The old man glided up the trail without a sound. His gaze constantly travelled - over the stands of grand fir trees, the stream beside the trail, the peaks in the distance, and me. Every few minutes, his attention would focus on something, and he would wordlessly point it out. As the clock moved, we had been walking less than an hour; as Grandpa measured time, it was a “bit”; for a six-year old, it seemed like an eternity.
Suddenly he stopped and looked down at me. “Pick up your feet,” he said. He then turned and continued up the draw. Grandpa did not waste words. But I was getting tired, and the day was getting warmer. When my feet scraped the ground again a few minutes later, he again stopped and turned. He stood motionless as he sized me up. He finally spoke, “Let’s play Stop – Look – Listen.”
Grandpa found a comfortable place under a hemlock tree and explained the rules. We had to be very quiet for at least five minutes. We would remember everything we saw or heard, and share our lists after the five minutes were up.
The forest was dead still except for the breeze whispering through the firs. But within a few minutes, life had returned to the forest. Birds began singing, a red-tailed chipmunk scampered across the trail, and a northern goshawk glided through the trees across the stream.
We compared notes after a few minutes; Grandpa saw much more than me.
We continued to play the game for the next 23 years: summer vacations, family gathering, and visits while I was on leave from the Army. The last time we played was in Hells Canyon; as I led the way up the trail, I heard his foot scrape the ground.
Stop – Look – Listen
The game is as simple as it sounds. By being still and silent, the natural environment around you will come back to life.
Select an amount of time to sit. The minimum should be two minutes; the maximum depends on the age of the children and their attention span. Five minutes makes a good first game. Pass out sheets of paper, and have everyone fold it in half. On one side, have everyone list all of the living things they see. Do not forget the trees and plants. On the other side, list every sound they hear.
Once the time is up, compare notes. Talk over what everyone saw, and heard. Do not worry too much about exact identification. You can always look up birds, animals, and insects later.
If you want to expand the game, use the back of the paper to list animal “sign” that they notice.
This can include feathers, tracks, animal droppings, and insect tracks. Also use the back side to list where you stopped and the weather conditions. List not only the geographic location, but the details: next to a stream, in the shade, in a deep valley.
A few tips to make the game more fun.
- The game can be played any place you want (or need) to stop. It does not need to be pristine wilderness; you will be surprised how many living creatures are in your local park.
- Choosing a place in the shade will make the game more comfortable, and small wildlife likes the shade, too.
- Locations near water will usually have the most wildlife.
- The game makes a good reason to take periodic breaks on a long hike.
To experience the most wildlife, encourage everyone to use a few simple rules:
- Be as quiet as possible.Be as still as possible.
- If you have to move, be slow and smooth.
- Use your ears. You will often hear wildlife, especially birds, before you can see them.
A family history of special moments:
You can save the sheets in a binder to recall family outings or start a “naturalist’s notebook” for the budding zoologist in the family.