By Curt Yeomans
Morrow resident Ceresa Ledford watched from the shore of the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve's Big Pond as her daughter, Tayah, let out a silent scream Tuesday as the canoe she was in slowly drifted away from land.
It was the first time Tayah Ledford, 10, had ever been in a canoe. She was joined in the small boat by her friend, Jessica Tapia, 9, and John Williams, a ranger at the preserve. Initially, while Williams talked to Tapia about the various types of wildlife in the pond, the younger Ledford sat erect in the canoe, with her hands firmly clinching onto its sides.
"She is so tense right now, but that's only because it's her first time," Ceresa Ledford said as she videotaped the experience. "Once she gets used to it, she'll relax."
The younger Ledford and Tapia were taking part in a canoeing class at the preserve on Tuesday. Williams said the class is an introduction to canoeing, where participants are taken around the preserve's Big Pond to learn about the animals, and plant life that exists around it.
The classes are offered as people call to schedule them, but they primarily take place on the days when the preserve's staff are offering other classes, such as "Orienteering," or "Fishy Business," Williams said. The rangers will continue to offer the classes through Aug. 8, and the cost is $5 per participant.
"If people have an interest, and we have an opening, we'll sign them up," Williams said.
As the canoe carrying the ranger and the two youths drifted around the pond, Williams talked to Tapia and the younger Ledford about the pond's ecosystem. He told the youths about the turtles, bass, ducks, snakes and birds that live around the pond. He told them about the beaver that used to live on the pond, but has since moved on to another location.
As Williams talked about the wildlife that lives in and around the pond, Tayah Ledford's initial tenseness started to give way. She started cracking smiles, and began asking more questions.
"Do snakes bite people?" Tayah Ledford asked Williams as the canoe they were in drifted along the shore.
"They do, but are people snake food?" Williams asked.
"No," Tapia said.
"So they won't try to eat you, but they will bite you if they feel threatened by you," Williams said.
Ceresa Ledford said she signed her daughter up for the class because of the youth's interest in the environment. She predicted her daughter will grow up to be a park ranger because of her interest in nature. The mother also wanted her daughter to have some of the same childhood experiences that she had as a youth.
"I did it as a child, and I wanted her to experience it," Ceresa Ledford said. "Plus, she's a tree-hugger. She loves nature and animals, so this is her sort of thing."
In addition to learning about the wildlife at the pond, Williams taught the youths how to go under the pond's low-lying dock by bending over and into the canoe as it drifted under the wooden structure. It proved to be a popular activity with the youths. The youths enjoyed it so much the first time, they pleaded with Williams to let them do it again - and again.
When the youths put their feet back on land, after an hour and a half on the pond with Williams, they said they enjoyed their first experience in a canoe.
"I enjoyed it because I was having fun," said Tapia. "The part that was fun was learning how to paddle a canoe."
Tayah Ledford said she warmed up to the experience because, "it was fun and adventurous."
"Going under the [dock] three times was the most exciting part," she said.
Upcoming classes at the preserve include "Orienteering" on June 25; "Build a Screech Owl House" on July 15; "Trasher Bash" on July 28, and "SSSSNAKES" on Aug. 5. Call the preserve's Nature Center at (770) 603-4188 for more information on classes.