This week Harper shares with us the highlight of his week: science field trip. Rain or shine, students go into the field each week to gain an understanding of the natural history of the Maine coast. Students have studied landscape ecology at Morse Mountain, rocky intertidal communities at Hermit Island and Pemaquid Point, and dune systems at Popham Beach. They have explored the salt marsh that borders our farm, collected macroinvertebrates in Montsweag brook, and, most recently, learned about forest succession and how to “read the landscape” to discover clues about the human land use history of our own Chewonki Neck.
Some of the sweetest moments on field trip happen when students put their pencils down, take in their surroundings, and let their curiosity, rather than their academic diligence, drive. Harper nearly got down to his hands and knees to watch the tide come in at the salt marsh. His eyes were locked in amazement as the water crept up over the mud flats, millimeter by millimeter.
Before coming to Chewonki, science field trips were not something I was particularly excited about or even thought about that often. Science field trips weren’t the reason I applied here, and they weren’t the reason I came here. But now that I’ve had the experience first hand, field trips are one of the highlights of each and every week. Every Tuesday, when I otherwise might be sitting in a classroom having my daily staring contest with the clock (spoiler alert: I always lose), I am standing knee deep in a salt marsh or exploring tide pools. Every week I am amazed at the pure fact that I am outside, learning, and having an insane amount of fun while doing so.
Field trips always start out the same way: I dig through the bin of sandwiches made that morning searching for the one with my name on it. Grabbing a handful of potato chips and putting them between the slices of bread quickly follows, and then I chow down.
Once we get out to our site for the week, we start with a site description and a map. In our descriptions, we chronicle the weather, what ecological factors encourage certain plant life, and what may have caused the area to form the way it has. If you were to come and watch us start our descriptions, you would hear questions being yelled through the air, such as: “What was the weather like yesterday?” “How hot is it?” “Is this a balsam or a hemlock?”
Interestingly enough, you will rarely hear any faculty answering these questions. If you simply throw a question out to the group, another student is going to respond to you (hopefully with the right answer). The only situation where I see faculty answering questions, is if you specifically go to them and ask. During site descriptions, and during field trips in general, the faculty take a step back. They always have certain material they need to cover, and they do typically steer us in the right direction, but the majority of questions are typically responded with “well, why do you think that is?” And I feel like that really comes back to the whole teaching scheme of Chewonki. Were not just being taught things, were being taught how to figure things out.
– Harper Estey, Ardmore PA