Sunday, January 06, 2019

Go Explore

The box of cards is labelled “Go Explore”. I picked it up from the Young Enterprise market just before Christmas. Schools throughout the region go head to head attracting customers with the product they have produced, after doing all the research and surveys about what might sell or where there is a hole in the market they can fill.

The box is really designed for younger people – much younger than me. It’s the woods edition designed to pry youngster away from TV or computer screens and get them outside exploring. They did an adult version, a box with candles, herbal tea and how-to leaflets on meditation. I could probably make my own box up if I chose to.

I chose five cards at random and headed off to a nearby wood – taking the scenic route, which involved a wrong turn and heading off into the hills. The cards come with points to add up along the way. I had the potential to collect 40 points. Points don’t turn into prizes – they just kick you outside to enjoy some fresh air.

I’d bought a pair of walking boots in a closing down sale a week ago and was keen to give them a whirl. I know that the proper way of buying walking boots is to have them properly fitted and tested on up-hill and down-hill equipment – but it was a sale and none of the staff suggested anything other than a swipe of the credit card. I saw money saved.

So how did I do?

Two of the cards were “do this” – hop ten steps on the left foot, and hop ten steps on the right foot. I thought ten points were in the bag. Not so! How can I not hop anymore? The right foot fared slightly better than the left foot, but in neither case did the body leave the ground. I bounced up and down rather than hopped. It was bad. Mu sense of balance was shot to pieces. It could all be down to the new walking boots, of course.

I remember my mum confessing to one of the great grandchildren than she couldn’t skip, I’m not even going to try. The great grandchild assured her it was easy and, if she liked, she could teach her how to skip. I don’t think the lesson achieved anything. I had no one to offer to teach me to hop.

One of the cards was “Spot a…blossoming tree”. That was ten points down the drain. It was never going to happen in not in mid-winter.  A forest stretching in all directions and all in winter’s garb. I had to be content with buds on the brink of bursting and trees draped with bright lime coloured lichen.

Another “Spot a….” card, this time looking out for a treehouse. Another ten points not to claim! It’s a forest path not someone’s rather large back yard that has a tree in it. Which woods had the makers of these cards walked through to see a tree house?

“Get creative, Mel” said God. “Think outside the box! What about bird boxes?” That was a possibility. There were a number of bird feeders beside the entrance to the forest path, but I saw no boxes.

“How about a woodpecker hole? That would qualify, at a stretch.” He suggested. I’d been on a walk along the River Ness with the lads and lasses from the Scottish Waterways Trust. One of them pointed out a woodpecker hole in a nearby tree. I knew what it looked like. I scanned the trunks at what might I thought was the right height.  There might have been dozens of them but I saw nothing.

“Fallen logs!” said God, “They house all sorts of life. It was a tree and now it’s home to all kinds of insects. The forest wastes nothing. Even the dead stuff is put to work.”

I didn’t really want to poke around with the bark. I decided to take God’s word for it and claim ten points.

The final card was “Find somethings that meows.”

“Scottish wildcats (Felis silvestris) look similar to a large tabby cat, weighing up to 8kg and measuring as long as 98cm. However, there are some key differences. The most obvious is the thick tail that has a black blunt tip with thick black stripes. They also have a much larger cranial capacity, shorter gut and a more angular jaw, good for crunching live prey with. Genetically, they are distinct from our domestic cats which have evolved from the Near Eastern wildcat rather than the European wildcat. They are one of our last remaining natural predators and play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.”

I didn’t see one. “They are very rare and elusive, it's difficult to spot them in the wild. Many people living in the Scottish Highlands may never see one.”

I didn’t see a tame cat either.

I found something that barks, something that runs, something that gallops = dogs, people and horses,

So, technically I ended the walk without notching up points. That’s OK. Maybe I shall practice hopping for next time..

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