Blog retirement (a thank you & how to stay connected)

EPNA Thank you

I started Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas in the fall of 2010, having recently moved to the city with my family. The creation of the blog was due in response to not finding a whole lot online about exploring in local nature with kids. After 7 1/2 years, it’s time to hang up my hat here. I thank everyone who has followed along, commented, and found useful the information that I provided. The blog will remain online, and the posts left up for anyone to still read. On that note, you can find me online:

I hope you continue to get your family or students outside in nature – happy exploring!

~ Michael D. Barton

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BOOK REVIEW: Charley Harper’s What’s in the Desert? A Nature Discovery Book

I have previously shared here about a series of kid’s nature books that focused on woodlands, rain forests, and coral reefs. Pomegranate Books has recently published a fourth: Charley Harper’s What’s in the Desert? A Nature Discovery Book (order through Powell’s City of Books or


Like’s its predecessors, this book features the modernist paintings of birds and other wildlife by Charley Harper (1922-2007) with lyrical and rhyming text from Zoe Burke. The images use animals that are included in Harper’s painting The Desert, which was originally done for a National Park Service poster. Readers learn about the various animals that live in a desert (mostly birds in this one, but some mammals, reptiles, and insects are included, as well as a few plants like cactus and yucca): how they move, what they eat, where they have their homes, what sounds they make. A lot of information about animal behavior is to be found in such simple text.

Here are a few images from within the book:




Together with the three other books, Pomegranate’s “Nature Discovery Book” series is sure to delight fans of nature art and serve as a great introduction to the diversity of life on Earth for young readers. I hope the publisher’s continues with the series.

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BOOK REVIEW: Seasons of Joy

I love children’s books that depict children playing outside. We need such books to serve as constant reminders to get our own children – whether as parents, teachers, or mentors – into nature and exploring their world. And when the artwork is unique and beautiful, even better! This new book that shows children playing in nature through the four seasons is illustrated with needle-felted wool scenes.

seasons book cover

Claudia Marie Lenart, Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play (Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press, 2017), 32 pp.

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Publisher’s description The pure and simple delight of children playing outside is captured in needle-felted wool paintings created by Claudia Marie Lenart in Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play. The picture book pairs dreamy images of multi-cultural children, animals, flowers and trees with verse that expresses the joy young children experience in nature’s seasons. Children can see themselves in the diverse characters and can be inspired to spend more time playing outdoors and connecting to nature.

Lenart has created charming scenes of kids actively engaged in their environment, beginning with Spring as they run up and down a hill and into summer for a swim in a lake. Fall brings leaf pile jumping and winter brings snow sledding. Simple text describing what the kids are doing and feeling accompanies each scene. The textured aspect of the felted wool art lends a depth to the images that brings out the action. Seasons of Joy will make any adult long for days of their childhood and hopefully instill in newer generations of kids a desire to spend much time engaged in outdoor play.

Here are some of the scenes (click to enlarge):

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BOOK REVIEW: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Here in Portland we are back in the rainy part of the year (pretty much October through early June). I admit it becomes all too easy to just want to hang out indoors, laptop at one’s fingertips and a to-do list needing to be checked off. Should I be surprised that my preschooler wants to watch episode after episode of Daniel Tiger? This new book, written and beautifully illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna, follows a young girl as technological boredom inside becomes what she thinks will remain boredom outside. But that boredom is anything but uneventful and unexciting!


Beatrice Alemagna, On a Magical Do-Nothing Day (New York: HarperCollins, 2016), 48 pp.

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Publisher’s description A compelling, magical picture book with “startlingly beautiful words and pictures” (Kirkus). A book to spur imagination and exploring and a break from boredom or screen time. All I want to do on a rainy day like today is play my game. My mom says it’s a waste of time, but without my game, nothing is fun! On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong about that… While reading On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, one gets the sense that the illustrator became lost in her drawings, and as a reader, you will want to do the same.

After losing her connection to a game device (which she brought outside), and through meeting snails, walking among mushrooms, and digging hands in dirt, the young girl comes to see the outside world as something worthy of experiencing, even in the yuckiest of days.

While it is wonderful for parents to get outside with their kids, sometimes parents DO have things they need to work on. On those days, parents can push their kids outside to do what kids are meant to do: explore, play, and get dirty. In our current culture of over-scheduled weeks for kids, On a Magical Do-Nothing Day serves as a reminder that it is okay – really, it is – to have days where kids should let boredom lead the way to discovery and play. And allowing that happens begins with encouragement from parents.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Creaky Knees Guide Pacific Northwest National Parks and Monuments: The 75 Best Easy Hikes

As a family we’ve explored in many national parks, from Yosemite National Park in California to Yellowstone National Park in (mostly) Wyoming. And while we’ve certainly visited the flagship NPS sites in the Pacific Northwest – Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, and Olympic – this new hiking guide serves as a reminder that there are many more to add to our list. Like the similar guides in the “Creaky Knees” series, this one offers descriptions of a variety of hikes that are great for families – while some of the hike suggestions are a bit tough, most are doable for the prepared family.


