Stream Stomp!


Stream Stomp!

I really like my job. People don’t understand this. People who don’t work at my job, I mean. People who DO work at my job wholeheartedly understand why I keep coming back despite the long hours, isolated locations, close quarters, bad camp food, (sometimes) terrible coworkers, little pay, and seasonal employment. But we love our job.

We love it, for one reason, because kids are weird. Kids are freakin’ weird. Children have asked me the weirdest questions over the years, made the funniest statements, and generally made me laugh. This past week we got the tiniest child to wear the banana costume during dinner (yes, we have a banana costume).

Another reason is because we, the teachers, as well as the kids, are constantly learning new things. Our first season doing outdoor ed, my friend said to me: “This job is great! We get paid to LEARN!” (we’re very nerdy here).

Also: we get to do really REALLY fun things like stomp around in the river and look for animals. When I worked at the ocean site, I could take my groups down to the docks with a few buckets and nets, string, and a bag of leftover meat and spend a few hours catching crabs. Now that I’m back in the woods, along a Connecticut river, I get to take buckets and nets to the water and spend a couple hours catching crayfish and frogs. Do you get to do that at your job?

2013-05-03 10.34.15This week I tried a class that had previously terrified me.  I never really understood it.  But we had second through fifth graders this week, many of whom did not speak much English, and I figured I could take them to the river and have them catch creatures for an hour and a half and it would be fun and (sort of) educational.

2013-05-03 10.47.24And I was right: my students had so great a time, on the last day I took my group down for our final Field Group to the river to catch animals.  They got wet, they picked up animals, they slipped on rocks, they climbed on everything, and had a wonderful time.

2013-05-03 11.24.18I had girls catching frogs with their bare hands, naming them, falling in love with these wild little creatures, wishing they could bring them home to New York with them (which they cannot).  It was wonderful to see Girly Girl types bare-handing these precious amphibians and having zero qualms about getting dirty and tromping around in the mud and holding frogs.

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One kid had brought this net case for capturing animals.  We used it more than once for frogs and aquatic insects that we discovered while exploring the streams and the river.2013-04-30 10.41.02_1

I had another student, a boy, who caught a shit-ton of crayfish with just a net and his bare hands.  He collected them all in a bucket and was determined to show them to his teacher even though we HAD TO RELEASE THEM AND GO BACK because they were loading the busses and they had to go home.  But it was adorable that all he wanted to do was see just how many of these weird, tiny lobster, crustaceans he could collect.

2013-05-03 11.51.01It was almost exactly like catching crabs, which I also had to warm up to doing myself, and I loved every second of it.  My mission, now that it’s warmer and nicer weather here in the northeast, is to take the buckets and nets out at least once, if not twice, a week and see how many of what my students can collect out of our waters.  It was, by far, the most fun I have had in a very long time.

2013-05-03 10.46.55And, quite frankly, there’s really nothing greater than watching children do something they might never get to do at home or with their families, or in their daily lives; either because they simply don’t have the opportunity, or because their parents won’t let them do things like go down to the stream and catch frogs.  I always was intrigued, as a kid, by characters in movies and books who just ran around the neighborhood and rode their bikes to bodies of water and caught frogs and fish and tried to bring them home.  As a kid I never would have known how to do these things.  No one ever showed me and I wasn’t allowed to leave the yard, unless I was riding a bike (not my bike, a bike, I never had my own bike) and even then I could only ride it around the portion of the street where we lived.  I assume many kids get an upbringing like mine, one where I had many restrictions on what and where I could do and go, and I want those kids to be comfortable in the outdoors and open up to things like getting dirty and being knee deep in a river solely for the purpose of scooping up a tadpole or fish or crab or whatever.

While I had restrictions while at home, I also have an outdoorsy mother who did take me places where I could get dirty and encouraged me to spend time in and appreciate nature.  She made me environmentally aware and for that I am forever grateful.  I am glad that I figured out how to be in the outdoors on my own, as a grownup, but I do appreciate her appreciation and passing that on to me.  I don’t plan on having children of my own and therefore the best way I can pass on what my mother gave to me is to work with children in the outdoors and help them be comfortable exploring the outdoors.

I know I can’t do this forever, but while I still have the energy I am very happy to be doing this.  I do wish it were more year round; however, I am still very happy to be doing what I can.  I really do love my job.  My job is not odd; it is not stress-free; it is not “normal” — all that is definitely part of what keeps me coming back.



“Welcome to the complex.  My name in Cyndi and I am in charge of the store.”  Cyndi pointed to a building with the sign Country Store emblazoned on it in bold red lettering.

Karla shifted her duffle from one hand to the other.

“The complex?” she said.  “I thought this was Pollialis Campground?”

“Oh that’s just our little nick name for this place.  Those of us who have been here for forever.  It was actually Manuela over there who gave it the name.”

Cyndi pointed at the palest white woman Karla had ever seen.

“Manuela, huh?”

“Yeah, she’s been here since she was a little girl.  I think she was actually conceived at the campground. Her daddy was the head ranger here for well on thirty years.  Her mama used to bake the bread and cakes and pies in the diner over yonder.  My auntie moved my brother and I up here when we were just kids and we’ve been here ever since.”

“Ever since.  All three of you.”

“Well, Christopher went to school for conservation and forestry for a spell and I took classes at the community college in town and got my business degree.  Manuela, she went off and read books and traveled a bit, longer than Christopher and I were away, but she’s been back for a few years now.  Her sister is Fredericka, she’s in charge of this place when Phil’s away and gave her a job, any job, just to keep some money in Manuela’s pocket.”

Karla nodded not too sure what she was getting herself into by taking this job.  She liked that she wasn’t going to have to pay room and board, she liked that she was going to be able to be outside as much as she wanted.  She even didn’t mind the idea of taking visitor kids on hikes.  But the gossip was a little strange.  She’d worked some jobs that came with drama built in, but she got to go home at the end of her shift and get away from it all.  By living at the campground she worried she was getting in over her head.

“Looks like Freddie has you staying in the Blue Cabin.  That’s a nice one.  It’s right next to Tommy and Bert’s, they’re in the Gold Cabin.  They’re good guys, shouldn’t bother you.  Right now, you’ve got the place to yourself, but it is set up for two so you might get a roommate later in the summer.”

Cyndi made like she was meaning to say more, but the women were interrupted by a shout from over by the Country Store.

You’re a fuckin’ toad, Christopher Montgomery!”  Manuela was screaming at a tall, good looking blonde man that vaguely resembled Cyndi, who let out a deep sigh.

“That your brother?” asked Karla trying not to smirk.

“Yes.” Cyndi sighed again.

“Just give her a few pointers!  Please!” Christopher was saying as Karla and Cyndi approached.

“It’s not my job to babysit your bimbos, Christopher!”

“It’s not babysitting!  She wants to learn!”

“She wants to learn so you’ll keep buying her things.  If she really wanted to learn because she actually fucking wants to learn she’d buy a book or watch more games.”

“No, no, that’s not it at all.  Why do you always think they’re so shallow?”

“Because they are.  You’re just too wrapped up in their looks to care about their lack of substance.”

“Your kidding me,” Christopher mumbled.

“Look, it’s not my fault your girlfriend doesn’t know who Carl Yastrzemski is.  And it’s not my fucking job to educate her!  You want a girl who is into baseball, find a fucking girl who is into baseball!”

“They used to date,” said Cyndi to Karla.  “If you hadn’t picked up on that.”

Christopher muttered a final comment to Manuela and stormed off.

“Yah, same to you, wanker!” she screamed after him.

“Manuela,” said Cyndi cautiously, “This is Karla.  She’s taking Terence’s position this summer.”

“Oh, hi!  I’m so glad you’re here.  Freddie has been talking you up ever since you first interviewed.”

“Thanks,” said Karla warily trying and failing not to look in Christopher’s direction.

“Sorry about that.  We’re unfortunately like that all the time.  I’m actually really nice.  I’m only mean to him.”

“You talking about me?” Christopher called over to them.

“You wish!” Manuela snapped back.  “Where are you living.  She doesn’t have Terence’s old place does she?”

“No,” answered Cyndi.  “Karla is in the Blue Cabin.”

“Well, come on, let’s get you moved in.  Let me carry something for you.”

Manuela took Karla’s duffle from her and started up toward the staff cabins.  Manuela was very friendly as she pointed out all of the other buildings and pathways and told Karla where they led.

“This is Rainbow Hill.  That’s you down at the end there.  Tommy and Bert are next door in Gold.  Then there’s Cyndi and Martha in Green.  Christopher and Ricky are in Purple.  Lily and Jane are next to them in Orange.  I’m at the end in Red.  Or Casa de Crimson, as I like to call it.”

The women let Karla check out her new home.  There was a nice solid looking porch in front of each of the Rainbow Cabins.  The door led down a center hallway with a bedroom on either side and a bathroom at the end.  There was a back door out the bathroom.  It was clean and tidy for being in the woods and having not been lived in for quite some time.

Since she had the place to herself she had her pick of bedrooms.

“If you like morning sun I’d take this one.  If you want sun in the afternoon, I’d go across the hall,” said Manuela.  Karla settled into the western facing room.  It had a bed, a bureau, a chair, a nightstand and a closet.  It was snug like a dorm room, but somehow more open.  She liked it, she decided.  It was exactly what she needed.  And she had it all to herself.  No more sharing a room, no more dividing a closet.  This was going to be a good summer.