with wide eyes and one whisper of “it sounds magical”… Until the thunder cracked and broke our spell, and squealing broke out amid shouts of “this is just like Disneyland, when you’re queuing for a ride!” And then, the hail began.

Pelting through the leaves overhead, balls the size of broad beans hit heads and arms and soil all around. We held our hands out to see what we could catch, instinctively cupping both hands together to increase our chances. As hail fell around us, only a ball or two hit skin, until I had a mini-epiphany: “Right you lot, gather round, this isn’t working, we need to increase our surface area!” As the area of skin increased from 2 cupped hands to 16 open palms, just about the same surface area as the fern beside us, white ice-ball after white ice-ball landed in our human net, demonstrating the effectiveness of the fern’s adaptive strategy more perfectly than anything we could have planned.

Of course the curriculum-related educational potential pretty much ended there, and we tasted the hail, feeling the crunch, and competed to find the biggest hailstone, and as the hail turned to rain used our handlenses to admire the globules of water clinging to mosses and lichens on the tree trunks around us.
Soaked and smiling, we eventually returned to the Field Centre to towel off soggy hair and share the experiences of the different walk groups in the rain. A little earlier than planned because of the downpour, they headed for their coach; yet another group of children who’ve visited Nower Wood and have left us with what is likely to be a life-long memory of their experiences with Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Lucy Gummer: Education Officer, Nower Wood

For more information about Nower Wood, visit our education services pages.

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