Tag Archives: Ferry Beach

“EcoAdventures” — Day three

Today, I felt that the group really gelled. It was one of those days where everything just went smoothly, and we all (including me) deepened our understanding. This was in spite of the fact that I had to totally re-arrange my carefully planned session for the day, to make more time for the project we started yesterday.

I don’t have time to write a good narrative account right now, but I’m going to post the session plan anyway, just to get it up…. Continue reading

“EcoAdventures”: Day two

Our EcoAdventure group took some time to assemble, because several parents had to drop of their children at children’s programs. We had one new participant as well. So while we were waiting for everyone to assemble, we played another round of the Ecosystem Game, to help our newcomer learn other people’s names. (By now, I find myself calling people by their ecosystem name, e.g., OK, Katherine Kelp, are you willing to write all this down on the flip chart?)

Next, we put together very simple journals with paper and file folders and binder clips.

When everyone was present, we headed out to the same spot in a pine grove where we were yesterday. We did two sensory awareness activities. For the second activity, “Prickly Tickly,” the participants find two things, one that will be prickly and one that will be tickly, and then participants pair up to share their prickly thing and tickly thing with another participant. After everyone was done, I asked: Anyone want to show their prickly and tickly things? “This piece of bark was prickly on the outside, but it’s kind of smooth on the inside.” “I found this chunk of moss that was tickly. And it’s in the shape of a teardrop, which is kind of cool.” Any other insights? “They had pine needles as prickly things, but I had pine needles as tickly things.” “It depends on how you touched them to your hand.” “In our pair, we both had pine needles, but one of us said it was a tickly thing and the other said it was a prickly thing.”

Next it was time to choose favorite places, places where we will have time each day to sit in quiet and write or draw in journals (or just sit!). After about ten minutes, I called everyone back: How was it sitting alone? “I found that my mind wandered, I kept thinking about things I’m supposed to be doing.” It sounds like you think that’s bad? “I tried to not let my mind wander, and just focus on the outdoors.” Just so everyone knows, I don’t have an agenda for your alone time — it’s yours to do with what you will. But (turning back to the person who spoke), it sound like you have discovered your priority for alone time. Anyone else? “It was good!” “I realized how long it’s been since I had time alone.”

Anyone want to share something from their journal? “I drew a picture of some pine needles.” “I designed a dress for Emory, and drew a picture of it.” (Emory is the preschool-aged daughter of one of the participants.) One participant read a poem about being on the beach with a younger sister. Another participant read a haiku about learning how to drive.

Then it was time to start the big project (see below for a full description of the project). Because the group is so big, we split the group in two: one group was assigned to document and write about possible exclusivity in the Ferry Beach area (who gets to come here? what human groups are kept out?); another group was assigned to document and photo/video possible environmental disaster(s) in the Ferry Beach area. The two groups headed out to talk with people and look at the neighborhood, in pursuit of their two assignments.

We gathered back at our home base for a closing. It was clear that everyone needed more time to work on their respective projects, so we will continue the projects tomorrow morning.

For full session plan, see below… Continue reading

“EcoAdventures”: Day one

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine
Religious Education Conference

Once again, I’m at the annual religious education conference at Ferry Beach, the Universalist conference center in Saco, Maine. This year, I’m leading a 15-hour workshop called “EcoAdventures.” Group participants range in age from seniors in high school up to age forty or so. The workshop is on ecojustice.

Today was the first session. We spent the first half hour or so introducing ourselves and getting to know each other’s names. We played a variation of a well-known name game (sometimes called “The Grocery Store Game”), with a twist that ties it in to the local ecosystem (complete session plan is after the “Read more” link below). We also lined up by age, but we did it without speaking. I introduced my vision of the workshop, ending by saying: “If I had to sum all this up, I’d say this:– I think it’s time to really shake up Unitarian Universalism. Too many of our churches act as if it’s still the 1950’s. Too many of our churches are filled with white upper middle class Baby Boomers. It’s time for our churches to welcome all ages, and enter into the 21st century.”

Participants then had a chance to say their hopes and expectations, which ranged from “Have fun” to “I want to do something in ecojustice as a career and am looking for ideas.” Other hopes were to deepen knowledge of Unitarian Universalist faith, and to find activities and curriculum to bring back to a local congregation.

