April 13, 2007

Outside

For my contemporary nature literature class, I was given a horrible little classroom with no windows, ugly linoleum, and overhead lights that flicker, sort of a torture chamber for someone who gets migraines. I think the registrar hates me. But my students are good-natured about the dreadful room and we do the best we can with the atmosphere, pulling the desks into a circle and turning off half the lights.

Recently, we read Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a book that includes both scientific knowledge and indigenous ways of knowing, a book filled with lyrical passages about moss. Halfway through the book, we realized that the classroom setting was all wrong, and we needed to plan a field trip. We needed to go outside and find some moss.

My students loved the idea of going somewhere on Friday the 13th. "It'll make a great narrative," said Dark-haired Student with Big Imagination. He lowered his voice dramatically, "On Friday the 13th, a group of unsuspecting students headed into a bog...."

I think we had all hoped that in the middle of April, we might have a sunny day. We imagined ourselves stretched out on the ground, writing in notebooks, talking about poetry, admiring moss while we enjoyed the feel of sun splashing down onto our skin.

Instead, we drove through a mix of rain and snow to Nature Center With a Lake Named After a Large Rodent. It had stopped raining by the time we got out of the cars, but the temperature had dropped and the wind was cold. It was a fine day for a brisk hike, but not quite the relaxing afternoon we had all pictured. The hemlock woods smelled wonderful as we started along a trail. The woods seem bare this time of year, and the brilliant green mosses did stand out, shining from old logs and tree stumps throughout the woods, even on this dark day.

The bog trail, which will be crowded with green during the summer, was filled with the grey trunks of trees and woody stems of plants, with pools of water that reflected the grey sky. What surprised us most were the colours in the bog: woven through all the grey were subtle reds and purples that will be hidden as soon as all the spring foliage bursts forth.

The wonderful thing about nature hikes with students from Small Green College is that they eagerly share all they've learned in their courses. One woman kept pointing out the mosses, showing us the new growth, and explaining what types we were seeing. Another woman made us all looked at the pitcher plant, a cool-looking carnivorous plant that traps unsuspecting insects. And in between the science lessons, students talked about memories of nature hikes when they were young. My rural students are always very comfortable in the woods while the urban students sometimes find natural areas, empty of people and traffic, a little creepy.

Of course, because of the cold, wet weather, we were the only people on the whole trail. We had the place to ourselves as we walked along winding boardwalks and through deep woods. "This could be horror movie," Dark-haired Student With Big Imagination kept saying, "I wonder which of us will die first?"

Bog trail

15 comments:

Yankee T said...

Great photo, yet again, and boy would I love to be in your class!

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, I love the photo! Gorgeous...

my15minutes said...

As always I love your writing. It does make me wish I were in your class. I didn't even know that "contemporary nature literature" was a genre. I tried to think of the "contemporary nature literature" I've read....hmmm....Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and the one about Sand) and Barbara Kingsolver (Prodigal Summer). Those are the best I can dredge up. I really think I should be in your class. However, I like living where spring is already here, so it's gonna be tough. Guess I'll just have to settle for reading you blog about it! :-)

listmaker said...

Even on a cold, windy day, going for a hike in such a pretty place is better than sitting around a windowless classroom.

Dawn (aka Busymomma) said...

I just love your posts. I want to be in your class!

Your 13th sounded better than mine, I sat in a cubicle with grey skies outside, and weird happenings going on with office equipment, computers, and such.

BTW, I put your link on my blog, and a post, which wasn't nearly as long as I anticipated, but it's sunny out and I want to go enjoy some of it before it rains for the next 5 days straight.

madeline said...

I love Nature Center With a Lake Named After a Large Rodent. I've spent many a February afternoon with a herd of Brownies on snow shoes there, and in October they have a great 5K that winds through the nature trail.

Those bridges are usually wet and slippery...I count this as a good thing, though. It's an excuse to slow down and enjoy the trail. :)

Amy said...

Now I'm curious about what books you read in that class. (Only five weeks until the end of my teaching year, so I'm making my own summer reading list right now.)

Also, I really think there should be some sort of law against classrooms w/no windows and bad lighting. I find myself enjoying the classes I teach in those kinds of rooms just a little less because we're so cut off from the outside world. I'm definitely going to borrow the field trip idea in the future!

BeachMama said...

Sounds like a great field trip. And Black Haired Boy with Big Imagination should write a short story about Friday to reveal who died in the bog, would be neat.

(un)relaxeddad said...

That's a beautiful photo, really caught my attention for some reason. Probably the path winding like snake just leads my attention right along it. Sounds like the sort of book I should check out, now I've finally got a little down-time on my course reading.

jo(e) said...

Madeline: Yeah, the boardwalk was very slimy and slippery. We all kept saying it would make a cool slip 'n' slide.

Amy: Here are some of the authors we read: Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, Wendell Berry, Pam Houston, Susan Griffin, Richard Nelson, Ursula Le Guin, Barry Lopez, Leslie Marmon Silko, Pattiann Rogers, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Kent Nelson, Albero Rios, Wendy Rose, Edward Abbey, John McPhee, Louise Erdrich, Paula Gunn Allen, and Joseph Bruchac.

bridgett said...

Looks like your class has hit almost everyone on my bedroom bookshelf.

I've never heard of Lake Capybara, but the trail looks nice.

Kyla said...

That photograph is amazing!

jo(e) said...

Bridgett: Yeah, that is the cool thing about this course. I get to teach all my favorite stuff.

I had to google Capybara and the photos made me laugh aloud. I don't think we have them here ....

This rodent is what my students call castor canadensis.

Bardiac said...

Sounds like a fantastic reading list and class.

I don't know WHY anyone ever designed classes without windows for a little natural light. Something about fear of riots in the 60s or something?

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Love the photo, it brings back happy memories, as do tjhe references to the Little Green College where I went to school!