Tag Archives: Ferry Beach

Piping Plover photos

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

This evening, I managed to take some photos of the Piping Plover nesting up the beach from the conference center. I know some regular readers of this blog might be interested, so I uploaded the photos to Flickr.

View six photos as a slide show.

View thumbnails of the photos, better for slow connections.

I’ve placed these photos in the public domain, use as you see fit.

Winging it (successfully)

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

The children’s program of the religious education conference continued this morning. Once again this year, Lisa and I are doing nature and ecology with rotating groups of children in grades 1-6, and this morning we had the grade 1-2 group, followed by the grade 3-4 group.

We decided to take the 1st and 2nd graders down to the beach to see the fog. We collected different kinds of seaweed, and were having fun trying to decide where the fog began and ended, when it started to rain lightly. We headed back to our tent, and got under cover just before a downpour started. We compared the different types of seaweed, and decided which ones felt slimy, which ones felt slippery, which ones felt lumpy, and so on. The heavy rain put an end to rest of our lesson plan, so we decided to make time for free play in the sand in which the tent is pitched — but then the wind picked up, and it got cold, and we ran inside where it was warmer. It wasn’t a bad session — the children got time to get to know one another — but the heavy rain and cold winds prevented us from meeting some of our learning goals for the morning.

By the time the 3rd and 4th graders joined us, the rain had stopped and it was warmer. But the ground was still so wet that we couldn’t do our planned activities, which involved crawling around on the ground. So we walked down to the beach.

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Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

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

One of our groups this morning was filled with really great kids — I knew most of them from last year’s conference — and I was expecting the group to be lots of fun. But this group just didn’t come together. In fact, things started to fall apart, which meant that the children started acting out the stereotyped roles they have learned:– some of the boys started acting out, some of the girls sat there passively, one or two kids started acting like the good kids telling the others to behave. Nobody was learning anything. Nobody was having any fun.

It was raining off and on, so maybe the kids were cranky. Or maybe the chemistry just wasn’t right. I don’t know why things weren’t working, but I knew something had to change.

So I threw out the lesson plan we had written up, and did something that was more or less unexpected: “OK, everyone stand up. Make a line, and hold hands. Follow me.” The line broke down a couple of times, but finally we made it over to some trees. “Look at this…” We started picking up different kinds of lichen. “What’s it feel like?” Damp. Squishy. Soft. “Usually lichens are dry and crispy, but now they’re all wet from the rain,” I said. “It’s OK to pick it up, because wherever you drop it it will start growing again.” The kids started telling each other what they knew about lichen (these were 5th and 6th graders, so they knew quite a lot.) Lichen is fungus. No, fungi. It’s fungus and algae together. Look at this one growing on the tree! Look at this one, it’s completely different!

We ran back to our picnic table. Earlier, I had collected different kinds of seaweed down at the beach. We compared the lichen and the seaweed. “Seaweed is a kind of algae,” I said. Some of the lichen looked a little like some of the seaweed. Both the seaweed and the lichen felt damp, squishy, and soft.

By now, we were all re-focused. We sat down, and I asked them to come up with a list of ground rules that we could all live by. They came up with some good rules: No physical violence. One person talking at a time (they’re thinking of using a talking stick, but we’ll see). The Golden Rule: treat other people the way you’d like to be treated. And a few other common sense rules.

By the time we got the rules written down, and all agreed on, it was time to go to lunch, so we all went off to the dining hall.

Thinking back, I’m trying to figure out if there was anything I could have done differently at the beginning to keep things on track. I probably had higher expectations for the group than I should have had. Many of them are strong kinesthetic learners, and I probably should have had manipulatives for them to play with, or an immediate physical activity for them. I’m also not thrilled by having kids rotate through the different activities on such a tight schedule (I prefer spontaneous programming that arises from children’s interests, rather than schedules that force children to change to a different topic whether they’re ready or not) — and my negative attitude towards the schedule may well negatively affected how the group interacted.

But I suspect that in this case, there may not have been much that I could have done to change the way we started off. And it’s fine, because it worked out pretty well in the end — even though I never made my key point, that for many of us Unitarian Universalists appreciating Nature is a big part of our religion.

Wood Thrush

Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

The afternoon showers drove most everyone off the beach. I walked down to Ferry Beach State Park, and walked under Route 9 through their underpass, and into the woodlands and swamps of the park. There weren’t any cars in the parking lot, but one of the rangers was still there. He saw my binoculars, and we started talking about birds. I asked him if he had heard any Veeries, and he said no, but there were a few Wood Thrushes in the woods.

