One of my earliest memories is a smell. It is earthy and astringent. Fallen pine needles warmed by the afternoon sun transports me to another time and place. Both of my childhood homes were nestled in areas that were surrounded by White Pines. As a toddler I remember collecting pine cones in the woods for the wreathes that my mother so expertly made. Later, I recollect playing in the local park amongst the towering pines, pretending that a cluster was my special fort. The pine cones represented the food or gold depending upon my whim. In my neighborhood all the children congregated in the pine forest jockeying bicycles down the intricate network of logging trails and cow paths that wove through the area. One trail littered with roots and pine cones meandered down a hill. We each felt as if we deserved a badge of honor if we were able to stay upright on the entire descent.
When my husband and I purchased our farm house, one of the main drawbacks to me was that it was surrounded by deciduous forest instead of mixed or pine. As I began this study with my children, I realized that their olfactory memories will be created with backdrop of horse and dairy farms. The sweet smell of manure. Well...it is an acquired taste shall we say. For this study, I was excited to get back to my old stomping grounds with the boys. I wanted them to experience the environment of simple clean "piney woods."
Our study began with a call to my trusty mother. She is a pine cone expert. She know all the best locations in our area to find these treasures of the forest. For years she created pine cone wreath masterpieces. I am really not exaggerating....they were beautiful. We piled into the car with her to hit the pine cone hotspots. Unfortunately, that wonderful warm pine scent was not our experience that day. It was pouring which slowly turned to sleet and then snow. Regardless of the weather, we pressed forward in our study.
We quickly picked up a few pine cones and needles for the collection.
I was surprised that the cones were not more closed up as the weather was so raw. This summer our area had a bit of a dry spell compared to our typical "temperate rainforest" weather, so the pine cones may have been reflective of those conditions.
Our second stop put us at the foot of West Mountain. We found a cluster of Red Pine trees next to an old sugar shack that belonged to my childhood best friend's family. (You may recognize the trees TLC.)
We again scampered around to collect samples of cones and needles.
On the same property we gathered some pieces of cedar and some of their small cones.
The weather was so bad we made our way back home, thankful that we were able to collect what we had. Our science table already had a nice collection of pine cones, so this was just enough of an "hour" outside.
Back in our warm kitchen, we selected the most closed up pine cones for a bit of an experiment. We laid out our choices on some tinfoil and set the oven to 200 degrees.
When the oven was up to temperature we placed the cones into the warm oven to convince them that they were laying on the forest floor on a hot summer day. Ahhhh! The kitchen was filled with my favorite smell. After about an hour this is what we saw.
They were convinced.
We took the rest of our collection and completed several activities with them. First I had the boys identify each of the cones with their homemade field guides.
On another morning we took our collection and sorted them from smallest to largest. A few of the cones had to be measured with a tape to assure their correct location on the chart. The boys are always anxious to use tools!
Finally we made some peanut butter pine cones laden with black sunflower seeds for our bird feeder. It was a messy project, but the boys and birds really appreciated it.
Overall a fun study that really brought me back to that wonderful connection I felt to the woods as a child.