The gray clouds that morning were not a new sight for our field trips. Most of our field trips were in the rain or even the snow. I’ve gotten the process down too, thick socks, muck boots, rain pants, fleece, vest, jacket, rain coat,
hat or something else to cover my head, then the hood(s). I’m from the PNW but that doesn’t mean I like to be wet and cold, I mean who even likes to be wet and cold?
That day was not the usual rainy days though; it was a constant and solid rain the whole day. When we were not under the cover of the trees, it was a steady stream. When we were under the cover of the trees, it was huge, fat drops plopping on your face. I actually do love the rain and being in the rain, but not cold and not wet.
I always felt bad for the kids as they come off the bus; some aren’t dressed nearly well enough for being outside for a couple hours in the rain. A lot of the girls had little zip-ups and there were boys with shorts. They get off the bus cheery enough, the warmth that is still with them is deceiving, there were even some foolish enough to play in puddles at the onset of the field trip.
“Don’t get any wetter than we already will!” Mentions a teacher; wise words from a wise woman.
My job in these field trips is always the same, leading the nature walk. The nature walk is really the best of the stations, mostly because I get to lead children around on trails and talk to them about plants while also letting them eat some of them. Plus, who doesn’t like competing to find the biggest Big Leaf Maple leaf?? However, due to the fact that it was the end of November, most of the leaves were gone and mushy, and all the edible plants were becoming a little bitter. I decided that it was time to teach on evergreen trees. It’s a really great lesson to learn, evergreen is different than deciduous. Salmon help trees and trees help salmon. The hardest part was keeping them interested in trees that, from an uneducated eye, looked pretty similar.
The students were really quite interested in all the trees and were talented in noticing the differences between a hemlock, spruce and a cedar (I should mention that they were in 3rd grade). They loved grabbing the spruce because it poked them. What was truly the most exciting was the fact that a chum carcass had washed up on the banks of Friday Creek, right where we usually go see the stream. I got to ask them how trees help salmon, to which they gave many good responses:
“They give them shade!” One little girl said. “And what does that do for salmon?” I’d ask.
“Keeps the water cool!” a boy chips in.
“Are there any OTHER things?” I press.
“Oxygen!” A couple of them would yell. “Now how does that help salmon? Do salmon need oxygen?” There was much fervent nodding.
“They need it to breathe!” says another student.
“Great job! Now, my next question is: How do salmon help trees?” This question always brought o
n many puzzled looks. These answers are really my favorite.
“Maybe the salmon splash water onto the tree so that it can be watered?” a little girl asks tentatively.
“When it dies?” says another girl quietly. A little boy said “It’s can’t help it when it dies!!”
“Can you expand on that? How can it help when it’s dead?” I tried to encourage, but she didn’t want to continue, which is so sad because she was so close!
“Do trees eat the salmon?!” I asked playfully.
“NO!!!” They all yelled and laughed.
“What?! They don’t reach down with their branches and catch a fish and gobble it all up?!!” I said as I acted like a tree and exaggerating my eating of the delicious salmon. I got many giggles out of this.
“NO!!” they all laughed.
“What?! That’s exactly what happens! When the salmon dies, its body will decompose, break down, and go into the ground where the roots of the trees are. Those nutrients are taken up by the tree and help it to grow! Did you know that scientists have found nutrients from the OCEAN at the tops of trees, miles away from a stream! Now how did those fish get so far away from the stream? I’ll give you a hint, they have claws and teeth…”
“Yes, yes! All good answers!” I said happily, “Do want to see all this happening RIGHT NOW?!” of course this was always responded to with everyone exclaiming,
“YES!!!” to which I would respond by racing them to the shore to see Nature in its natural habitat.
These students really are very smart and they were all troopers even in the wet and cold. It was so fun teaching them about the wonders of the world, being able to show them how exciting science is. I may be a little biased because conservation and restoration really is one of my deepest passions.
It was the wettest field trip I have ever been on, but they always are and they’re always great fun.