It was a damp, foggy, almost springlike day on Friday, January 17, when the Grade 3-4 class left campus to hike Beech Hill in Rockport. We had been studying local geography and it was my hope that we would be able to see and sketch some of the islands and mountains the students had been learning about. It was obvious even before we left campus that the low clouds and thick fog were going to be a hindrance on this endeavor but I decided we would go for it anyway.
Though my plan would certainly need to be modified, the students seemed unperturbed by the conditions. As we hiked/ran/splashed/trudged up the dirt path to the top of the hill, the students sang, talked, and joked with one another in high spirits. As we looked out the blueberry fields faded away into the fog and, before us, the path itself seemed to disappear into nothing.
“It looks like we’re walking off the end of the world” one student observed. I was feeling the same way. I was determined to find some worthwhile experience from this trip since my original plan for the day was being swallowed by the ubiquitous fog so we took a moment to imagine that we were at the edge of the world. Then I let the student run to explore the stone Beech Nut “hut.”
In the first local geography block, I start in concentric circles from our immediate surroundings, the classroom, school building, campus, and gradually work to the range of the furthest students’ homes. Though not very tall or difficult to hike, Beech Hill offers a view of just about that distance and certainly manifest the character of the Camden Hills and Penobscot Bay. The fog however, was forcing us to focus back in on our immediate surroundings so we explored the grounds of Beech Nut and identified some of the plants and trees that we found; black spruce, blueberries, bayberries, wild rose, etc.
“An owl!” called one student excitedly. More enthusiastic echoes came from his classmates. I hurried over to see. About 50 yards from us, almost our total visibility, perched a large bird with a bright white head.
“A bald eagle perhaps?” I suggested.
“No, it’s turning its head like an owl.” Indeed, it was, and, it had the unmistakable face of an owl. But what kind of owl? White face; grey plumage; LARGE body. We observed it as carefully as we could but it had already assessed us far better.
It decided that our romping around was either going to scare up some critters or convince them to stay in their homes. With a few wide flaps it took off into the air and circled right over our heads to see if any of us were small enough to carry off; we stayed bunched together. As it flew directly over us, it was clear to me what we were seeing. From below the owl was as white as the fog it was carving through. Had it not already been reported in the area I might not have known that it was – a snowy owl.
It circled above us for a few more silent moments before disappearing into the fog. I felt my eyes well slightly at such a rare and beautiful sight. The students also seemed to sense the significance of what we had just seen and began to dance and play and recount the experience to one another.
The rest of our visit to Beech Hill was as stimulating as I had hoped it would be. We walked the forest paths and identified any and all of the local flora and fauna that we could. By the time we made it back to the hut for a snack, the sky had finally cleared enough for us to look out and take in Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills.
Our trip to Beech Hill was not as I imagined it would be. The paper I brought to make sketches was damp and we didn’t have a lot of time to identify all the geographical features around us, though we named many. However, the real lesson that I took away from that day, and hope the students did too, was perseverance; we could easily have rescheduled our trip for a nicer day but we stayed committed and were rewarded for it.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
-William Hutchinson Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition