The seventh annual Jamestown Audubon Society Enchanted Forest scheduled for Friday and Saturday evenings, Oct. 5-6, from 6 to 8 p.m. provides an educational experience with a Halloween theme for parents, grandparents, guardians, and their young children. I wish to share knowledge and inspiration I received as a volunteer worker on the organizing committee.
A goal of the Enchanted Forest is to teach young children how common wild animals live and survive in the natural world. By staging the supervised walk along an established Audubon Sanctuary trail after dark accompanied by family to meet six larger than life amazing animal characters, children learn to feel comfortable and safe outdoors at night.
Fear of the dark tormented me since my preteen years. This fear started when I learned a robber attempted a middle of the night break-in next door to my grandparents' house where I was sleeping.
The Audubon Enchanted Forest spider animal character pleads with her young audience to save spiders’ lives because they consume many insects and rarely bite humans.
Photo by Robert M. Ungerer
Fifty years later, when I entered the woods alone one hour before sunrise to hunt turkeys, I imagined a wild animal or wild man assaulting me. The natural nighttime sound of a frightened deer snorting, then breaking sticks as it ran away from me exaggerated the fear. To compensate for this fear, I usually waited until dawn was on the horizon to enter the woods.
With my late arrival, turkeys in the trees saw me, prompting them to fly in the opposite direction, as daylight increased. The Enchanted Forest adventure permits a youngster to walk after dark in the woods with the security of family, hopefully never developing a fear of the night. Recently, one animal character actor became afraid of the dark waiting alone at the lecture site for the next group of children and parents to arrive. I sympathized and understood the feeling. A volunteer helper stayed with the character for the duration of the evening presentations.
My approach to and appreciation of spiders changed when the spider character last year pleaded with the audience to stop killing spiders. She stressed the importance of spiders in the world because their diet consisted of insects, rarely biting a human. Now when spiders show up in my kitchen and bathroom at home, instead of squishing spiders, I gather them up in a tissue depositing them outside on bushes along my front porch.
The Enchanted Forest animal characters capture youngsters' attention and help youngsters develop concern about an animal's role in nature. One year, I recall the coyote character explaining that it was going hunting when it was done talking. A young boy walked up to the gentle appearing coyote to tell the coyote an edible tree frog was sitting just down the trail. He knew the frog was there because he just listened to its speech.
One evening, two teenagers from the local Job Corps acting as trail guides discovered for the first time the bright, densely clustered stars overhead. I told them they were looking at the Milky Way, also pointing out how to find the North Star. They said, "Wow, are you a teacher?" I said, "Yes" because that night I was their teacher for a brief moment. I could appreciate the thrill a real teacher experienced when their students grasped an idea or marveled at nature.
Our community produces a multitude of quality entertainment, educational and worthy fundraising projects annually. These efforts occur because citizens volunteer time, talents, donate money to the cause and attend the programs. The Enchanted Forest occurs because youngsters act as animal characters while volunteers park cars, act as trail guides, serve refreshments, lead campfire songs and take reservations. Local cider mills in Busti and Blockville donate delicious cider.
If you want to walk a trail in crisp, fall weather under moonlight or in the rain, meet animal characters discussing their life, and contribute to the Audubon mission of educating children and adults about the natural world, reserve a place for you and your children at the Enchanted Forest for a small fee. Check the Audubon website at www.jamestownaudubon.org for details.