Seabury Blair Jr., The Creaky Knees Guide Pacific Northwest National Parks and Monuments: The 75 Best Easy Hikes (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2016), 320 pp.

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Publisher’s description Timed perfectly with the National Park Service centennial celebration in 2016, this guidebook features the 75 best day hikes in national parks and monuments throughout Washington and Oregon including: North Cascades National Park, San Juan Islands National Monument, Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens National Monument, Newberry National Volcanic Monument, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Caves National Monument, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Written in an informative style that will appeal to anyone, regardless of age, each trail description includes elevation gains, including a topographical map; clear, up-to-date driving directions; mileage and estimated hiking time; trail conditions; and more. Creaky Knees hiking guides are perfect for aging baby boomers, seniors, those traveling with small children, and anyone else interested more in a stroll than a climb.

Also by Seabury Blair Jr.: The Creaky Knees Guide Washington: The 100 Best Easy Hikes and The Creaky Knees Guide Oregon: The 85 Best Easy Hikes

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BOOK: Rainy Day Kids Adventure Book

For many of us the rainy season is either here or soon upon us. It can be difficult to muster the energy for getting outside with kids when it’s pouring out. The advice and suggested activities in this new book can help make it all go a little smoother.


Steph Scott and Katie Akers, Rainy Day Kids Adventure Book (London: Batsford, 2017), 160 pp.

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Publisher’s description As the weather turns into autumn and the kids start watching more television and stare at the computer, how can you get them out and about to enjoy the cooler months? Outdoor enthusiasts Steph and Katie are teachers and mothers and have years of experience of finding new and novel ways to get kids to enjoy the great outdoors, whatever the weather. This great little tome is packed with ideas for games, activities and nature crafts that are perfectly suited to the autumnal and winter months of rain and wind. Activities range from puddle painting and making your own nature paint brushes, to making wind spinners from golden leaves and feathers. Why not try puddle pouncing or raindrop racing, or create a pool and spa for an elf? Or make a leafy woven kite, windmill or nature parachute for the windy weather? Nature offers loads of autumnal bits and bobs just waiting for a creative hand. And if you don’t want to stay out for too long, the book lists things to collect outdoors for taking home and used for stay-at-home projects. The book encourages youngsters to see the excitement of wind, snow, rain and to enjoy the elements with fun projects that excite the imagination.

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BOOK REVIEW: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

I have yet to visit the Grand Canyon. My family and I have visited many of the familiar national parks of the west, but so far not this miles-wide chasm in Arizona. After reading the new children’s book Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (New York: Roaring Book Press, 2017; order from Amazon or Powell’s City of Books), not only do I feel a bit of the reported awe that visitors usually claim they feel (I don’t doubt this!), but I feel that I shouldn’t wait too much longer to experience this geological wonder.

Jason Chin books

Chin’s books, which I have shared about here and on my other blog, splendidly mix an imaginative story line and artwork with accurate scientific content. Grand Canyon is no exception to this blending skill of Chin’s. Like in two of his previous books, Redwoods and Coral Reefs, a child is immersed in an activity and is suddenly transported to a new world. In Redwoods, a boy in a subway station reading about redwoods finds himself in a redwood forest upon exiting the station; and in Coral Reefs, a girl in a library opens a book about coral reefs and the reading room becomes an undersea world and gets a firsthand experience of coral reef life.

Likewise, in Grand Canyon a girl on a hike with her father is sent time traveling into the past to see geological processes at work and the ancient life that lived in the Grand Canyon region. Whether shadowed by gigantic redwoods, swimming with sea turtles, or playing witness to geological and paleontological history, Chin’s books show curious kids exploring and learning about the natural world. The result of kids reading these books, I hope, is a shared appreciation for nature and awe at its grandness and diversity. I highly recommend Grand Canyon and Chin’s other books, including one he illustrated for another author – Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle.

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BOOK: There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather & GIVEAWAY!