Wood Thrushes and Veeries can produce more than one note simultaneously — birds have syrinxes, not larynxes like us mammals do, and many birds can produce more than one note at a time — so they can actually sing in harmony with themselves. A Veery sings a song that sounds like it’s descending in a sort of swooping spiral. I’m not good at describing sounds, so I won’t try to describe the sound a Wood Thrush makes, but it’s a series of notes that I find hauntingly beautiful.

A few steps out of the parking lot and into the woods, I heard a Wood Thrush calling. The quality of the sound is such that it can be hard to tell exactly where the sound is coming from. I walked down the path towards the sound of the Wood Thrush, and it seemed as if the bird was slowly moving away from me, flying from tree to tree — but maybe it was two different birds, and one started singing while the other stopped singing as I got close to it.

Eventually, the Wood Thrush stopped singing. It was getting dark. I headed back to the campsite.

More eco-teaching

Religious Education Week, Ferry Beach Conference Center

Today we had the fifth and sixth graders first. We played the “Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves” game that we did yesterday with the third and fourth graders — I learned from yesterday’s mistakes, and the game went much more smoothly today. After half an hour of play, the children didn’t want to stop, but Lisa and I eneded that game anyway because we wanted to give them some alone time in the woods.

So we lined them up single file, and walked out into the woods. One by one, Lisa seated each child along the trail, so they were all spread out — within sight of one another, but too far away too talk. After about seven minutes of quiet time, Lisa and I circled around and picked the children up one by one, and we all walked back single file, in silence, to a comfortable place in the woods, where we sat in a circle.

I asked: What did you do with you time alone in the woods?

“I picked up a big stick and I hit it against a tree again and again until it broke.”

“I sat and meditated for a while, then I opened my eyes and looked around.”

“I let an inch worm crawl on me, but then I squished it by mistake so I buried it.”

“I picked up a big stick and hit it again a tree too.”

“I swatted mosquitoes. Oh, and I listened to a bird that was nearby.”

I said: I love to spend time outdoors, and I’ve done all those things myself.

One of our goals is to give each group plenty of unstructured time more or less alone in the woods. A big part of our goal is to help children feel comfortable outdoors, in a natural environment — we want kids to like Nature and the outdoors. If they feel some spiritual connection with Nature, great, but just liking it is enough at this point.

When things really soar

Here at the annual religious education conference at Ferry Beach Conference Center, I’m one of the adults leading the children’s program. Along with Lisa, I’m doing nature and ecology with the elementary age children. At the end of the morning today, we had the third and fourth graders for an hour. The plan was to play a game for half an hour that would teach about cycles of life, and then going out into the woods and giving the children some alone time. As can happen with children, we went astray from the plan.

The children were feeling active today. We started playing the game, called “Foxes and Rabbits,” and the children got so excited and were having so much fun I had trouble getting them to transition from one round to the next. I didn’t want them to descend from excitement into chaotic lack of structure, so I really worked hard to get them to stay focused. I was getting a little frustrated with them. Fortunately, they’re a cheerful group so they tried hard focus a little more even though they were getting a little frustrated with me. It was one of those teaching situations where the children were pulling in one direction, and I was pulling in slightly different direction.

But we were all having fun, in spite of the frustration. I looked at my watch and fifty minutes had gone by — we had to wrap things up pretty quickly. So I asked the children to sit in a circle, and we talked about the game. And they came up with some wonderful insights about the cycle of life, about what might happen if humans destroy part of the web of life, about birth and death, just a wonderful free-for-all discussion. It was one of those times you sometimes get while teaching:– with the whole group, kids and adults, soaring together.

Fifty minutes of frustration for ten minutes of soaring. That’s the way it goes in teaching.


If you’re curious, below are the rules to the game. It’s both simple and really quite complex, and part of the frustration we all experienced was my inability to explain the game quickly and concisely.

Game: “Foxes and Rabbits” adapted from Steve van Matre’s book Acclimatizing

Divide the group into Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves. (If you have a group of ten, a good proportion would be 4 rabbits, 3 leaves, and 3 foxes.) Give the Rabbits tails (pieces of white cloth to stick into back pocket).

The Rabbits start out crouched down in the middle. The Foxes start out in a loose circle around the Rabbits. The Leaves stand (with their hands in the air so everyone knows they are Leaves) in a loose circle outside the Foxes.

Each round begins when a signal is given. During each round, the Rabbits try to “eat” (tag) the Leaves. The Foxes try to catch and “eat” the Rabbits (by pulling tail). The Leaves are are rooted in place and cannot move.

