Spotting Spotted Salamanders

We were in science class, and our teacher had just told us that Big Night might be tonight. Big Night is a night near the end of March when a lot of frogs and salamanders migrate to vernal pools to breed. It’s a wet, warm (for Maine) night and supposedly the weather was going to be just right for it to happen. In any other school, in any other place, that would be the end of it. Your science teacher might tell you more about it the day after, but that would be all there was to that lesson. This is not Chewonki’s approach.

That night at dinner we were told that, if we wanted to, we could help observe and investigate the phenomenon of Big Night. Various faculty members would lead students to all the vernal pools on campus, and we would be able to see everything for ourselves. Even though the event was entirely optional and would require walking through the wet forest in the dead of night, every single student came: we were all so interested in the idea of it.


Everyone was brimming with excitement when the time came to leave, we all wanted to see how the night would turn out. I was in the group going to the vernal pool next to the farm and on the way there we saw a Spotted Salamander. It was tiny and almost impossible to see in the dark, if we hadn’t been incredibly careful we wouldn’t have seen it at all. It was in some mud on the side of the path, inching its way slowly forward, probably heading for the same vernal pool we were.


After traveling to our pool and finding even more creatures we turned in for the night. But that was not the end of our learning. Later that week our science teacher took us back to a vernal pool during the day so we could see how big night had changed it. Before, it had seemed relatively inactive in terms of animal wildlife. However, on this day there were frogs everywhere, and you could see eggs on some fallen tree branches. The effects of Big Night were clearly present.

The idea that we experienced the science of this night and the results of it through our own eyes, as well as learning about it in the classroom is the perfect example of what makes Chewonki special to me. Your education is truly valued here, in a way not many other places can replicate. Especially in the time of the coronavirus, when I was used to doing classes from my bed, it was incredible to experience what I was learning first hand, out in the natural world.

Hollis Kolvenbach, The Beacon School, New York City, New York

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