Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ringneck Snake Ring

Ringneck Snake Ring, originally uploaded by Corbie.

I found this little Ringneck snake upside down near the base of a tree. It was cold and raining, and at first I thought it was dead. I picked it up to show the twenty campers I was leading up the driveway back to camp, explaining to them that it was dead as I did so. Before I finished talking, I noticed that it had moved its tail ever so slightly. I revised my explanation at that point.
I'm not sure how it came to be upside down in the cold rain. Perhaps it fell out of a crevice in the bark of the tree I found it near. Maybe it had been out and about earlier in the day before the rain moved in. Whatever the case may have been, it was the easiest time I've ever had catching a Ringneck snake.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Home Again

Home Again, originally uploaded by Corbie.

Jen is home, and we're all happy to see her. Her luggage managed to get stuck in the chute at the airport, so while baggage handlers where trying to figure out how to extricate it, the kids all got whinier and grouchier out in the arrival lounge. They had been behaving pretty well up until then too. It's a pity. Here you can see them all clinging to her like lampreys. Smiling lampreys. Sounds kind of ominous, doesn't it?

She's feeling pretty jet-lagged of course, and went to bed early with the girls. None of us got to spend as much time with her tonight as we would have liked. There's always tomorrow, when she's rested. At least everybody is healthy again... for the time being.

Raining outside again. I can hear the slsshing of tires as cars drive past. It'll be a muddy week at work.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Four Already

Four Already, originally uploaded by Corbie.

Willow turned four today. Jen is still in Barcelona, and the three older kids are at their dads, so the two of us went to the zoo together, and then the beach. Later, she opened a couple of presents and we had cake and ice cream.

Next week she gets a proper party. That said, we had a great time hanging out together today.

Happy birthday Willow!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Jen is most likely on stage with Nurse With Wound right now. Hope she's having fun.

As far as the flu is concerned, I seem to have gotten off lightly. I shivered my way through a fever last night, but feel much better this morning. If the rain holds off, Willow and I might go to the park later.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Oops. I take it back. Sophie threw up again. Willow very sweetly held the bowl for her. Nate's going out on a play date. I don't blame him, since he's the only kid who hasn't gotten this bug yet.
It's Friday afternoon already, and at least nobody is throwing up. Alex claims that he could puke at any time, but he hasn't done so since last night, so he might be out of the stomach flu woods. Sophie's weird rash, which developed yesterday and necessitated a trip to the grocery store for some skin cream, has gone away just as mysteriously as it arrived. She says she still feels sick though - stomach pain and general achiness. Willow and Nate are fine, although Nate, for whatever reason, has decided not to eat. Maybe he's gotten food shy after watching all of his siblings barfing their little hearts out over the last few days, and hearing about his mom doing it too. Maybe he's just not hungry.

I'm a little achy, with some stomach pain, but haven't thrown up. Fingers crossed that I'll evade that particular scenario.

Willow decided that she wanted to watch Ralph's World this morning. Appropriate.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

With apologies to Jen for stealing her idea, here's a blow by blow account of yesterday:

7:32 AM
Willow wakes me up, decides it's time for the day to begin. I make her breakfast (cereal, string cheese, and milk). She wants to watch the Tigger movie.

7:45 AM
Willow watches Tigger movie and forgets to eat most of her breakfast.

8:15 AM
E-mail checking time, with Townes Van Zandt playing in the background. Willow still enraptured by the antics of Tigger and friends.

8:45 AM
Sophie wakes up, has cereal and milk. Joins in the Tigger-watching festivities. I put songs in my I-tunes library.

8:55 AM
I fix myself some eggs and toast, to be washed down with generous amounts of coffee. Read paper.

9:05 AM
First shower in days.

9:15 AM
The girls want to play, so I join them in the living room for some Care Bear fun.

9:20 AM
Oh yeah, dishes need doing. Sorry girls. I finish dishes, then go back to play with girls some more. Girls decide that they want to play a video game, and rope me in to help Willow with her controls.

10:25 AM
I finally escape from video game, none the wiser about how to play it. I remove laundry from dryer, realize it's not dry yet. I put laundry back in dryer and go pick up room while listening to Black Bird Stitches.

10:50 - 11:02 AM
Check e-mail, followed by general picking up and trying to decide what to do next.

11:20 AM
Oh, I know! How about more laundry!

11:45 AM
Boys finally come home from friend's house, only 2 hours and 45 minutes later than expected.

I succumb to pressure and we all go to Taco Bell. Surprisingly, nobody pitches a fit about anything (with the semi-exception of Sophie) and we make it back in one piece. Consumption of poor quality food ensues.

12:37 - 1:08 PM
Check e-mail and fart around on the computer. Damn, I sure check my e-mail a lot.

1:10 PM
I start cleaning out car and switching over laundry. About halfway through folding I see a small, clean piece of poop in the dryer, which goes a long way towards explaining why all of the clean clothes exude the subtle odor of shit.

1:30 PM
Time to clean the dryer. I wipe it down and leave the door open to air it out.

2 PM
I finish cleaning out car. Recycling is full. Take out recycling. Now listening to Scott Walker.

2:30 PM
Nate is on the computer playing games. I'm listening to Comus while I sort papers.

2:56 PM
The girls want to go outside, so we all finish getting dressed and venture into the yard. It's cloudy and windy. I take some pictures and we hang out on the lawn. The sun comes and goes

3:25 PM
Sophie leans over and bestows partially digested Taco Bell food upon the gutter. The quantity is impressive. I take the girls inside and put Sophie in the bath.

3:35 PM
While Sophie is bathing, I go back to doing laundry.

3:45 PM
Sophie is out. The girls are watching Beauty and the Beast. I check e-mail and further enlarge my I-tunes library.

4:11 PM
Sophie pukes into handy bowl.

