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Audubon Family
Activities and advice for enjoying nature with your kids

Kelli Bickman/Stockart

Field Guide
Solstice Celebration
Scenic getaways, million-acre wilderness, rock-bottom prices, and year-round availability. Sound like real estate hype? It isn’t—as long as you like rustic. My family established a decade-long tradition of renting cabins in our home state of Montana when we decided to celebrate the winter solstice as part of our Christmas holidays. Cabins this time of year offer a cozy haven even in an inhospitable season.

Government agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and State Parks, rent out cabins on public lands throughout North America, but the U.S. Forest Service has the most extensive network. Built as supply outposts for backcountry rangers or for caretaker families a generation or two ago, many of the service’s cabins are available at very reasonable rates ($30-$60 per night). Some sleep two to three, while others can handle a dozen occupants. They sit aside mountain streams and in alpine meadows, along Utah’s desert rims and in the foothills of the Ozarks, offering remarkable access to trails, panoramic vistas, and wildlife.

While many cabins have road access to the front door, others require a hike or ski to reach, and a few are remote enough to challenge even the hardy to a long day’s backpack or ski trek. Amenities vary widely. Some have electricity, but most don’t and are heated instead by wood stove (firewood is provided). Cookware is sparse, outhouses a given, and basic beds the norm. In other words, the usual protocol is to BYO: food, sleeping bags, water, lantern, and Scrabble.

Time your visit to coincide with a remarkable natural event, such as a meteor shower or a salmon run. While you’re there, keep a list of birds, mammals, and tracks in the snow to document who lives in the neighborhood. Be sure to check the cabin logbook to see what sort of adventures previous guests experienced. Add your own entry, and plan to come back, same time next year, to pen an update. For more information, click here. —Alan Kesselheim

 

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

Nightwatch
Some dazzling performances are worth missing bedtime for. Mark your calendars for upcoming meteor showers, and get the lawn chairs ready. Shooting stars—tiny dust particles that typically break off of comets—occur year-round and are visible across the United States, although clear air on cold nights enhances viewing. As autumn wanes, look for two showers in particular: The Leonids will pass through earth’s atmosphere November 7–28, peaking between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on the 18th. The Geminids (possibly originating from an asteroid, and often the most prolific) follow on December 4–16, with the big act expected after moonset on the morning of the 14th. Find a spot outside, away from urban light, and let your eyes adjust. Don’t focus on one place; meteor showers span much of the sky. Settle in for at least half an hour, and enjoy a show that’s been 4.5 billion years in the making. For more info, click here. —Julie Leibach

 

Robert Jeffers

Hands On
Turn invasive plants into cool paper with this project from the Los Angeles Audubon Society.

  • Chop up pampas grass, oats, or ripgut brome into one-inch pieces (which species is considered “invasive” depends on where you live).
  • In a big pot, boil the pieces in water with OxiClean (for three hours in a well-ventilated area) or without (for about 10 hours) until the fibers tear easily. Let the mixture cool, then drain and rinse it.
  • Blend the pieces in very small batches with plenty of cold water until the pulp is smooth. Dump it into a bucket, let it settle, and pour off the extra water.
  • Fill a craft tub two-thirds full of water and add 2 to 3 handfuls of pulp. Swirl. Drag a mold and deckle—a tool consisting of two wooden rectangular frames, one with an attached mesh screen (the mold)—through the mix so the pulp clings uniformly to the screen.
  • Lay the mold on fabric, and sponge over the mesh’s backside. Remove the frames and hang up the sodden fabric. When it’s dry, peel off your new plant-based paper.—Michele Wilson

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