Nature’s art

The 11 children, ages 7 to 12, in Friday’s Art of Nature camp have put in a long morning drawing scientific illustrations of milkweed pods. It’s time to stretch their legs.

Teacher and children’s book illustrator Bob Palmatier places three small turtles into a bucket. “We’re going to take a walk into the woods and take some visitors with us,” he tells the class.

“What if your turtles mated?” a dark-haired boy at the first table calls out.

Palmatier shakes his head. “They’re all boys,” the teacher assures the boy.

This educational mix of art and nature is just one of the Nature Explorer Summer Camps, seven week-long programs for children offered this summer by the N.C. Botanical Garden. For a fee, school-age children can attend the Art of Nature, Wild Adventure and Young Naturalists one-week sessions, while preschoolers can go on one of four Garden Safaris. The last safari begins next week (Aug. 4).

“Our camps are designed to nurture respect and appreciation for the environment and inspire a sense of wonder through actively exploring the gardens and nature trails,” said Elisha Taylor, the garden’s youth and family programs manager and summer camp director. “One of my goals during the camps is to help the children understand and appreciate what they find in their own backyards here in North Carolina.”The camps include hands-on activities, animal and plant encounters, nature hikes, outdoor games, puppet shows, stories and craft projects.

This Art of Nature class is the fifth art class Palmatier has taught at the garden. A retired elementary school teacher and science specialist, Palmatier is teaching again to share all he’s learned about art, a hobby that has turned into a second career for him. Now he is working on “Pumpkin’s Dilemma,” the fourth children’s book in his Endangered North American Turtle series.

Each day, the children sketch or paint a different study subject. Monday it was toads, Tuesday box turtles, Wednesday luna moth caterpillars on sweet gum branches and Thursday pitcher plants. In addition to classroom time in the garden’s education center, the children also venture into the garden and on the wooded trails of the 10-acre site.

The children, talking and giggling, follow their teacher through the garden gate, across Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek and up a steep hill. He pauses under a towering beech tree, its bark carved by generations of visitors, to let the class catch up and quiet down. “Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of nature,” he tells them. “What do you hear?”

“Cicadas,” says one pony-tailed girl.

The teacher asks them to notice how the sound of the insects starts out quiet, then swells louder and dies down again. Eyes squeezed shut, they stand still and listen. It’s one of those ephemeral encounters with nature, a quiet communing before they tramp downhill to a log where they will set out the turtles from the bucket.

But in addition to such memories, Art of Nature campers will take home today a portfolio of pencil studies and a matted color nature illustration. And Palmatier will hold on to the turtles.

By Susan Hudson, UNC News Services.

July 31, 2014.