4:16 PM
More laundry! More putting away of clothes!

4:24 PM
Notice spottiness of vanity mirror. Clean vanity mirror. Willow wants to play. I help her put on princess costume.

4:30 PM
Sophie pukes again.

4:35 PM
Get mail and immediately put most of it in the recycling bin.

4:37 PM
Looks like rain. I put floor mats (out because Willow puked on them a couple of days ago) back in van.

4:44 PM
Alex is e-mailing Jen. I stop him from writing overly nasty things about his sister.

4:50 PM
I notice that Alex furtively covers the computer screen with his hand whenever I pass by.

4:55 PM
Sophie pukes again.

5:07 PM
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Sophie pukes again.

5:15ish PM
Sophie drifts off to dreamland. Willow wants to play. Nate wakes up. What the hell? I thought he was just doing something quiet in his room - turns out he's been asleep since right after lunch and doesn't know what day it is. I predict a late night.

5:50 PM
Sophie wakes up. Pukes.

6 PM
The boys leave with their dad. Sophie stays home on the couch with her ever present bowl and a cheesy dinosaur movie. Willow has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Girls quietly watch movie. I eat some canned chili and make coffee.

At some point, Greg calls. I talk to him for about 45 minutes. Apparently it's too hard to fly to Burkina Faso. He is, however, going to join Jen and Matt in Barcelona. The OAC page is back up and running!

7:40 PM
Willow gets in the bath.

8 PM
Boys come home

8:30 ish
I cover Sophie's bed with towels and get in bed with the girls. They fall asleep relatively quickly.

8:45 PM
Alex is in his room. I hang out and talk with Nate while music loads into I-tunes. We decide to watch a couple of episodes of X-files.

9 PM
We sit down in front of the TV. Sophie wakes up and pukes. I help her to the bathroom and then clean her pillow. Back in bed, she falls asleep almost instantly.

9:05 to after 11 PM
Nate and I watch X-files.

11:15ish PM
Nate goes to bed. I e-mail Jen. I sit up and read, then listen to I-pod.

Midnight or so
Sophie wakes up and pukes. I help her to the bathroom and strip sheet off bed due to wet spots. After everything is cleaned up, she goes back to sleep.

1 AM
I go to sleep.

Now, the day after, Sophie appears to be fine. Fingers crossed. Hope nobody else gets it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Here's a short poem, written by a girl named Wren, who was in my field class earlier in the year. Most of the student writing I see is, I'm sad to say, quite forgettable. This little poem stood out.

I am not alone
As I write in the cold rain
I think of hope, and I dream
Just one more time please
Night noises, so serene, beautiful, peaceful
I am not alone

Tender Farewell

Tender Farewell, originally uploaded by Corbie.

Jen and Matt are in the air somewhere over the U.S. on their way to Heathrow in London and then on to Barcelona. I hope they have fun and actually get to relax every once in awhile. Jen plans to post updates on her site during her stay there. So stay tuned.

Matt spent the last couple of nights staying over at our place so we could watch the final few episodes of Six Feet Under. It's fun watching them with Matt because this is his first time through. Of course, he also stayed over so he and Jen could run through what Jen is going to be doing on stage with Nurse With Wound. It's a very minimal set-up, but I'll let Jen tell that story.

We decided to all go out to dinner last night at one of those all you can eat places. A fair amount of salad and a fair amount of brownies and gloopy soft-serve ice cream was consumed. Later, a fair amount of Willow's dinner came back up in the van on the way home, soaking many things and making it necessary for a good portion of the van's contents to be hosed down. While Jen and Matt took care of the hosing, I got poor Willow into the bath.

She barfed several more times before going to bed - one time actually into the bowl that we had provided her with. Today, she seems fine.

So it's just me and the kids for the next few days. The boys have already made plans to spend the night at a friend's house tonight. Outside, the clouds have moved in, with rain in the forecast over the next couple of days.

First Rattlesnake of the Year

First Rattlesnake of the Year, originally uploaded by Corbie.

I spent Sunday supervising the Weekend Work Crew inmates. We'd only been there an hour when one of them discovered a baby Rattlesnake on the steps leading to the dining hall. This is an unusual find for February, but the last few days have been warm. The Rattlesnake, however, was quite cold, so it was easy to push it onto the only thing I had with me - my clipboard. I walked around with the snake on my clipboard for about ten minutes before finding little cage to put it in. During that whole time, it barely flicked a tongue at me.

At the first opportunity, I relocated it to the meadow.

One of the work crew guys was overenthusiastic in cleaning the nook (staff/program storage area) and I actually had to rescue a lot of items from the trash and either put them back or recycle them. I explained to him that since one the main focuses of our program is conservation, we reuse or recycle just about everything, and because of this, tend to be packrats. He apologized. It makes me wonder how many other times good stuff has been thrown out. After all, I only supervise the work crew once every few months. Who knows what else has been thrown out?

Apparently our treasure is the work crew's trash.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

All of a sudden it's T-shirt weather around here. The week at camp, being four days instead of the usual five, seemed to end before it had a chance to properly begin. The baby Garter snake was back under its piece of corrugated metal in the chaparral, and I found another Arboreal salamander, this time under a rotting section of tree trunk near the hillside amphitheater. There was a girl in my group whose heart functioned at about half capacity, so I slowed the hikes down a bit for her benefit. She had open heart surgery at two years of age, poor thing. Makes me think about the strength some people possess - the strength to overcome all sorts of physical and situational obstacles. Makes me think that I could be doing so much more with my own life since I don't have such serious obstacles of my own.

I'm feeling restless, like I need climb off my current plateau and ascend once more. Life is good but it could be much better. I always tell kids at camp that they should try something new every day. I don't always live that.

