September 14, 2009

The tickle of many little feet

High ropes

Last weekend, we gave students the opportunity to dangle on ropes high in the trees. But we gave them, too, a chance to investigate the earth under their feet: to look at moss, to stare at fish in a pond, to examine seed pods, and to hold a millipede in their hands.

The students were given handheld GPS units and sent off in small groups to find faculty members hidden at stations scattered throughout the woods and fields of our retreat site. One station was in the old overgrown apple orchard, for instance, another by the pond, another in the pine woods. At a rock ampitheater in the woods, I spent the afternoon with Science Guy, a colleague who teaches animal behavior, and Entomologist, who studies bugs.

We had each group of students for twenty minutes; mostly we spent the time getting to know each other. Science Guy and I had both planned to talk about required summer reading book. But Entomologist couldn’t resist looking under rocks and finding millipedes, and teaching us fun facts about millipedes. As we talked, we passed the millipedes from person to person. Our discussion kept getting interrupted by squeals as the many feet of the millipedes tickled the bare arms of the students.

Only one student protested at the sight of the millipede. Gray Sweatshirt Student said, “Oh, no, I can’t.” Red-haired Student said right away, “Yes, you can. I’ll hold my arm next to yours and we can let it crawl back and forth. It’ll be okay.”

We all stopped talking and watched as they put their arms together, and the millipede crawled onto the bare arm of Gray Sweatshirt. She squealed and pulled her arm away, but the millipede clung. She looked away, and then down, fascinated. “Look! I’m holding it!”

Science Guy has been working with students in the field for decades. He looked at me and smiled. “This part never gets old.”



AF said...

I picked up a beautiful black, yellow and pink striped millipede once. I noticed that it smelled sweet, like almond extract. Found out later is was Apheloria virginiensis, one of the cyanide millipedes. Makes people extremely sick if they put their hands in mouth or eyes before washing them. Yikes! But I love millipedes. If I had to be a bug, I'd at least consider being a millipede.

Bardiac said...

I love dealing with colleagues who so obviously love their work and share it that way.

I hope you consider yourself very lucky in this one!

jo(e) said...

AF: One of the millipedes we were playing with was a very pretty yellow-striped millipede that, according to Entomomologist, produces cyanide. She had me smell it and it did smell like almond extract. She said that eating a millipede like that would make me sick.

Apparently, if you're starving to death, it's better to eat just plain earthworms and leave the millipedes alone. A good thing to know.

jo(e) said...

Bardiac: Yes, I'm lucky to have both students and colleagues who are passionate about what they do.

AF said...

Note to self: Never eat the yellow striped millipedes. An excellent safety tip.

KM said...

I remember you talking about the faculty-search exercise before, and I still like hearing about it.

I love how your students look out for each other, and (as in the rope/tree assignment) for you as well.

Makes me more hopeful.
Peace and have a great semester.