When I arrived at Chewonki, I was most nervous about the infamous Species Quizzes. I had been told terrifying tales of having to identify birds just by their calls and recognize multitudes of lichen. My fear felt totally rational; individual species in the natural world always seemed to blend in to me. Back home, I’d never been able to tell a birch tree apart from a cottonwood, and most birds looked about the same. Little did I know, the Species Quiz would become one of my favorite parts of going to school at Chewonki.
Each week in Natural History, we’re given the responsibility of learning to identify ten new species that are found here on the coast of Maine. Ranging from trees to porcupines to every bird imaginable, the species are a diverse collection of anything a Natural History student would ever need to know. As soon as I was handed a sheet of paper with the first ten species on it, I was totally enamored with the idea of learning them. I spent hours in the art room making collages out of old magazines of all the species and their distinguishing features. Each night as I fell asleep, I would repeat their Latin names in my head, and by the time our first Species Quiz rolled around, I was beyond prepared. Soon, my obsession with studying for the weekly Species Quiz became a hobby.
As the weeks progressed, I noticed a strange phenomenon. As I walked down the well-weathered path to the waterfront or through crisp snow to watch the sunrise on Pinky Point, new things began to pop out at me. The sage green carpet that covered many trees was no longer just “lichen” to me; it was Greenshield Lichen or Flavoparmelia caperata. The bundles of bubbly vegetation that frothed at the edge of the water were no longer “seaweed,” but Knotted Wrack or Ascophyllum nodosum. Knowing their names made me feel like I was greeting old friends whenever I stepped outside. I suddenly had access to a whole new world to belong to and enjoy. The Species Quiz gave me a whole new way to see the world and I round each corner in the forest eager to see my friends.
Remy Sexton, Park High School, Livingston, MT