Jen definitely gets a chance to try something new this week, by hopping on a plane to Barcelona with her laptop and new camera in tow. I'm at the same time jealous and entirely supportive of her going. I've been across the Atlantic Ocean five times now (if I'm counting correctly), so it is only right that she finally gets to go. At the same time I would dearly love to go along, especially since she gets to go on stage with Nurse With Wound. I'd love to be there to witness that. I'm sure it will be recorded nine ways to Sunday though, so I'll get to see/hear it after the fact.

While she's there, I'll be home with the kids. It's pure coincidence that her trip happens on a week that I don't have to work. I'll only miss one day of work (a week from Monday) while she's gone. Willow turns four a couple of days before Jen gets back, and I think we'll go to the zoo that day. Her actual birthday party is scheduled for the following weekend.

Tomorrow is my last day of work before Jen leaves. Once again I'll be supervising the Weekend Work Program work crew as they clean up cabins, bathrooms, and the dining hall/kitchen area at work. It means getting up early, but it also means another eight hours of pay, which will make up for the day I miss the following week.

Currently listening to the new Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter cd, "Like Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul". Liking it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Merging, originally uploaded by Corbie.

Here we merge to form a river, and travel together to the sea...

Happy Valentine's Day. Still traveling.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Okay, almost through last week now...

Thursday morning, after dropping five kids off at two different schools, I drive to work in the increasing rain.
Once I get there, I have to make myself a lunch (I throw together a veggie sausage patty with some cream cheese on a pita) and pack snacks for the all day (actually about 5 and a half hours) hike. I put 23 apples in a crate, plus two backs of pretzels, a bag of trail mix, and a bag of carrots and celery. I take this to our meeting site, along with a white board inscribed with directions for campers (fill water bottles, chase coyotes & bears, etc.). The idea behind the white board is that the kids can read it as they come to the meeting site and have everything done before I even get there. After all of the staff have gotten ready, we converge on the amphitheater and sing a song called the chiggy cheer, which is about as silly as it sounds. It gets the kids moving and helps make their dismissal into the dining hall to make sandwiches less chaotic. We try to avoid chaos.
Eventually the kids all filter back out and make their way to meeting spots. I have to go grab a couple more rain coats for kids, and nobody has read the sign I left, so it's one thing after another as the kids mill around like bemused farm animals. Eventually everybody is ready to go. We hike up the hill across from the meadow, and stop in Shelter grove to play Oh Deer, a game about the causes of population fluctuation. We play for awhile, and I graph "population" changes as the kids go from being "deer" to being limiting factors, and back again. Afterwards, I explain my graph and we discuss whether or not human populations have limiting factors. I ask the kids if they think there is a carrying capacity for human beings. Discussion ensues. I get to be the bringer of bad news again, but I try to keep it short.
From there, we hike up Switchbacks in the gentle rain. Looking up we can see mist in the trees. Many of the kids think it is beautiful. So do I. We arrive at the junction of Switchbacks and Banana Slug Way for lunch. It's still raining, perhaps even a little harder than before. We sit down at the base of some large Douglas Fir trees and eat. After awhile, I get out some Mexican spice and cheddar cheese flavored mealworms for the kids to eat, just in case anybody felt they got cheated out of a genuine worm-eating experience on the night hike. Surprisingly, most of the kids eat them. I'm going to have to order more.
After we separate our trash from our recycling and pack everything away, I explain to the kids about the upcoming solo hike. Due to the rain, I elect to go down Banana Slug Way, rather than continue up the Switchbacks towards Rock Outcrop. This will save us over an hour of hiking time, and I'll be able to get back in time for the kids to do some journal writing out of the rain. I ask the kids why they thing we're going to do a solo hike. Many of them have good answers. They mostly agree that it gives them a chance to experience the woods without the distraction of other people, and most of them are excited about this chance. A few of them are nervous, but that's expected. I leave them in the care of Terra and walk down the hill, leaving cards (which serve as trail markers and often contain reviews of concepts learned earlier in the week) on the ground every thirty feet or so. I stop where the trail crosses over Todd Creek, and wait. The kids arrive one by one, with only a few of them walking too close together. Once they arrive, I set some boundaries and let them explore the creek. This proves to be a lot of fun. When Terra arrives with the cards, I realize that she has forgotten to pick one up, so I hike back to find it, leaving her in charge once more. Once we're all back together, we hike back down, counting newts and playing the Downhill game as we go. Soon we're back near camp. By the pond, there is a squashed newt in the road. We discuss it, and hold an impromptu funeral service.
Back at camp, I let the kids go change out of wet clothes and tell them to meet in one of the cabins. Once we are all together again, I assign some journal pages, including an essay about the night hike. They get to work. Some of the kids are giggly, and after awhile a couple of the girls start giving the boys new hair styles. I check journal work as people finish, and rein everybody back in for a quick adaptation lesson using plastic animals. The kids have to write down adaptations that their animals possess. Most of them do it. Some of them seem to know nothing about the animals they have been given.
Class ends. I collect journals, stop by the dining hall to filch some milk and cookies (the kids get a milk and cookie break after field class), put my radio back, and hit the road.