After the introductory bits, we went outdoors and found a tree. We lay at the base of a tree and looked up in the branches. What creatures might live up there? “Birds.” “Spiders.” “Squirrels.” “A mouse might run up the tree.” Do you see any creatures up there right now? “I see a spider’s web.” “I hear birds.” Then we turned over on our stomachs to look at the base of the tree. What creatures might live there? “I see a slug.” “There’s a hole here!” “Beetles.” “Ants.” “A weasel could live here.” Now imagine that you can see through the ground, and see all the roots of the tree. The roots go down almost as far as the branches go up. What creatures might live in among the roots? “Worms.” “Moles.” “Ants.”

We went back inside and drew a six-foot high picture of our tree. Abby drew a line half-way up the paper for the ground, and someone drew a blue line to show where the sky was. We drew the tree, and started drawing in all the creatures we had seen and imagined living on the tree. It was hard to get all 18 of us around the table, so we had to cycle in and out from drawing.

When the drawing was pretty well filled in, we hung it up, and all looked at it. We talked about how all the creatures associated with the tree are interconnected. We’ve drawn lots of creatures in this, but where are the human creatures? Lots of good conversation about this, and the final conclusion was that humans communities are interconnected with Nature, and with other human communities — in fact, it’s impossible to separate human creatures from Nature; there is no separation. “It’s arrogant to think that we humans are somehow separate from Nature.”

I summed up by saying that ecojustice is a concept, a tool, to build connections between human communities, and to help human creatures become aware with their connections with all living things.

Session plan follows. Continue reading

On giving up

Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

It stopped raining late this morning, and by early evening the sky was almost entirely clear. With clear skies and a light wind, the conditions on Saco Bay were the best they’ve been all week. I decided to try to paddle to Eagle Island, about a mile off shore.

By six o’clock, I was pushing the canoe into the light surf. I waded out up to my thighs, jumped in the canoe, and started paddling. There were a few large cloud masses off to the southeast which might become thunderheads, but they were well to the south and moving away from me. I felt a light offshore wind on my back, just enough to ruffle the surface of the water. I figured the offshore wind would probably ease off towards sunset, so conditions looked good all around. I started paddling for the island.

When I was about halfway there, I saw a Common Loon off the port bow. I fumbled with binoculars — an old pair with broken eye cups, which would be no great loss if they got soaked — and as I fumbled, I realized that the bow of the canoe was slewing to port just as a particularly big swell came at me. I let the binoculars drop on their cord, grabbed the paddle, and brought the bow into the wave. It was suddenly clear that I couldn’t stop paddling, for if the canoe drifted broadside to the waves, the waves had gotten big enough that it would be easy to go over.

I kept paddling, and the swells kept getting larger. They were getting big enough that I began to worry how I would turn the canoe around. At first, I hoped that if I got on the landward side of Eagle Island, I’d be sheltered from the waves and it would be easy to turn around. But the farther out into the bay I got, the bigger the swells got. When I rode up and over one particularly big swell — about two feet high, and steeper than before — I gave up on Eagle Island, and looked for an opportunity to turn the canoe. Several good sized waves, then a short interval with small waves — I turned the canoe as fast as possible, and began paddling for shore.

But I wasn’t ready to go back yet. Once I got back to where the swells diminished in size, I decided to paddle over to the mile-long jetty that protects the channel of the Saco River. Sometimes Harbor Seals swim along the jetty — seeing a seal would be a nice consolation prize. The offshore breeze began to stiffen. I got near the jetty, reached for the binoculars to look at some Least Terns flying overhead — the wind blew me right towards the jetty. I grabbed the paddle and dug into the water to pull myself away the sharp rocks of the jetty.

That was enough. I paddled for home. It was tough going. With only one person in the canoe, the bow rode high, and it was hard work to keep it pointed just off the wind. I had to push myself harder than I liked. I rode a wave up onto the sand, jumped out, and grabbed the canoe to pull it out of the water. Muscles from my thighs up through my shoulders were quivering from the hard paddling — I just couldn’t lift the canoe right then, so I dragged it up the beach out of reach of the waves. A few more scratches on the bottom of the canoe wouldn’t hurt.

