Learn how to plan and navigate a sea kayaking trip this month at Portland Paddle. (Portland Phoenix/Shannon Bryan)
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Spring is a good time to get even smarter.

We can pick up some sweet outdoor skills, like how to start a fire without matches, or how to identify neighborhood birds by their song, or learning which native plants you can eat (and, more importantly, which ones might kill you). 

Campfire cooking is a skill likely to keep you in demand for camping trips. (Courtesy Unsplash/Dan Edwards)

With winter in the rearview, we outdoors folks are eager for warm-weather adventures. But the woods and waters aren’t quite ready for us. Muddy spring trails need time to dry out and frigid inland and coastal waters need time to warm up enough to be, well, slightly less frigid.

Mother Nature is prepping for an awesome summer shindig, but she needs time to set up, hang the decor, and lay out the snacks, so to speak. Let’s not be the guests who show up prematurely and wreck the trails or go hypothermic in a lake after accidentally tipping our canoe.

Instead, let’s bide our time and learn neat things like bird identification, birch-bark basket weaving, and campfire cooking. Skills we gain this spring will enhance our appreciation for the outdoors and make us wiser, safer adventurers. Besides, it also feels cool to know things. 

Edible Wild Plants

Maine Primitive Skills School, Augusta, April 10, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., $80.

Dandelions are one of Maine’s most common edible wild plants. (Courtesy Unsplash/Viridi Green)

Foraging is a handy skill for several reasons, not the least of which are if you ever find yourself lost in the woods or seeking sustenance in a post-Apocalyptic world. But it’s also a stellar way to deepen your understanding of the foliage of Maine and its many benefits and uses. In this class, you’ll learn how to spot edibles common to New England in the spring: dandelion, plantain, burdock, yellow dock, day lily, and cattail, among others.

Sea Kayaking Navigation and Trip Planning

Portland Paddle, three 6:30-8 p.m. sessions April 14-15, April 21-22, and April 28-29 (each session meets for two evenings; take all three or just one or two), $30 per session ($20 for Maine Island Trail Association members).

Learn valuable sea kayaking skills during this trio of virtual classes. Session I: Sea Kayak Navigation will prepare you to navigate through fog and use a chart to plot a course. Session II: Tides, Currents & Waves will help you read the tides, currents, and waves and use them to your advantage when paddling, and Session III: Trip Planning will help you plan a trip, from choosing a destination, the gear you’ll need, group dynamics, and safety precautions.

Maine Audubon can help you learn to recognize the calls of birds. Here, a red-winged blackbird. (Courtesy Unsplash/Joshua J. Cotten)

Birding by Ear

Maine Audubon, online April 15, 7-8:30 p.m., $7 (free for Maine Audubon members).

Perhaps you’ve been listening to the chatter of Maine’s spring birds. Now learn who’s talking with this virtual Birding by Ear class. The class will focus on the skills needed to identify and recognize different bird vocalizations, and there will be plenty of examples to listen to, too. Tuning your ears to birdsong will help you find and identify more birds (and spring is an excellent time to get into birding if you’re new to it). 

Vernal Pools of Maine

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, online April 22, 7 p.m., free.

Vernal pools are so much more than big spring puddles. These temporary wetlands are vital destinations for frogs and salamanders to lay their eggs. During this virtual event, you’ll learn about the importance of vernal pools and about the work of biologists who collect data, conduct environmental reviews, and maintain databases of these unique seasonal pools of water. 

Learn to make fire with Rewild Maine. (Courtesy Unsplash/Lukas Robertson)

Matchless Fire Starting

Rewild Maine, Portland, April 24, 10 a.m.-noon, $35.

Is there anything that feels more fundamentally powerful and cool than the ability to make fire – especially if you can do it without the convenience of a lighter or match? During the matchless fire-starting class you’ll learn how to make a bow drill and practice using it. You’ll leave with a complete bow drill kit – bow, spindle, handhold, and fireboard – made from a variety of locally sourced materials and a piece of cordage. The fee includes all required tools and a cup of tea. 

Plaited Birch-Bark Baskets

Biddeford Adult Learning Center, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 8, $45.

Birch bark is great for lots of things (starting a fire, making canoes). It’s also a rare material that can be woven into a basket even when it’s old, dead, and dry. Learn to weave a basket using birch bark found on the ground in the forest. During this class, you’ll learn the basics of birch-bark identification, gathering, processing, and storage, and create a beautiful, diagonally plaited birch-bark basket.

A painted turtle catches some rays. (Courtesy Unsplash/Mark Olsen)

Turtles of Maine

Cathance River Education Alliance, online May 25, 7 p.m., free.

Maine is home to seven species of freshwater turtles. Perhaps you’ve spotted painted turtles lounging on a log in a river or caught a glimpse of a snapping turtle breaking the surface of still pond waters. In this virtual event, you’ll learn about Maine’s freshwater turtle species, their importance to their respective ecosystems, and the threats they face. 

Outdoor Cooking

North Star Adventures, Waldo, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 19, $95.

The ability to create a tasty meal in the backcountry is a prized skill – and one that will make you a treasured companion on any camping trip. In this day-long outdoor workshop at the Waldo County Technical Center, you’ll learn food planning techniques as well as some basic nutritional information that will help you create backcountry culinary delights. You will plan your menu, assemble the ingredients, and create your masterpiece, all with Leave No Trace ethics and lightweight food packing in mind.

Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.

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