Friday morning I get to work at around 8:40. I fill out an evaluation for Terra (all good marks - she has been great all week), put stickers on the kids' journals and put them in boxes with the Rikers projects so that they can be taken back to school by the classroom teachers, write down a couple of final 4c awards (forgetting to fill out certificates), and go grab some coffee cake from the dining hall where the campers are still having breakfast.
When field class starts, we circle up inside a different cabin. Usually I do an eco action (something to help the Earth) with my group on Fridays, but I decide to count our mid-week Periwinkle pulling as our group's eco action because we're getting a late start. Instead, we have an extended closing circle. Everybody is instructed to share a favorite moment from the week and/or something they learned. Being fifth graders, most of them choose to say what their favorite moment was. The usual moments are all there - night hike, dance, solo hike, etc. One kid says he liked Oh Deer the best. Terra emotionally informs the group that this week was the best week of her life. Some of the kids agree. I am happy that we get a closing circle that doesn't feel rushed. I tell the kids that I wish they could stay longer. Every Friday, I feel like I'm just getting to really know some of the kids, and then they're gone.
We head back to the dining hall for the closing ceremony. Eco action representatives from each of the groups report on what their group did, final 4c awards are read, the winners of the Stellar Cabins award are revealed (cabins kept neatest all week, coupled with other cabin points awarded by the hub host and night host), cabin leaders and teachers are thanked, Banana Slug is sung, followed by Shooting Star, which always causes some of the kids to cry. Our principal says some final words, and we form a goodbye line outside the dining hall. Soon, the kids are walking down the line. Mostly we get high fives. Some of the kids hug us. Some are crying. The cabin leaders, who are supposed to be part of the line, are over in the picnic shelter. The kids find them there. The teachers try to organize their students and get them to leave. Eventually they succeed and camp is quiet again. I pack up all of the lost and found and put it in the trunk of a teacher's car. Other staff members are busy at various tasks. Things are swept, sorted, and put away for the weekend.
I meet with Terra for a final time. She signs her evaluation (which will be sent to her school) and we talk awhile. She wants to work for the U.N. when she gets older. Good for her! I say goodbye and go get lunch. The staff from our other site arrives. Our Friday meeting begins. Apparently there was a power outage Thursday night. We have a generator, but it failed to kick in. Dinner was eaten by lantern light. I notice while glancing at the camp evaluations filled out by the teachers that at least a couple of them were so impressed by the lantern-lit atmosphere that they want it to become a regular thing. Our facility manager, Walrus, talks about why the generator wasn't working. Apparently one of the feral cats that helps keep the mouse population down around the dining hall crawled inside the generator to get out of the rain and ended up getting pretty well cooked. Walrus said he had to get it out piece by piece, and every time he tossed a piece to the ground, a Raccoon would sidle up and grab it, running off to stash it someplace before coming back for more.
Walrus then takes us on a safety walk around the site, showing us a new emergency generator and a mobile first aid cabinet. He then shows us how to turn off the water and the propane tanks in case of an earthquake. Eventually we arrive back at the staff room and sign-ups for next week happen. I take my paycheck and go home.

That's it, except for my weekend job, which this weekend amounted to a Saturday evening science party for an eight year old girl and her hyper friends. It was a lot of fun, and her dad tipped me forty bucks. I spent it by going to see Tyva Kyzy play at the Great American Music Hall. Review will follow shortly on my music site.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Snapshot of a work week, continued...

Let's see, where were we? Wednesday morning? Again, after dropping off four kids (first Sophie at the Y, then the two boys and their nearly live-in friend at school) I head for work, arriving at around 8:45. I have to look around for a set of geography cards for the ranger hike I have planned. A ranger hike means that my class gets to break into five groups, each of which will interpret something interesting along a trail. I usually have the kids teach about trees and what uses the Ohlone Indians put them to, but I've decided to have the focus of this ranger hike be plate tectonics.
I finally find the cards (they were in a coworker's backpack) and the bell rings for field class. The day is gray and a heavy mist drifts down, dampening the ground. Rain is expected for the next couple of days. Most of the kids have dressed accordingly. I grab some raincoats out of the aptly named raincoat room for the rest.
Once in the forest, I have the kids circle up in a Redwood circle, or faerie ring. I tell them that wood faerie built it, and with a straight face launch into an in-depth explanation about wood faerie. After awhile, I ask if any of the class has a more plausible explanation for the perfect circle of trees. Some do, but nobody quite arrives at the truth. We discuss Redwood adaptations for a few minutes, and then the kids get their journals. I break them into groups and explain how the ranger hike will work. I take the first group down the trail with me while Terra occupies the rest of the class with a game of Chief. Once group one is set up with their cards (information on plate tectonics), I tell them to howl like coyotes as a signal for Terra to send the next group. They do, and I move down the trail to scope out a location for group two. Group one teaches group two, and then sends them my way, howling for group three as they do so. I set up group two with some more geology information, and tell them to point out some Poison Oak vines climbing the Redwoods. Group three is walking towards us, so I move further down the trail to wait for them. When group three, after being taught by group two, reaches me, I point out a nearby Wood rat nest, and show them the non-native Periwinkle growing along the trail. I instruct them to pull periwinkle and to tell the other kids to do so as well. I also tell them to oversee the gathering of Madrone bark for the afternoon's leaf mounting project. And, if that wasn't enough, they get some geology cards as well. The next group just gets some geology cards. I tell them to point out the small Turret spider homes nearby. Can you guess what Turret spider homes look like? The fifth and final group gets to stand between a couple of huge, off kilter Douglas Firs. The Firs are leaning over the trail, and if one looks up, one can see that as they grew, the angle is corrected towards the vertical. More shifting due to the fault zone? Most likely. After everybody has taught everybody else, and everybody has tried eating Douglas Fir needles, we gather together again and I make the kids do page 4 in their journals - nutrient cycle/food chain. Basic stuff, but some of the kids have a bit of trouble. On the way back to camp, one of the girls almost steps on a newt. Inspecting it more closely, I notice that it has no eyes. I take some pictures and launch into a short lecture on amphibian mutations and what an indicator species is. I bring up miner's canaries. I ask the kids what they would do if they knew that a sensitive class of animals like amphibians were disappearing? I make the point that miners could get out of a mine if they knew there were dangerous gases, but we can't leave the Earth if a global "miner's canary", like the amphibian population, were to die off. I end by telling them that the amphibian population is dying off. Kind of a downer, but the truth.

But hey, it's lunch time now.

