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?"