Saturday, November 29, 2008

Proctor Academy

I've been working with a private high school from New Hampshire for the past few years and they want to go kayaking in Baja again this February. I pulled out some photos from 2006 while thinking about the itinerary and thought I'd post them. Proctor Academy has a 10 wwek program they call the "Mountain Classroom". A group of about 10 students and 2 teachers travel the US and Baja in a small bus and learn by being out there in the world. It's very cool and the kids and teachers are pretty awesome. It's an amazing trip and I have loved working with them. Here's the 2006 trip.....

We drove to Bahia de los Angeles (about 12 hours south) in Baja and paddled for 5 days. Most of the kids had paddled a bit before, but not much. We loaded all our camping gear and set off into the desert paradise that coastal Baja is. We paddled among volcanoes, sea lions, and dolphin. On shore, we hiked, cooked, studied, relaxed, and played. I've been to LA Bay a dozen times, but every experience is magnified by the enthusiasm of youth and this was the best trip there I've ever had. Axel Shoevers, a good friend from the Netherlands went with us and contributed so much to making it a magic trip. In addition, Proctor instructors Tom and Molly invited their frinds and experienced wilderness/NOLS guides (Ely and Erin) to join us. It was amazing to work with such a diversely experienced group.
This is our bus - the kids and instructors live out of this and a gear trailer for 10 weeks! It's got a library of books in the back and is comfortable enough. It brought back lots of fond memories from my college days as a geology student on field trips around the desert southwest.

What an amazing classroom! It was windy this day so they were hiding from the wind. I think this was English class....maybe Social Studies. Whatever it was, I would have liked school a lot more if this was MY classroom!

"It was this big...." I begged to teach an "Intertidal Biology" session and the kids loved flipping over rocks and checking out all the oogie creatures. Biology was my first love - I had "worm farms" as a kid and an amazing high school biology teacher invited me to splice genes (I'm not kidding) on a grant he got when I was 15. We played God with E.coli bacteria and created things that didn't exist. We separated the DNA using powerful centrifuges, chopped it up using enzymes, and put it back together in a new way. We proved it by running the DNA molecules through gel using electrophlorisis (sp?). I'm sure this is all standard practice in Biology 101 these days, but it was pretty cutting edge when I was a kid. Anyway, the shoreline in many parts of Baja looks like plain old rocks.....until you start flipping them over. The intertidal world is truely a miraculous array of adaptations to incredibly difficult conditions. The next time you're on a rocky beach, flip 'em!
A resident of the intertidal zone...a brittle star.
Other residents of the intertidal zone turned out to be tasty! We camped at the end of a little bay (I'm sorry, but the name has to remain known only to the trip participants), and scooped clams by the handful. We let most of these return to the sea - our eyes were bigger than our stomaches.

For the rest, we made a fire below high tide line with drift wood and cooked our clams on the embers. Yummy. A real Clam Bake!

One of our camps.

Camp life.

Food was a big part of the trip. The kids were divided into cook groups and with a bit of advise, were more or less left to their own devises when it came to shopping and cooking. This led to some interesting choices and meals. Ely was an extraoridary fisherman and we ate a lot of fish, including some of the prettiest and tastiest sushi I've ever had (and I love sushi!),

Ely the fisherman, always provided! Some of the kids learned how to filet like pros!

Susji in the middle of nowhere!

The Sea of Cortez is a magic place to paddle! Check out the volcanic cone in the background - what a view from up there!

We learned a lot of kayaking skills on this trip - mostly by playing!
There were some roll classes too in the tourquoise water!

Relaxing in camp.
Biology "in-your-face"! These beautiful squid committed suicide in front of us! They squirted ink and jet-propelled themselves onto shore. When we tried to return them to deep water like beached whales, they simply aimed again and rammed themselves into the rocky shore. They cut their flesh open against the jagged volcanic rock and refused to be steered into open water. I read about this phenomenom later back home - it's common, like salmon dying after they breed.
These kids had so much confidence and style of their own by this point in the trip - I loved their attitudes! Every night, they had a "debrief" session and said some pretty frank things to each other. Yet they took the good and the bad onboard with an amazing amount of grace, self-confidence, and humility. I've seen many adults do worse and I'm impressed with the skills that this program gives the students - much more than "book" learning!

There's no better place to learn about natural history than in the middle of nature! baja is almost like an island and has numerous endemic species that are so different from New Hampshire! What an experience!

Below is Baja at it's most classic. A "loncheria" on HWY 1. We had tacos here. Cultural and gastronomic education at it's most pure.
A beautiful sunset to end the story.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Great post Jen! Oh, to be young and back at school again... Well, sort of. Perhaps to be a teacher again... Or mayabe, just move to Baja for the winter! LOL