During each round, Rabbits are safe and cannot be tagged when they are frozen in a crouched position. However, the Rabbits may not move or “eat” Leaves unless they are standing up. Each Rabbit must get food in each round, or s/he will die from hunger. Each Fox, too, must get food in each round or s/he will die from hunger. A Fox may only catch ONE Rabbit each round.

The round should last no more than five minutes, or when all the Leaves are eaten. The Leader calls out “End of Round!”, all play stops, and then you tally up those who got eaten or who starved to death:

  • If a Leaf is eaten by a Rabbit, in the next round she becomes a Rabbit.
  • (All other Leaves remain Leaves.)
  • If a Rabbit is eaten by a Fox, in the next round she becomes a Fox.
  • If a Rabbit is does not manage to eat a Leaf during a round, he “dies” and becomes a Leaf.
  • (All other Rabbits remain Rabbits.)
  • FOXES:
  • If a Fox fails to catch a Rabbit within the round, he “dies” and becomes a Leaf.
  • (All other Foxes remain Foxes.)

Play three to five rounds (or more, if it’s going well).

A hazy blue sky

Sitting on a porch gazing out over dune grass at the Atlantic Ocean with a brisk southerly breeze to blow the mosquitos away. I’m at Ferry Beach Conference Center for a religious education conference, and yes I’m doing lots of professional development (workshop on theologies of religious education in half an hour). But I’m also managing to sit here on the porch gazing off into a hazy blue sky. Something about hazy blue skies in New England — I can never make up your mind whether they look farther away or closer than a regular blue sky. So I keep gazing at that haze until I fall asleep.


Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

I was hanging out last night with some people from a music conference who were doing a little impromptu singing. One of them wanted to sing “Ode to Billie Joe,” originally recorded by Bobby Gentry, but no one could quite remember the lyrics. So they turned to the laptop that one of them had brought and did a quick search of the Web to find the lyrics….

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door “y’all remember to wipe your feet”
And then she said “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge”
“Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

One of the musicians later said how pleased he was to be able to sit around and play music that was not electronic. And none of the instruments, none of the voices, was electronically altered in any way. But I’m in a postmodern, deconstructionist mood today, and very interested in how finding song lyrics on the Web alters the reality of folksinging.

Which makes me think about something else. In the next room over from where I’m sitting, there’s a workshop going on. Although I can’t hear much, I can tell from the rhythms and tones of the voices, by how many people get to speak at once, by the occasional bursts of polite laughter, that this workshop is using techniques of group process that grew out of the ferment of 1970’s pedagogy and group work — the human potential movement, second wave feminist group process, and so on. They are using, in fact, the same techniques I typically use when I lead small groups.

But in my present deconstructionist mood, I’m questioning whether those techniques still match the reality of our lives (almost definitely not). And wondering whether we can reconstruct new ways of teaching and learning that move beyond the tight limitations that I have begun to see in those old group process techniques. And thinking that teaching and learning are even more limited than I had ever thought.

Hey, just call me a postmodern kind of guy.


Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

I’m spending a couple of days at Ferry Beach Conference Center. I was supposed to attend a small church conference, but it was canceled at the last minute. I decided to come up here anyway and spend a couple of days doing a sort of study-retreat.

I left Concord at about 4 p.m., after having lunch and a long talk with a good friend. Traffic was heavy and slow on Interstate 495 headed north, and I didn’t arrive at Ferry Beach until 6:30 p.m. First stop was Huot’s, a seafood restaurant in the village of Camp Ellis. At their takeout window, I got fried clams, French fries, and cole slaw, and started the ten-minute walk back to the conference center. But I couldn’t wait to start in on the clams, and began eating them out of the bag as I walked.

“Is there going to be any left the time you get home?” said a man sitting on the wide front porch of one of the summer rentals. He had a good-natured grin on his face.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. He just laughed.

Today, I’ve been working my way through Faith without Certainty: Liberal Theology for the 21st Century by Paul Rasor. I skimmed some of it back in June when I bought it, but now I’m sitting down and reading it straight through. I sat at the picnic table at my campsite on this perfect summer day, the sun glinting down through the trees, a chipmunk running back and forth between some trees, a few late summer birds calling idly every now and again.

And Paul writes clear prose that’s almost entirely free of the obfuscatory, precious academic jargon that’s endemic in theological circles. I have been particularly enjoying the way Paul clarifies the postmodern challenges to liberal theology.

It’s too bad the small church conference was canceled, but I have to say this is the perfect setting to catch up on my theology reading.