Last spring when I attended the annual Children & Nature Network conference in Vancouver, B.C., I met Linda McGurk, a Swedish-born, Indiana-living freelance journalist and mother of two girls who writes the blog Rain or Shine Mamma. We had been connected on social media for some time before then, and I always appreciate getting to meet people in real life:

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She was in a poster session sharing her views on the differences between how parents and teachers in the US and those in Scandinavia provide opportunities for children to play and learn outside. She grew up in Sweden, and when she became a parent in the United States, the freedoms of her childhood spent outside were not the same as where she was now raising her daughters.

I’m about half-way through her new book – released today – based on her experiences here and having moved to Sweden with her daughters for a period of time. So far There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is balanced mixture of narrative regarding her experiences as a parent (observing her own and other kids at play in communities and at school) and a great overview of relevant research and commentary on the ever-growing movement to reconnect children to nature. And just as Linda encourages parents and teachers to let kids play not just when it is dry out, her style of writing is anything but dry – it’s sharp, humorous, and full of insight.


Linda Åkeson McGurk, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge) (New York: Touchstone, 2017), 304 pp. 

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Publisher’s description Bringing Up Bébé meets Last Child in the Woods in this lively, insightful memoir about a mother who sets out to discover if the nature-centric parenting philosophy of her native Scandinavia holds the key to healthier, happier lives for her American children. When Swedish-born Linda McGurk moved to small-town Indiana with her American husband to start a family, she quickly realized that her outdoorsy ways were not the norm. In Sweden children play outside all year round, regardless of the weather, and letting young babies nap outside in freezing temperatures is not only common—it is a practice recommended by physicians. In the US, on the other hand, she found that the playgrounds, which she had expected to find teeming with children, were mostly deserted. In preschool, children were getting drilled to learn academic skills, while their Scandinavian counterparts were climbing trees, catching frogs, and learning how to compost. Worse, she realized that giving her daughters the same freedom to play outside that she had enjoyed as a child in Sweden could quickly lead to a visit by Child Protective Services. The brewing culture clash finally came to a head when McGurk was fined for letting her children play in a local creek, setting off an online firestorm when she expressed her anger and confusion on her blog. The rules and parenting philosophies of her native country and her adopted homeland were worlds apart. Struggling to fit in and to decide what was best for her children, McGurk turned to her own childhood for answers. Could the Scandinavian philosophy of “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” be the key to better lives for her American children? And how would her children’s relationships with nature change by introducing them to Scandinavian concepts like friluftsliv (“open-air living”) and hygge (the coziness and the simple pleasures of home)? McGurk embarked on a six-month-long journey to Sweden to find out. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is a fascinating personal narrative that highlights the importance of spending time outdoors, and illustrates how the Scandinavian culture could hold the key to raising healthier, resilient, and confident children in America.

I have a history project deadline coming up, and look forward to getting back to Linda’s book after that (and so many others I wish to read!). Until then, here are some reviews to look over, and a cool GIVEAWAY on my Facebook page Children at Nature Play (US & Canada only)!

Publisher’s Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Hike It Baby (text interview)
Wildschooling Wild Chat (video interview)
Big Blend Radio: Nature-Centric Parenting (podcast interview)


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Upcoming nature events in Portland

— Please check for any schedule changes or registration requirements —

Have you checked out The Intertwine’s new mobile app Daycation to learn about things to do in nature around the Portland area?

Also check out the new Metro Park Finder!

Nature Night lecture series from Audubon Society of Portland

Upcoming Family canoe paddles with the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership

Upcoming OMSI Science Pubs about the OR/WA geology, protecting Oregon’s biodiversity

Upcoming events with the Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (in WA)

Upcoming Sunday Parkways events around the city

Nature classes at Portland area parks from Tinkergarten

Discovery Hikes with the Forest Park Conservancy

Family-friendly hikes with Friends of the Columbia River Gorge (click on the family-friendly filter to the right of the screen)

Hike series with Oregon Wild

Tours at the Hoyt Arboretum

Fall nature programming from THPRD (Beaverton area)

Summer nature programming from the Friends of Tryon Creek

Summer nature programming at Jackson Bottom Wetlands (Hillsboro)

Summer nature programming at the Tillamook Forest Center

Summer nature programming at the Leach Botanical Garden

Free Skills Series from Rewild Portland (every month)

Bird watching outings with Audubon Society of Portland

Bird and kid’s nature walks with Backyard Bird Shop

Aug. 25-Sept. 25 | Swift Watch at Chapman Elementary| Audubon Society of Portland

September 19 | Puddle Stompers | Friends of the Refuge

September 23 | SOLVE’s annual Beach & Riverside Cleanup | SOLVE

September 23 | The amazing geology of Chehalem Ridge | Metro

September 23 | Hogan Butte Grand Opening | City of Gresham

September 24 | Salmon Celebration at Westmoreland Park | Johnson Creek Watrshed Council

September 24 | Nature Days in the Park: Melilah Park (Aloha) | THPRD

October 1 | Tracktoberfest: Celebration of Nature & Community | Trackers Earth

October 11 | Free Metro parks day | Metro

October 11 | Puddle Stompers | Friends of the Refuge

October 13 | Spooky Streamside Community Celebration (Dirksen Nature Park) | Tualatin Riverkeepers

October 13 | Fall Family Farm Day | Sauvie Island Center

October 15 | Morning and afternoon mushroom discovery hikes at Scouters Mountain Nature Park | Metro

October 17 | Puddle Stompers | Friends of the Refuge

October 21 | Nature Days in the Park: Barrows Park | THPRD

October 21-22 | Salmon Homecoming at Oxbow Regional Park (Sat. or Sun.) | Metro

October 24 | Introduction to mushroom identification (at Oregon Zoo) | Metro

October 28 | No Ivy Day | Portland Parks & Recreation

October 28 | Hike: Lichen Loop: Exploring Lichens As Indicators Of Air Quality | Forest Park Conservancy

October 29 | 2017 Fall Mushroom Show (at World Forestry Center) | Oregon Mycological Society

November 4 | Newt Day at Tualatin Hills Nature Park | THPRD

November 11 | The secret life of birds (Blue Lake Regional Park) | Metro

November 12 | Morning and afternoon mushroom discovery hikes at Mount Talbert Nature Park | Metro

November 12 | Nature Days in the Park: Foothills Park | THPRD

November 12 | Morning and afternoon mushroom discovery hikes at Oxbow Regional Park | Metro

December 2 | Fantastic mosses and where to find them (Scouters Mountain Nature Park) | Metro

Regular nature outings (check websites for seasonal scheduling):
Story and Strolls and Guided Nature Walks at Tryon Creek State Park
Ladybug Nature Walks with Portland Parks Environmental Education
Puddle Stompers at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
Nature Mobile from THPRD’s Natural Resources
Honeybee Hikes at Leach Botanical Garden
Tadpole Tales with Columbia Slough Watershed Council
Farm Fridays at Zenger Farm
Second Saturdays at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver, WA
Guided hikes at Columbia Springs in Vancouver, WA (third Wed. of most months)
Tillamook Tales at the Tillamook Forest Center

Did you know?
– $2 admission at OMSI the first Sunday of every month
– $3 admission at the World Forestry Center the first Thursday of every month
– $4 admission at the Oregon Zoo the second Tuesday of every month
– FREE admission at the Portland Art Museum the first Thursday of every month, 5-8pm
– FREE admission at the Portland Children’s Museum the first Friday of every month, 4-8pm
– FREE admission at the Oregon Historical Society & Museum every day for Multnomah County residents

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BOOK REVIEW: Where’s Rodney?

Not every child can sit still in a classroom setting all day long. Children need to move their bodies and explore their environment.

A new book from the Yosemite Conservancy follows young Rodney, an elementary-grade student who just can’t remain at his desk. and focus on what the class is learning.


Carmen Bogan, Where’s Rodney? (San Francisco: Yosemite Conservancy, 2017), 32 pp. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Age: 4-8 (preschool-2nd grade)

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Publisher’s description Rodney was inside, but he wants to be outside. Outside is where Rodney always wants to be. Rodney is that kid who can’t sit still. Then Rodney gets the chance to be more outside than he’s ever been before. And that makes all the difference.

This is a charming story – a boy has difficulty focusing and remaining at his desk at school, but is completely in tune when outdoors. As the environmental educator Erin Kenny said, “You can’t bounce off the walls if there are no walls.” Children are not meant to be confined to indoor spaces. And it’s a notion that I wish more teachers and school administrators would grab on to and move their students outside for greater portions of the school day (it’s surely a reason many parents opt to homeschool, unschool, or wildschool their kids, or send them to nature-based preschools or forest schools in their younger years).

Many teachers DO know the benefits of increased time outside, for play and instruction, yet are held back by the school system that wants them to push more and more work on students to ready them for standardized testing. But, students can and do learn subjects better when outside and can be more engaged in the subject at hand.

In this book, Rodney is asked during class what the word majestic means. He doesn’t know, and the teacher ends up telling him.

Then, after exploring all there was to see during their field trip (to Yosemite, it appears), his teacher asks Rodney if he liked the park. His answer: “It’s majestic.” It’s a simple yet powerful message: put learning outdoors and everyone will benefit from it!

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