Grade Five Trip to Big Sur

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Allow me to begin by sharing a single picture about the gesture of the fifth grade. For that I will ask you to hold a seed, or imagine that you are doing so, then take a moment in silence and realize that seed’s potential through its transformation.

How far did your visualization go? Did you see its movement? Did you move the seed, or did it move you? Let us continue…

The “botany” block that traditionally is taught in fifth grade is not the scientific fact-based inquiry that the term implies. Instead, we should begin to call it what it is: Human and Plant. This liberates us to engage our senses of perception. When we go on a nature walk, and allow our surroundings to inform us, our experience through mindful walking is enriched. We no longer see a weed as an insignificant species; instead we may revel at its beauty, at its ability to adapt, and might see ourselves through its experience and learn from it.

Two weeks ago, Class 5 had the opportunity to travel to one of our state’s treasured nature sites. The weather was in our favor. Mornings were cool and moist. Varying degrees of sunlight depended on many factors: time of day, terrain, abundance of flora, etc. Early outings included inspiring walks on the beach, as well as nature walks within the grounds of our camp. The students experienced one of these walks with eyes shut and hands linked, while I led them through a quarter-mile, winding path bordered by centuries-old coastal redwoods. This exercise heightened the sensitivity of the other senses and thus gave an opportunity to perceive the environment in a deeper way.

We arrived to a circle within the grounds near the ranger station known for having the oldest community of these ancient beings, 2000+ years. The children played, investigated and even stepped into some of the redwoods whose trunks had been partially consumed by fires, testament to their resilience.

At sunset we revisited the nature trails. The canopy overhead darkened the grounds quickly, bringing the nightlife to its activity. Silent silhouettes of fluttering brown bats, two meters overhead, were seen beginning their nocturnal ritual. Into the late night, “hoots” were heard in the distance, while nearby, cautious, petite black-pawed fellows with white stripes along a curved feathered back were joined by masked critters waiting to seize a moment to scavenge the grounds for crumbs. When lights were out and all was quiet, the trickling sounds of the river running nearby sounded like trickles of rain.

Our days hiking along the beaches offered an eyeful of marine fauna: migrating grey whales with their young, sea otters floating on their backs breaking shells, harbor seals sunbathing on rocks or sleeping afloat like buoys, and cormorants incubating their eggs, just to name a few. We had an unforgettable experience at Andrew Molera State Beach. After hiking a mile from the parking lot to the beach, we arrived to see a washed-up elephant seal pup lying helplessly on the beach. At first glance, we thought it dead. But other beachgoers were giving it fresh water from their bottles. Responding to the attention and showing a strong will to live, the creature sparked a fury of calls to summon the wildlife rescue. The Marine Mammal Center advised us to give it space, a radius of 15 feet, so as not to stress the animal. Our class then formed a border around the pup using driftwood and seaweed. In the next hours, the pup did manage to turn itself onto its belly and eventually point its nose towards the sea; hope was restored! Rescue did arrive the following morning. The current status: named Isabel by the Marine Mammal Rescue, she is being nursed back to health. Here is the web address if you wish to follow her progress: www.marinemammalcenter.com, click on Current-Patients page under March 21, 2014 – Isabel: elephant seal.

Our trip was an adventure filled with memorable experiences, pleasant surprises worth retelling, and ample opportunities to express gratitude. These became points of reflection at our nightly gatherings around our campsite’s hearth. At the close of each day, members of our troop took turns sharing their thoughts before heading off to sleep, dreaming under an open skylight formed by the coastal red giants, whose sparse crowns created a view of a sky speckled with stars — truly breathtaking.

There in Big Sur, colors can be heard, and sounds can be seen. All senses become engaged. Our imagination seed was nourished.

by César Cázares, Grade Five Class Teacher