Stream Stomp!

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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.

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“Advice” :: written 4/26/2013

Potential Text for a Sketchbook Project.  Or something else entirely.  Read, comment, enjoy.  <3 Bex

ADVICE

At twenty eight my mother had four children, a husband in the Navy, and a house she wasn’t expecting to live in for the next thirty four years. My life took a very different path. Even though we think alike and share similarly simple life goals, my life at twenty eight is very different from hers at twenty eight. She in Suburbia with a station wagon; I in the country, childless, my only transportation my own two feet. (What is it about the youngest child that she always seems to insist on taking a very different route from her family?) I have no spouse, no steady work, no car, no children of my own, and no desire for any of the above.

No advice, neither, for others searching for their path. Because, just like when hiking, I walked right off mine and don’t plan to stop bushwhacking until I find my place beside the shimmering sea. I’m so deep in the wood now I couldn’t find a path if I tried; I’ve got to just keep on walking until I can walk no more.

I love my life, surrounded by white pine, white, black, and yellow birch, mountain laurel, and musclewood; eastern hemlock, oaks, maple trees, shagbark hickory, apple, spruce, and fir. I like stepping between the skunk cabbage, across the moss covered rocks that litter the streams I come across. There are frogs, insects, and salamanders hiding underfoot; red headed woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, tufted titmice, and chickadees overhead; while rabbits, deer, coyote, squirrels, and foxes share the middle spaces.

Sometimes there are snakes and other creatures that seem a whole lot scarier than they actually are. Eventually, though, you live amongst the unfamiliar long enough you come to understand them and how to coexist in apprehensive peace. But the sunlight filters through the glossy green leaves, their ancestors crunching beneath my feet as dirt and humus cake the hardened callouses of my soles.

And I know there is going to come a time I stumble upon a path so attractive I won’t be able to turn my feet from it and it will lead me through well lit floral archways and into deep, dark, ominous passages but eventually will end at the wide, vast, ocean. Until then I am barefoot in the woods, roasting hickory nuts over open flames and drinking water from the streams.

You, my friend, like so many before, are standing at a crossways, the signposts pointing in all directions, complete with compelling reasons why you should take each one. And the only way you know you can’t go is back. As to which trail you ought to take, I could not say.

My advice will be inadequate from my position so deep in the woods I can only tell direction by the angle of the sun, but here’s what I’ve got to say to you:

  • Don’t forget to laugh; this is very important, laugh everyday: it’ll keep you sane.
  • Do what brings you joy. Know the things that make you happy and make time for these.
  • 90% of the time if it feels wrong it probably is. The other 10% of the time it’ll feel wrong because it’s something new and unfamiliar. If that’s the case, it might be worth it to push through the discomfort if for not other reason than growth and experience.
  • Sometimes up is down; but if you keep going the world will righten itself again.
  • Feel free to make mistakes just so long as you learn from them and live without regrets; because while life is short, it doesn’t move as fast as a 200 page novel or a two hour romantic comedy.
  • “This above all: to thine ownself be true”. If it doesn’t feel like you, if you don’t feel like you, it might be time to leave the path behind altogether.

The land is meant to be explored. So much is missed by sitting in one spot, or worse, holed up indoors. Get out there, my friend, and explore the woods. The journey might bring you to a desert, or the mountains, or the snow. Wherever you’ll end up, you’ll end up exactly where you are meant to go. We won’t follow the same paths as our mothers, or even as each other, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’d never be happy on someone else’s path and we shouldn’t settle for one that isn’t us. I love you, friend, let me know where you end up.

<3 B

Oh, p.s., also it’s important to remember the aquatic manatee is more vicious than the land manatee; but both should be avoided at all costs.