Wanted: Outdoor Classrooms and Space To Dream

Posted by By at 16 March, at 07 : 38 AM Print

I went for a walk in the woods one day with the granddaughters, in search of the source of a creek which flows from the county where I live in south-central Pennsylvania, across the state line into Maryland, and joins the Monocacy River east of Thurmont.

A paper company once owned the particular piece of forest, 2,500 acres of the first tree farm in the state that gave birth to the nation’s forest conservation movement. There was a time when men with axes and horses took to the woods to cut trees and drag them to a nearby road, from whence they could be carted to the mill. Axes gave way to chainsaws, and horses to huge, powerful tractors called “skidders,” but even then, logging was a slow process. I know; I was raised where logging and paper making was the primary industry.

Chainsaws have been replaced by machines with air conditioned cabs from which one operator can virtually denude a mountainside in a matter days, instead of the months or years once required, leaving the owner to pay taxes for several decades while waiting patiently for trees to grow to usable girth. Glatfelter, owner of that 2,500 acres, had decided to sell the land, to let someone else pay the taxes and “call us when you’ve got wood to sell.”

A residential developer had offered to cut most of the 2,500 acres into five-acre home lots, but a coalition of conservation groups and agencies eventually made the land part of the Michaux State Forest. That led to the day hike with the granddaughters.

They like fishing and catching lightning bugs and watching baby birds hatch. The eldest wants to become a marine biologist; she likes to write reports about science matters.

And now she knows that when she turns a faucet at home, water springs forth from the ground 50 miles or more away. She’s been there, and she and her cousin have wet their feet in the muddy water.

Of course, they also discovered other growing things, such as mushrooms, caterpillars and ticks, and cataloged leaf shapes.

On the way back to our vehicle, I asked the youngest hiker, then six, whether she enjoyed the hike.

“No, that was not an OK walk,” she said, “because I got stung by a prickle.”

Then she spotted a frog, and prickles disappeared as the mysterious amphibian led her into some weeds.

There are many worlds to be discovered, some without leaving our home planet. Near the tops of giant California Sequoia trees are gardens inhabited by species of plants and critters that have never been closer than 300 feet of the surface of the planet on which their homes are based.

It’s good to know of things beyond one’s driveway. My favorite television shows are “Ancient Aliens” and “Through the Wormhole.” I’m convinced there is life out there somewhere, and my descendents will get to talk with its members, if we let them.

One evening, our son and his year-younger sister were watching television in which old men were describing their experiences in World War II.

“Why are those men crying?” Cat asked her older sibling.

“They’re not,” came the reply. “That’s all make believe.”

When war is about video games, death on a battlefield, for the one percent of us who actually go there, is a shocking surprise. A news story this week about a new movie featured young people standing in line for tickets. “I don’t think people are coming to see the love story,” said one young man. “It’s the violence, dude.”

The characters will die in splashing blood, and the stars will live to play in other movies.

When everything is make-believe, nothing lives, and nothing dies. It simply is, or isn’t.

When the boundaries of their young lives define their world as the town in which they live, and everything they see on television is make-believe, is it a surprise our offspring think water will last forever and milk comes from the other side of a wall at the grocery store?

But if we fill their budding minds with images of planets they may never see, they will dream of seeing them, and do their best to follow the dream.

If they see the source of water, they will better understand the cost of cleaning up water that flows through their towns and taps, rather than simply complain about the fees and taxes because that is all they know.

I’d like to be in the back of the classroom when the discussion comes up about a water sources.

It would be fun to see a young hand go up, and its owner tell about dangling her young feet in a pool where the Earth gave birth to that creek in a Pennsylvania woods, and how she swam in it later – after it the water had moved into the Monocacy River in Maryland, and melded into the Potomac River to flow past the nation’s capital to the Chesapeake Bay, where it dumps into the Atlantic Ocean, where she went swimming. Or see a teacher who had been there show pictures and make her charges want to go there.

Or we can continue to shortchange the education system, while blaming teachers for not filling their charges’ little minds with only the information required to make them “productive, taxpaying citizens.”

Photo by valeehill


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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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