For the afternoon hike, Terra goes on break and three of the kids from Squirrel's group join us - the girl with a broken foot, the girl with spinibifida, and the boy with no lower legs. Squirrel is going up the creek with his group this afternoon, so I volunteered to take the kids in his group who need wheelchairs to get around. All I have planned is an activity called Rikers (leaf mounting and labeling) and a visit to the nature lab (one room nature museum down by the staff house), with the possibility of a visit to the pond if we get the other stuff done.
Rikers goes smoothly. Butterfly, the girl with Spinibifida, has an aide along. Rat, the boy with no legs, is very mobile, hopping in and out of his wheelchair. He has just arrived at camp today because he was sick. The girl with the broken foot is riding in one of the camp's off-road wheelchairs (actually a jogging stroller), as is Butterfly.
The object of Rikers is to mount and label examples of plants the Ohlone people used. The four examples we use are California Bay Laurel, Redwood, Tan Oak, and Madrone bark. We get throught the project assembly line style. The only part that the kids have a problem with is wrapping the project in cellophane. This requires a level of dexterity not yet attained by some sixth graders.
Outside, it is raining.
After we finish Rikers, we visit the nature lab, home of various taxidermied animals, bones, educational posters, microscopes (including a video microscope), two red-eared sliders (a new addition, thanks to Squirrel), Orange-head and Hissing cockroaches (mine), two snakes (Gopher and California King), and for today only, my Flat Rock scorpion. I let the kids have some time checking the place out on their own, and then teach a quick lesson on scientific classification. Afterwards, I get out the cockroaches. I don't think I've ever seen a group as nervous about cockroaches as this one. Some of the kids touch them anyway. Discussion ensues - why is it that all of the animals we consider "dirty" are ones that live near humans? Next, I get out the scorpion and hold it under a black light so people can see it glow green. That gets lots of ooohs and aaaahs. I tell them that the scorpion has been on Earth for about 400 million years. Talk about having some highly successful adaptations. Soon it's snake time. I get out the California King snake. The kids are interested and ask lots and lots of questions. Some kids hold the snake. Some just touch it. Some back away. More questions get asked. The clock ticks away, accompanied by the sound of rain. Soon it's time to get back to camp for recess. No pond today.

I don't have to oversee recess today, so I have some down time. I spend it doing various, rather forgettable things. For dinner there is spaghetti. Water continues to drift down from the darkening sky.

The night hike starts late. Rain (the hub host, not precipitation) has gone home sick, so Squirrel fills in. By the time we get our kids, it's nearly 7:30. We're missing Redwood, who has a slight fever. Terra is back. It is really dark. I ask the kids if they're nervous. About ten hands go up. I do my best to allay their fears, ending by having them "throw" their fears into a piece of flash paper and lighting it on fire. We leave our meeting spot in a single file, centipede style (each body segment on a centipede has two legs and is by nature forced to follow the one directly in front) line. Once under the Redwoods, I realize that this is one of the darkest night hikes I've ever led. Usually clouds reflect nearby city lights, but they don't seem to be doing their job tonight. There is no moon either. We circle up at the junction of two trails, and test our night vision with a candle. We all close one eye and stare into the candle flame. After I snuff the candle, we blink, alternating eyes to see the difference in vision. Everybody sees a difference. Before we move on, I mix some luminol and bleach water to together so they can see the resulting glowing liquid.
The next section of trail is the darkest, and coincidentally, the rockiest. I have the kids hold on to each other's shoulders. The going is slow. We pass the big Redwood stump that I often fill with kids on night hikes, but since we've gotten a late start, we pass it. Around the corner, in a different Redwood grove, I tell them a detailed story about glow worms, culminating in having them eat a "freeze dried glow worm" which throws of sparks when bitten. Most of the kids fall for it. I'm helped by Terra playing along so well that I think I've fooled her too. Of course, they have actually each eaten a section of a Wint-o-green lifesaver, the breaking of which results in a phenomenon called triboluminescence - something to do with sugar and nitrogen electrons interacting with oxygen molecules. A few kids are so fooled by the story that they don't eat one. Pretty much the same thing happens every week. By this time, I notice that we're due back in camp in less than ten minutes, so we head downhill. I had planned to hike them through the chaparral, but it is just as well I didn't because I'm sure we would have been slowed down by all of the newts brought out by the rain.
Back at camp, I dismiss the kids to their cabins, check in at the staff room to say goodnight and drop off my radio, and walk out to my car for the drive home.

More to come...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Snapshot of a work week, continued:

On Tuesday, after dropping off four kids at school(it would have been five, but Willow is home with an earache), I arrive at work around 8:50. The bell for field class rings at about 9:00. Once all of the kids are at our meeting spot, we play a name game called zap. Then we put some small, clear plastic bags over the leaves of some nearby trees, fixing them in place with rubber bands. This is to illustrate that transpiration occurs. We will check the bags after lunch.
I hike the kids past the pond and we stop near the hostel again. Once we are circled up in a planet Earth, I place a large garbage back over a pile of rocks in the middle of the circle, making sure there is a depression in the middle. I then sprinkle dirt over it. This becomes my watershed model, and I use it to explain watersheds and erosion. I pick three volunteers to use their water bottles to make it "rain" on the model, and we all observe that the water collects in the center valley, taking the dirt with it. Discussion ensues. Afterwards, I hike them around the corner and down the trail to where the trail crosses over the creek. This area features a lot of Redwoods, and we see our first couple of Banana slugs for the week. The kids descend on them like paparazzi. At the creek, I demonstrate how to make face paint by rubbing wet sedimentary rocks together, which leads into an explanation about weathering. Not all of the kids want to get their hands wet. A camper named Redwood helps me test the water for pH, and I discover that the reading is somewhere around 8.2, which is more alkaline that I would have hoped. I wonder if the probe is malfunctioning. I briefly explain, pH, water testing in general, and tell the kids what a riparian community it is. Being long-winded, I launch into a talk about riparian corridors. The kids finish face-painting, I burden them with a few additional safety rules (watch out for wet and wobbly rocks, don't climb the embankments, walk in a single file line, help each other, avoid getting your feet wet...) and we start walking up the creek, crossing and recrossing it as we proceed. I stop at one point to challenge them to find something unnatural (make by humans) in the creek bed. Eventually somebody figures out that there are chunks of asphalt in amongst the rocks. From there, it doesn't take the group long to work out that there is a road uphill from us, and that at some point part of it slipped into the creek. Eroded road, ha ha.
Upstream, we find a Pacific Giant Salamander nymph, sitting camouflaged in a deep, slow-moving section of the creek. The kids gather around to look.
The next step is to climb away from the creek bed via a steep little trail. We utilize tree roots as hand holds. Once out of the creek, we clamber up to the ranger road. We circle up in a nearby clearing and I make sure everybody is up to speed on the concept of photosynthesis. We then play a game called "race to the sun," which is a tree-building race where two kids try to get carbon dioxide and water molecules (played by the rest of the group) to link up and form trees. I play the sun. Whichever "tree" reaches me first wins.
Lesson over, we check out some nearby clusters of wintering ladybugs and a nearly two decade old landslide area. Then I hand out journals. The kids do the photosynthesis page.
Time is running out, so we walk down the ranger road towards camp. We play the "downhill game," during which nobody can touch each other unless I play some notes on my penny whistle. If they're still touching after I say "touch", or at any time other than right after they hear the penny whistle, they have to go to the back of the line. This is the only time in which Terra doesn't have to be at the back. I fool enough kids so that there is a steady flow of people heading towards the back of the line. Terra makes it about halfway towards the front before she makes a mistake and has to go back. At the bottom of the hill, I notice that it's only a couple of minutes before noon, so we stop playing the game and hurry back.

Lunch happens.

The afternoon hike starts at around 2, and the first thing we do is check the transpiration bags. They're full of water droplets. We discuss why.
I then give them a quick lesson on energy flow through food chains (energy is lost as it moves from trophic level to trophic level) and we play a quick game of telephone (meaning is lost as the sentence passes from camper to camper).
Then I tell the kids that we're going to do a community comparison study, starting with the chaparral. We hike to the chaparral, making note of some raccoon scat and deer tracks on the way. The kids get out their journals, and I divide our group into three. One group gets to use the light indicator/soil moisture probe, one group uses the sling sychrometer to test for humidity, and one group measures leaf size and thickness. This type of study is less effective in February than it is in the Spring or Summer months, due to uniform soil wetness and fog, but it's always good to let the kids use scientific instruments. The real fun begins when we get to search for animals. The categories in the journal are herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, and decomposer. We find a tailless Northern Alligator Lizard (a bit of a surprise in February), some California Newts, Slender Salamanders, and a small Tree Frog. Countless worms and beetles are also discovered. Jellyfish is nearby with his group, and they join us for awhile. Many pictures are taken. Most of them will be blurry because the kids have once again forgotten the focusing distance on their disposable cameras.
We hike to a nearby Redwood grove to see if our readings and findings will be any different. Temperature and humidity turn out to be a little different, but soil moisture is pretty much the same. We find a number of Ensatinas, and more California Newts. Time runs out, so we hike back to camp.

Since it's my night to work, I'm in charge of doing recess duty with Jellyfish. Cod helps out too. After the recess bell is rung and the cabin groups have assembled in the amphitheater, we review recess rules and call out the names of the kids who have discipline tasks. There are a lot of them, so after the other kids are dismissed to recess, we have the majority of the discipline kids set up the dining hall for dinner. I take a few of them around back to break down boxes for recycling. Recess is short today, because the hub host has to give the shower talk, so by the time the kids have finished their tasks, they have less than ten minutes of recess left. That will teach them not to mess up. After the bell rings, I write down my 4c choices for the day. I pick the girl who helped me do water testing in the creek, and a boy named Wolf who contributes to class discussions.
Then I have some down time. I check e-mail and call Jen. Camp Dinner tonight is baked potatoes and broccoli. The kids have chicken.
The minute the kids leave the dining hall, our lead teacher, Buzzard, Jellyfish, and I have to get things ready for the astronomy program. For Buzzard, that means setting up the astronomy Powerpoint presentation. For Jellyfish and I, that means folding the tables, pushing them up against the walls, and sweeping the floor.
A little before 7 PM, the bell rings, and all of the cabin groups assemble in the amphitheater. From there, I dismiss them one group at a time into the dining hall. Buzzard starts the presentation. I've seen it a million times, so I go outside to check on the cloud cover. The forecast said it would be about 83%. It is really about 100%. Not good for an astronomy program night. As the slideshow progresses, I listen to my I-pod and watch the skies. Towards the end, Orion appears, but then gets smothered behind a blanket of cloud again.
After the slideshow ends, I dismiss groups from the dining hall. Half of the groups I dismiss go to the lower field to do a planet walk with Buzzard (we have posts set up to show relative distances of our solar system's planets - this is our cloudy night alternative to telescopes). The other half also go to the lower field, but to Jellyfish for a constellation talk. I stay in the dining hall with the remaining groups, and we play a game called astronomy password. Actually two games, with some of the classroom teachers running the other one. I quickly figure out that these kids, most of them at least, are quite challenged when it comes to simple astronomy vocabulary. Despite this, we have a lot of fun.
Halfway through the remainder of the evening, there is a rotation during which the kids in the dining hall trade places with those on the lower field. I oversee another game of password.
Next, all groups again converge on the central amphitheater and I tell them a star creation myth (actually not a true myth, since I made it up last year, but people never complain). I finish at about 9:10, and our current night host, Nettle, takes it from there. Time to go home.

