Intersecting Stories Build Connections Between Students and the Landscape
Every willow tells a story. So does every charred pine, contoured mountainside, and migrating grebe. Some of these tales are clearer than others, some offer greater foreshadowing, but listen closely and stories are everywhere.
Seven students’ own personal stories intersected on May 25 and 26 when circumstance brought them together for two days of camping, laughing, and learning. A troop of seventh through twelfth graders from Greenville High School joined me and other staff from Sierra Institute, the Plumas National Forest, and Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) for hands-on learning activities in the footprint of the Moonlight Fire and sleeping under the stars at Antelope Lake. This end-of-year camping experience also provided an opportunity for Sierra Institute and PUSD to try out new shared natural resource programming, which will continue to expand in coming years.
We began our trip securing camping gear and participating in a few icebreaker activities at the Taylorsville Elementary School Campus before heading up into the Moonlight Fire area to work on a new Plumas National Forest (PNF) initiative. Students worked side-by-side with PNF staff to install newly donated bat boxes—bat houses that mimic the habitat space between bark and a tree trunk— while learning about the interconnectedness of ecosystems. This hands-on stewardship complements many of the natural resource concepts they learn in their science classroom with Mr. Farris, who joined students on the trip.
Bat box installation took students to various locations affected by the 2007 Moonlight Fire, aiming to provide important roosting habitat in diverse areas of the burn footprint. Rob Wade, of PUSD, used an afternoon break overlooking the boundaries of the Moonlight Fire to discuss the effects of tree density and topography on the movement of the fire, helping students to read the visible narrative of the landscape.
In fitting complement, Courtney Gomola, of Sierra Institute, worked with students to identify different plant traits and adaptations later in the afternoon, discussing how and why local plants are able to tolerate and even flourish with fire.
The trip wasn’t all about investigating landscape stories, however. An awesome evening session of stand-up paddle boarding (SUPing) brought our group even closer together as we drifted farther from shore. Feather River College generously provided paddle boards for this trip.
Before bed, we gathered around a campfire under the stars—paralleling a routine of “circling up” before meals to share thoughts, insights, and new information we had all learned that day. Campfire activities included sharing stories of wildlife encounters, joining in campfire songs, and learning about the multitude of stars to be found in the sky.
A bright and productive morning continued the momentum of the evening before. I led a lesson investigating willows, using simple aging procedures to reconstruct some of the ecological history of an area just outside of our camp.
Soon after, we left the lake.
Though their school year was nearing a close, the students on the trip were part of another, newly developing story that will take place closer to home. This field trip started and ended at the Taylorsville Elementary School, using the site as a home base. PUSD, in collaboration with Sierra Institute, aims to transform the old school into a campus for residential and natural resource educational programming. A main focus of these efforts will be to include student and community input into the design and programming held at this site. As such, students spent the final hours of their field trip walking around the campus, generating ideas about zip lines, native plant gardens, and fire pits as potential features of the future learning site.
I look forward to seeing the evolving story of what the site becomes. Whatever happens, I am glad that the seven students of the overnight trip now know that, in additions to memories of s’mores, SUPing, and smiles, they themselves will always be a part of that story too.
Thank you to all those who helped make the trip possible, including Rob Wade of PUSD, and Michele Jimenez-Holtz and David Hamilton of the Plumas National Forest. Trey Farris, science teacher at GHS, contributed valuable assistance. Ashley Bomar, of Sierra Institute, led effective team-building games that brought the group together. Special thanks to Judy Dolphin of GHS for providing hot meals throughout the trip. This trip was made possible by PNF Moonlight Fire Settlement funding.