Eventually I carried the canoe up off the beach. Marty, the fellow who’s leading a sea-kayaking workshop here this week, saw me. “How’d it go?” he said.

“Well, I got two thirds of the way to Eagle Island,” I said. “But when the swells got higher than the gunwales of the canoe, it was time to turn back.”

He just laughed, and continued to tie his sea kayak on the roof of his car. His kayak would have ridden those swells with ease, of course. If I had had another experienced person in the canoe with me, I might have tried for the island, and paddling along the jetty wouldn’t have been a problem. But it was just me, in a too-small open canoe, with waves that got too big, and wind that got too stiff — so I gave up.

Eight things I noticed on the beach yesterday evening

Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

A Herring Gull swooped down onto the beach a hundred yards in front of me, carrying something large in its bill. Through the binoculars, I could see that the gull was carrying a fish, maybe a flounder, that looked too big for it to swallow. A young gull stood nearby, watching and hoping the older gull would drop the fish. The adult gull tossed the fish in the air, dropped it several times, tried to maneuver it so the fish’s head was pointing down the gull’s throat, and then, so quickly I didn’t see it, swallowed the fish. I could see a bulge in the gull’s throat. It swallowed hard a couple of times, then flew away.

A light rain shower passed over the beach, leaving the sand pockmarked with tiny craters where the big raindrops had hit.

I looked out over Saco Bay as the rain showers passed. The sun broke through the clouds in the west, and lit up Eagle Island, which is a mile or so out in the bay. The island stood out, bright and green, against the dark blue clouds and the dark gray sea. More sun came out, and picked out the tops of waves as they broke against the beach, turning them from a dull color to brilliant white.

Bits of a rainbow appeared in the sky: two short, bright bands at the horizon, marking out the north and south points of the bay; and pieces here and there against the dark clouds, so faint that at times I wasn’t sure if I was seeing them or not.

A Common Tern hovered over the water. I managed to get my binoculars up in time to watch it break out of its hover, plunge into the sea, and emerge with a small fish in its bill. It flew up, tossed the fish back and swallowed it, and shook itself dry as it flew off looking for more fish.

Halfway out to Eagle Island, fifty or sixty white specks appeared in a sudden ray of sun, circling around, hovering, and plunging into the sea.

Through some odd optical effect that I don’t understand, broad rays of alternating light and dark appeared in the clouds, radiating out from Wood Island; or perhaps I should say, converging down towards Wood Island. If I wasn’t aware that the sun was almost directly behind me, I would have thought that the sun must have been behind Wood Island, as if somehow the sun were setting in the east southeast, instead of in the west.

A dozen Bonaparte’s Gulls stood on the beach, keeping an eye on me now and then, but mostly doing nothing. They were all molting, losing the crisply-defined black heads of their breeding plumage, losing the odd tail feather, looking rather bedraggled. Presumably, these were first-year birds that never made it all the way up to the breeding grounds in Canada, and so here they sat on the coast of Maine, molting and waiting for the fall migration to begin in earnest. It was a poignant sight, an anticipation of the end of summer.

Posted two days after the fact — I’m a little behind in posting due to spotty Internet access here in Cambridge.

Friday the 13th?

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

This was the last day of children’s program of the religious education conference at Ferry Beach. Lisa and I are doing nature and ecology with rotating groups of children in grades 1-6, and this morning we ended up with the 5th and 6th graders.

The morning did not start off well. The children were tired and a little cranky to begin with. Then they found out that they would not be allowed to watch the “Banathalon.” The Banathalon is a strange Ferry Beach tradition — a relay race where instead of passing a baton you pass a banana from one competitor to the next. Years ago, it started out like a triathalon, with running, bicycling, and swimming legs, and then at the end someone had to eat the banana-baton. Over the years, other legs have been added — pull-ups, solving a Rubik’s cube in 5 minutes, etc. And during the religious education conference, the banathalon is a competition between the high school youth and the junior high youth — which means that the 5th and 6th graders are very interested in it.

