The Outside World, In and Around Duluth

Isle Royale Trip Planning

Yesterday was our first in-class day for the Isle Royale trip, officially known as Advanced Field Interpretation Techniques. Monday was an independent study day, so I went over to Bagley Nature Area, leaned against a tree, took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pant cuffs and read and wrote in the sun for three hours. Now THAT is education. What a treat.

This is the smallest Isle Royale group UMD has sent – six plus instructor. It’s also the first time a single-gender group has made the trip. Although I’m sad for the small size in terms of its long-term viability as a continuing course at the university, I’m delighted with the small class size in terms of learning opportunities and group dynamic.

This morning’s class was on the Superior Hiking Trail – a section between Jean Duluth Road and Hartley Park. We did a little hiking, did some bird ID (chestnut-sided warbler, white throated warbler, hairy woodpecker and a raven), did some wildflower ID (marsh marigold, wood anemone, smooth yellow violet and Virginia bluebells), and talked about our trip (wolf/moose study, gear, expectations, homework, etc.). I think more classes should take place outside.

I know Tom is studying the friluftsliv (Swedish for ‘fresh air life,’ approximately) idea, and I wonder how that will play into teaching and learning, both on our trip, and further out. On the drive back to campus, everyone in the car agreed that classes outside are the better way to go. Of course, with a bunch of environmental education and outdoor education majors, it’s possible that we’re biased. Or, on the other hand, maybe we’re at the vanguard. I wonder how, say, accounting, or pre-med might be improved by being taught outside. I mean, I’m sure one could make the case that outdoor connections can be made with whatever subject, but it also doesn’t seem very realistic that every topic improves with fresh air. It’ll be interesting to hear more about this over the next week, and beyond.

I’m the oldest student (as usual), but it feels like I have the least amount of time on the trail. Well, the least amount in the past 10 or 15 years, at any rate. And that’s funny, because my kids are always ready and willing to head out. Isn’t that funny? Priorities, I guess. And although I may not have recent trail time under my boots, I certainly have plenty of other experiences to draw from. I’m not concerned, but it will be interesting to see how that plays out. I don’t feel unprepared.

My biggest gear question really is whether or not to take the nice camera. Do I opt for light weight and utility? Or do I opt for better pictures? That sounds like such a simple question, but it flows backward into philosophical territory, like practically everything for me, and sometimes that just wears me out. But I can’t help myself! The philosophical quandary is between simplicity and beauty.

Simplify, simplify.

– H.D. Thoreau

Or, on the other hand,

If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.

– Lewis Hine

Actually, I would happily – no, delightedly! – take the little camera, if I could just make it show what I am seeing. If the little camera could focus on the thing I want it to focus on, and show the colors and shades of light that I see, then who cares about its size? This is absolutely a technology and time thing. In three years, five years, twenty years, that sort of camera may exist. For now, I have the big clunker which comes closest to approximating what I see. But it’s a big clunker. Oy-yoy-yoy.

Sometimes, this tension I have with myself makes me laugh. It’s  perversely fun, not knowing what even I think is important.

My plate is full, especially as I try to get all my schoolwork taken care of while still cramming a day’s work into half day’s time, and still managing to spend at least some time with the family.

Busy days, but busy is good.

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