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At Audubon event, getting the drift about snowshoes

Published 6:33 pm, Sunday, January 6, 2013

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  • An example of a finished snowshoe, which youngsters built at a "Survival Snowshoes" workshop at the Connecticut Audubon Society on Saturday.  Fairfield CT 1/5/13 Photo: Mike Lauterborn / Fairfield Citizen contributed
    An example of a finished snowshoe, which youngsters built at a "Survival Snowshoes" workshop at the Connecticut Audubon Society on Saturday. Fairfield CT 1/5/13 Photo: Mike Lauterborn

 

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Families looking for a wintertime diversion also learned a little something about cold weather survival early Saturday afternoon during a snowshoe-making workshop at Connecticut Audubon Society's Center at Fairfield.

Titled "Survival Snowshoes," the program was attended by about a dozen children and their parents, and led by naturalist and educator Colleen Noyes. She provided historical context for snowshoes and then showed participants how to construct a pair.

"The snowshoes are meant to be decorative in this case," said Noyes. "However, if you found yourself outside in an emergency situation, you could make a pair from the materials I'm presenting. Historically, native Americans used them to get around in the wintertime."

Noyes said the best type of wood to use is white pine because of its flexibility. "A great way to recognize it is by its needles," she said. "There are five long straight needles within each bundle of needles. You can count them W-H-I-T-E, which is a funny way to remember them."

She said the white pine is known as a "friendly" fir because it doesn't inflect pain like other sharp or abrasive pine varieties.

Noyes' interest in snowshoe making was spurred over two decades ago. "I got a book on using nature in your classroom as far as survival skills," she said. "This was one fun, easy and functional activity I gravitated to. The hitch in nature is finding the twine you need to tie it together. As a quick fix, you could use shoelaces, strips of cloth or thin vines."

The naturalist said that the first time she made snowshoes was about 15 years ago, with family friends. "They were outdoor kids that loved nature," she said. "We foraged for the materials, finding white pine low to the ground or fallen. The bark is sappy, so your hands get a little sticky, but it smells good. You strip the branches off and then bend, shape and tie the snowshoe, with a few additional sticks."

Some of the white pine materials Noyes gathered for Saturday's workshop came down during Superstorm Sandy, back in late October, in the adjacent Larsen Sanctuary. "They are still fairly fresh, green and pliable, which demonstrates how resilient they are," she said.

Noyes said it's important to find base limbs that are similar in size and width so the shoes are compatible. As far as their functionality, she added, "The shoes distribute your weight much like a wading bird with wide webbed feet or toes that allows them to walk on squishy mud."

John O'Marra, from Bethel, brought his two young children to the session. "We like doing all kinds of nature projects and outdoorsy things, and we're home schoolers," he said. "This is a great winter activity."