We were foraging for sticks – good ones that were both sturdy and sized correctly.
“How’s this one? And look at the pine needles I found for the brush part!”
I couldn’t help but smile, relishing the contentment I felt at spending time outside with a league of children. Our current project: creating paintbrushes using natural items we uncovered in a nearby wooded area. My young charges were very intentional in their scavenge, and eagerly helped each other construct their art tools.
The best part? This was just another Muddy Monday at my new place of employment: Lorien Wood School.
During the latter part of my 47 Parks trip, I began the onerous task of finding a new job. I vacillated between curriculum writing careers, outdoor education positions, and returning to elementary education. I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon an opening at an occupation that combined all three.
Lorien Wood is a private school located in Northern Virginia. The curriculum is integral, arranged in thematic units that incorporate multiple subjects, among which is outdoor studies. After spending so much time outside during my travels, I was pleased to be offered a position at a school that encourages joyful discovery of natural spaces and wild places.
Every Monday is a designated Muddy Monday. Small groups of students rotate through various stations designed to promote a spirit of discovery as children interact with the outdoors. As the designated STEAM* director, I get to design engineering and art projects for the students to undertake. I am looking forward to building forts, making miniature rafts, and exploring solar energy over the course of the year.
I look back over my national parks tour fondly, but relish in my new job that combines my passion for nature with my love of all things teaching/learning.
Rain, snow, or sleet, I treasure the opportunity I have to share this passion with my students.
Mondays just couldn’t get any better.
* STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math
Or in my case: When life throws a deer in front of your car, fly to Acadia National Park.
It just didn’t make sense to hang out in Wisconsin for a week while I waited for my car to get fixed. Hotels were pretty pricey, and I knew that I would be going stir-crazy lingering in a city.
I crunched some numbers. When I calculated the cost of gas, lodging during the drive, and tolls, taking a last-minute flight to Maine didn’t seem like such a bad decision.
So I spent a glorious 2 days on Mt. Desert Island, the largest and most popular part of Acadia.
I drove my sweet rental car, a Jeep Cherokee, along the coast, marveling at the rugged rock meeting the Atlantic Ocean. I laced up my hiking boots and explored the mountains and unique ecosystems, the sound of the crashing sea in the distance.
On one occasion, I decided to do a quick 0.4 mile hike to a lookout point. I soon realized that the majority of the hike was iron ladders, and that the “trail” was really more of a nontechnical rock climb.
It was fun.
Even though flying is a pain, I’m happy that my impromptu decision will save me hours in the car in the long run.
Now, my trip is officially back on track. One more park to go!
Complete darkness. My eyes fought to find something to focus on; my ears something to target. Thankfully the lady next to me inhaled deeply, leaving me grateful for the brief respite from the disorienting sensory paralysis.
I sat in an alcove with twelve other strangers, united by our collective experience of this outright blackout. After a couple of minutes, our guide began to talk about the delicate balance of preserving the cave while at the same time allowing visitors access to this underground wonder.
Before arriving at Carlsbad Caverns, I expected it to be like the other three caves I had visited thus far on my trip. Of course there would be eye-catching stalactites and stalagmites, and perhaps a couple of other cave features that would draw my attention. I wasn’t prepared for the sheer magnitude of this subterranean space, nor was I ready to be captivated by the diversity of speleothems (a fancy word for cave decorations).
The guided Lower Cave tour that I signed up for took me even further into a frontier that is just beginning to be understood. Though not as rigorous as my Wild Cave Tour in Mammoth Caves, I got my share of exercise descending/ascending ladders and traipsing across uneven ground.
In one underground pool, hundreds of feet below the surface, I witnessed a parasitic worm preparing to lay its eggs. The young larvae will use cave crickets as a host, eventually busting out of the gut like something from a sci-fi film. Gruesome? Yes, but fascinating all the same. You can watch a video here, but not before eating.
I also walking through history, witnessing the place where Amelia Earhart stood on her VIP tour years ago. I reveled in the fact that Carlsbad Caverns has been around for such a long time. I also said a silent prayer that humans will get their act together and work on preserving such marvelous masterpieces.
At the top, the bright sunlight made me squint and miss the soft light from my headlamp that highlighted cavern features. I’ll never be an underground dweller, but visiting every now and again is a pretty special treat.
The thunderstorm the night before was disheartening. I was planning on kicking off part II of my journey with some epic climbing at a world class crag in Tennessee. I lay awake in bed picturing rain-soaked sandstone that would hinder upwards movement. Nevertheless, there was some promise of sunshine the following morning, so my brother and I loaded up our gear and headed on our merry way.
Though not an official national park, the Obed is considered a national wild and scenic river, falling under the same jurisdiction as my beloved park services. After minutes of hiking along the upper ridge, I began to settle into a familiar rhythm. Outside air, river sounds, soggy leaves underfoot… Home.
The climbing was good, but the day was even better. Sitting on a rock, chatting with strangers, and munching on trail mix brought me into a relaxing sense of freedom. My brother did most of the hard work, leading routes while I belayed at the bottom, watching the birds of prey circle overhead.
And then I thought, “This is only day 2 of part II – there is much more to come. This world is so big and longs to be explored.”
I let out a sigh of contentment before I scarfed down a Clif bar.
Many people have asked me what my favorite park is. Answering that question is difficult; I’ve felt connected to most of the national parks I’ve visited and struggle choosing simply one that takes the cake.
Ask any parent who their preferred child is and (hopefully), they’ll respond “all of them”. After all, each child has his/her own merits and unique attributes. While there have definitely been some parks I haven’t enjoyed as well as others, I have decided to give awards to some of my most-liked places.