More to come...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I'm getting really bad about posting regular updates here. I've been focusing more on real life, I guess. Lately I've been feeling like it's time to forge ahead and stretch in some way, and the computer sometimes feels like the walls of a deep rut, with me at the bottom. It's easier to perform the same actions every day than it is to make change. Safer and more comforting too.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a snapshot of my work week. This is pretty much what I do from Monday to Friday on any given week. My job title is Environmental Education Specialist (sub). The "sub" means I don't currently get benefits, but work almost as much as the permanents. There are around eight permanent positions, but seventeen of us are needed to accommodate the number of campers when both or our sites are running. Each week, there are usually between 100 and 200 kids who arrive with their classroom teachers on Monday morning and stay in cabins until they leave a little before noon on Friday.

Monday morning - At around 8:40 Am, I arrive at work, an unnamed outdoor school somewhere in the Santa Cruz mountains. I'm usually one of the first people there on Monday, which gives me the opportunity to sign up for a meeting spot (a place to meet with our field group for the week). This week I choose a circle of stumps known as the "Lorax circle." I also sign up for some trails for the Monday afternoon hike and gather field journals for my group, guessing that I'll have 21 or 22 kids. For the Tuesday through Thursday hikes, there is a rotating sign-up order. I'm somewhere in the middle this week. My coworkers start filtering in, and soon it's time to meet with this week's cabin leaders (teen volunteers who will be heading up cabin groups and helping out with the field classes). Today, we meet outside the staff room near the basketball hoop. The staff introduces themselves first, each giving a piece of advice to the cabin leaders. My piece of advice this week is something about leading by example. After the staff has gone around the circle (oh yeah, we're all sitting in a circle, known hereafter as a "planet earth"), the cabin leaders introduce themselves and briefly tell us about what they like doing with their spare time. After this, we find out which cabin leader(s) will be hiking with us during field class. This week I am paired with a girl named Terra (oh yeah, we're all using "nature names" - mine is Crow). Terra hasn't volunteered with us before, but is really enthusiastic and generally seems to exude good energy. She's excited for the week to begin. At around this time, the buses arrive. Only one school is coming this week (sometimes there are as many as five different schools) and it's a middle school - sixth graders. The people who are working the Monday night program (we all work the Wednesday night night hike, and then sign up to work one other night every week, with the occasional night off) greet the buses and make sure the luggage and lunches are unloaded. The rest of us conclude our meetings with cabin leaders and lead tours of the site for the incoming students, showing them the cabins, schedule board area, the hub (camp office) and or course, the bathrooms. After everybody has taken a tour, the bell is rung and everybody converges on the cement steps of the main amphitheater for introductions and the general meeting. Once everybody is settled, we sing a song called chabuya, which involves each staff member introducing him/herself via a little rhyme. The rhyme I currently use is My name is Crow/I'm a scavenger/I'm a bit smarter/than the average bird. The first one I ever came up with, but wisely decided not to actually use, was My name is Crow/and I eat the dead/if you mess with me/I'll peck your head. The kids sing along. Various staff members pull out drums and guitars. Lately we've been using a cowbell too. After the song, we go over the camp rules and introduce the cabin leaders. The staff members signed up for the Thursday night program lead the general meeting, explaining our discipline system and our positive reinforcement strategy. The discipline system is pretty simple - if a camper does something bad, his or her name goes on a clipboard. The first time it happens, the camper gets a warning, the second time it happens, they get a check mark and we take away ten minutes of recess time and replace it with a task (breaking down boxes, sharpening pencils, picking up trash, etc.). Two checks means a fifteen minute task. Three checks means a fifteen minute task, a call home, and the student has to write a contract, the breaking of which means getting kicked out of camp. We don't like kicking people out, so there is a little wiggle room. On the other end of the spectrum, a camper who does something good might get a 4c award (contribution, cooperation, consideration, and conservation). While the Thursday staff does this, the rest of us continue to get things in order for field class, with an occasional detour into the computer lab to check e-mail. After the general meeting, the kids move into cabins and field staff get their class lists. After allowing some move-in time, we ring a bell to call the kids back to the amphitheater. From there we read out the names of the kids who are in our groups, and take them to our meeting spots. I have 21 kids on my list. Some of them have names I can't pronounce. I do my best. This week all of my kids hear their names correctly and I don't have to radio around to find any (we all carry radios - the expensive police-issue kind). The first thing I do when we all sit down on the stumps at the Lorax circle is go over the list again. I ask the kids to tell me three things when I call out their names: 1 - the correct pronunciation of their name (if I got it wrong), 2 - what they want their nature name (nickname) to be for the week (I explain to them that they can't name themselves after anything made by human beings, so names like "asphalt" and "port-a-potty" are out), and 3- what they are most looking forward to at science camp. About 80% of the kids know what they want their nicknames to be. One kid wants to be called "Booger" and I let him because I think it's funny. The only other odd name is Snow Wabbit (with a "w", the kid says). No reptile names this week, which is good. I really like reptiles, but for some reason, whenever a kid picks a nature name like "snake" or "cobra" he (almost always a boy) ends up being a troublemaker. After all of the name checking is done, I go over my expectations for the week (respect each other, be nice, listen when others are talking, don't pick up sticks and rocks, stay with the group, etc.) and what to bring to field class (water bottles, long pants, good shoes, etc.). Then we talk about how to go to the bathroom in the woods (we have code names for this - chasing coyotes and bears). I end the meeting with a quick little trail-safety activity called a "danger hike," which involves me placing a piece of laminated paper face-down in front of each camper. Most of the pieces of paper say, safe-just duff (duff being a term for leaf litter, just in case you thought it was the beer they drink on The Simpsons). The idea behind the game is that students aren't supposed to go off trails during hikes. I tell them that most of the time nothing happens when somebody goes off trail (hence the "safe-just duff" cards), but the potential for danger is always there. There are about ten cards that have consequences/dangers of going off trail written on them, including things like stepped in a Yellowjacket nest (I've had that happen three times over the last two and a half years), stepped on a newt, touched Poison Oak, touched Stinging Nettle, stepped in scat, etc. The kids always like getting the cards with the bad things written on them, but it does make them aware of why we have rules about staying on the trails during hikes. By the time we finish the activity, we're slightly late for the lunch/recycling talk back at the main amphitheater. The people who get the night off (only working one night program) are in charge of doing the lunch/recycling talk. The rest of us go into the dining hall to eat lunch and meet the teachers. I recognize some of the teachers from last year, but we go around the table and make formal introductions. We have a couple of new field instructors, and there are a couple of teachers up at camp for the first time as well. After lunch, we go out and supervise the clean up and in the amphitheater. The kids have been told to separate their waste into plastic/glass, aluminum, paper, compost, landfill, and good food (any food that they brought with them for lunch but didn't eat is placed in a crate and taken to the staff room so the cabins won't be crawling with opportunistic wildlife at night). This is often the hardest part of the week, trying to get the kids to stop, read the helpful signs we've tacked to the supports of the picnic shelter area, and put their stuff in the proper bins.
After lunch is done, the hub host (this week it's Rain -this is another rotating job, which more accurately could be called "camp coordinator") introduces herself and we sing a couple of songs - Banana Slug (to the tune of La Bamba) and Evil Waste (to the tune of Santana's Evil Ways). Afterwards, we retire to the staff room to go over medical lists. The medical lists are just that - lists of known medical problems for this week's campers. Any other relevant information, such as behavior problems, is also covered. This week I get off lightly. I only have one camper on my list with any sort of problem at all, and all she has is mild asthma. After this, we have some down time, which I use to cut pictures out of old calendars with the intention of eventually using them to make new solo-hike cards. Several other staff members are doing the same thing. We share calendars.

2:00 PM - the afternoon field class starts. We all go to the amphitheater to collect our kids. This will be the first time that Terra meets our group. Also along for this hike is Sycamore, who is another new staff member. He wants to observe my lessons for the afternoon. I start class by writing down the nature names of the people who couldn't decide earlier. I do some quick , interactive definitions of words like ecosystem, habitat, and interrelationships. I try to explain interrelationships by having the kids stand back to front in a circle and all sit down in each other's laps. It doesn't work too well. I make a note to go back to my old method (using Kapla blocks) of explaining this.
We start the hike by crossing the meadow (under which lies the San Andreas fault) and stopping near the pond. There is a California Newt in the water, and a couple of Mallards paddling through the duckweed. We talk about invasive species, since the pond is also home to Bullfrogs. The kids take pictures.
The next stop is over by the youth hostel - a genuine Redwood log cabin - where we do a couple of name games (instant replay, followed by a group juggle) so that people will start remembering nature names.
Afterwards, I walk them to the other side of the hostel. All along, I've been using our basic call and response (I say "banana", to which the kids reply "slug") to focus the kids when I have something to say. I hear Booger's voice after everybody has said "slug." I take his name as an example. He gets quiet. Near the hostel's slide and volleyball net, I do a quick lesson on the F.B.I. One kid already knows that I'm not talking about the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and properly identifies the F as Fungus and the B as Bacteria. A couple of other kids chime in and pretty soon the figure that the I stands for Invertebrates. I talk about what a niche is, and explain that the F.B.I.'s niche (or job) is to decompose dead material and return nutrients to the soil. I pass around a covered petri dish of bacteria that I'd grown in my bacteria farm in the linen closet at home. The kids think it's cool. I then pull over a nearby log and we discover some fungus. I talk about what it is doing to the log. I'm hoping to find a millipede or other invertebrate decomposer, but strike out with the other logs, only finding a couple of Slender Salamanders. I use trail hands (picking up the dirt under the salamander to avoid actually touching it with my hands - salamanders are sensitive creatures) to pick up the salamander and bring it around the circle to show the kids. They all try to take pictures of it from inches away with their disposable cameras. I remind them that the focusing range is about three feet. Most of them adjust their distance. I put the salamander back near its hiding place, making sure the kids notice that I'm not dropping the log back on top of it, but rather letting the salamander make its own way back under the log.
We vacate the area and walk up a trail called Washout due to a section of it being washed out. There is also a relatively new fallen tree covering part of the trail. We step carefully over and around it. I point out some Poison Oak and some more fungus on the way. When we arrive at Douglas Fir Junction, I decide that we don't have time to play "Meet a Tree" (a game where the kids break off into pairs and take turns blindfolding each other and leading each other to nearby trees - the object being that, after being led back to the starting point and having the blindfold removed, the blindfolded kid must guess which tree he/she was led to).
We turn north and end up back on the lower field near camp. I teach the kids a game (modeled after "red light/green light") called "king snake/coral snake," designed to teach about mimicry. The only main difference between this game and "red light/green light" is that instead of saying "red light" or "green light" I hold up king snake or coral snake patterns taped to the back of a pair of dry erase boards (aka white boards). The kids run and have fun. Then class is over.

Back at camp, I release the kids to their cabins and pick a couple of kids to give 4c awards to . I pick a girl named Grey Fox, who was participating well, and Terra suggests a boy named Snow Leopard. I write something nice about them on the 4c list. Later, the hub host will read the list out loud in front of the assembled kids. Public recognition is good for the ego.

The Monday night staff pull the fire alarm for the fire drill. The Tuesday night staff, Jellyfish and I, are in charge of checking in with the cabin leaders once all of the cabin groups are safely down on the lower field, which is currently serving as our go-to location for emergencies. Everybody is there. I go home. It is approximately 4:10 PM.

To be continued...