“This year, we can’t watch the banathalon,” I said. About half the group erupted. We can’t watch!? Why not? We always watch! (“Always” in this context means “last year.”) “It’s not my rule, although I agree with it,” I said. “It’s the conference coordinators who said we couldn’t watch.” They continued to be cranky and upset, so I said I would get one of the conference coordinators to explain why they couldn’t watch. Anne came, and explained why they couldn’t watch. At that point, some of the children said, Well, if we can’t watch, let’s do something else. Two days ago, we had all agreed that the group would spend alone time in the woods, so finally the group calmed down enough that we could walk over to the woods together, and get set up for spending alone time in the woods.

Continue reading

Tree Murals and Foxes and Rabbits

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

The children’s program of the religious education conference continued this morning. Lisa and I are doing nature and ecology with rotating groups of children in grades 1-6. Some notes on Thursday’s activities:

We started off with the 1st/2nd graders this morning. It’s a small group (only 8 children), with mostly 2nd graders. They have been a very easy group — lots of sunny personalities, and no conflicting personalities. The weather was finally clear and dry, so at last we were able to do one of the lessons we had planned out in advance — the Tree Mural project, a way to help children appreciate a living thing (a tree) while learning about the ecological concept of habitat.

First we went out and “adopted” a tree. We lay around the base of it while Lisa read a sort of guided meditation to help the children get a sense of the tree (the complete lesson plan is at the very end of this post). It was a little hard for children of this age to focus on this part of the activity, but they did pretty well — especially when we all sat up and started looking for living creatures on and around the tree. The children found spiders, ants, caterpillars, a hole that might be a chipmunk hole, and other small creatures.

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On film

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

The children’s program of the religious education conference continued this morning. Lisa and I are doing nature and ecology with rotating groups of children in grades 1-6.

This morning we had the grade 5-6 grade group for the entire morning. A film crew came to Ferry Beach today to film a short film to promote Unitarian Universalism. The film makers, David and Anne, felt that a key component of Unitarian Universalist religious education is our focus on Nature and respect for the interdependent web of all existence. They wanted to get some footage of children engaged in outdoors religious education, so they decided to film us doing religious education with the fifth and sixth graders.

Before the children arrived, I talked with David and Anne, and with one of the camera operators (also confusingly named David), about the kind of shots they were looking for. He wanted groups of children and adults close together, in a natural setting, looking at something together. Then I figured out how to adjust our lesson plan (we decided to use the same session plan as we used with the 3rd and 4th graders yesterday) so David could get the shots he was looking for.

All that was pretty straightforward. What really worried me was how the children would react with a camera looking over their shoulders all the time. When the children arrived, I started up my computer and showed them photographs I had taken of the Piping Plover sitting on her nest — I had promised a couple of days ago that I would do so.

We sat in a circle, and did everyone (including the film crew) introduced themselves. Then i reminded the children of the Piping Plover photos, and showed them my small video camera. I was sitting next to David with his big video camera, and we compared the two cameras. I told the children that I like to use my camera to help me observe and remember what I see in Nature. Then David talked about his camera, and the kinds of documentary work he does with it. These introductions allowed the children to become somewhat accustomed to the film crew.

We moved into the same basic lesson that we had done with the 3rd and 4th graders yesterday (“secret agents” and collecting things on the beach), and I set things up so that David got some great shots of children crouched on beach sand sorting through different kinds of seaweed. The film makers needed to do interviews with a couple of children individually, so to accommodate that, Lisa and I took the rest of the children down the road to see where the house had washed into the ocean last winter. I hadn’t really planned for these interviews, and this part of the session didn’t go as well as the “secret agent” activity.

After the snack break, the film crew was pretty much done. We all sat in a circle, and we went around the circle, allowing each child some time to talk about how it felt to be filmed. Many of the children said it was “distracting.” One or two didn’t really notice a difference. Several of the children pointed out how many in the group were kind of acting for the camera.

Then I gave them a couple of choices for activities that they could do in the second half of the morning. Nearly all of them wanted to spend alone time in the woods (just as we did last year). So we did that to finish out the morning.

Overall, I felt this morning’s session went very well indeed. The film makers were a little distracting, but in spite of that I felt that the children learned a lot, and had fun besides.