Saturday, August 16, marked the final session of Audubon’s Seaside Explorers Camp for 2014. My colleague Sarah and I were the counselors for this outdoor children’s program, which was made possible by a grant from the Stephen King Foundation. Every Saturday morning for 3 months we would lead a group of local kids around the forest, meadows, and waterways of Bremen, Maine. The camp focused on discovery, allowing plenty of opportunities to search these habitats armed with nets and buckets. On days when low tide coincided with the timing of the program, we would trek down to the coast and explore the tidepools and coves for marine invertebrates. Other weekends were spent pursuing insects, building fairy houses, or playing games like I Spy and Capture-the-Flag. After a busy first session in June, which roughly a dozen kids attended, we were nearly rained out by a sudden storm the second week. Although one intrepid explorer braved the waters and was rewarded with a low tide hermit crab hunt, our overall enrollment suffered from this early weather event. Most of the kids, sadly, never returned for subsequent weeks. The bright side was that our smaller crew of about 5 consistent campers was easier to manage and engage one-on-one, affording us many chances for in-depth exploration.
Each session only lasted about 2 hours, but that was more than enough time for us to study local habitats and their residents. Tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, and snails from the pond on base provided one morning of entertainment. We spent another day catching insects in the field, including spittlebugs, butterflies, and (to the amazement of the campers) several visibly-different grasshopper species. Even the day of the rainstorm featured a few Luna Moths which had sought shelter in the barn. This past Saturday was spent on Hog Island, just across the water from our usual meeting place. Crossing the channel to the island turned out to be an adventure in its own right. Sarah was out of town, leaving me and the grandfather of two campers to manage our little group. Additionally, most of the staff on base were tied up running errands and weren’t available to ferry us over. When I suggested rowing across in the smaller vessels, our youngest explorer voiced her fear of rowboats and became concerned. Naturally we didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable, especially since she accounted for a full third of camper consensus that day. Eventually a solution was reached: I rowed the others across while Grandpa stood watch on the mainland. I found my boss, called in a favor, and before long we were all flipping over rocks on the island in search of crabs. We also visited the touch tank in the island museum and finished up the day with a few rounds of Camouflage, a nature-themed Hide-N-Seek which our campers love.
Getting back from Hog was only slightly less challenging, as the only boat available was a small scow. Motorized, but not quite as stable as the larger ships, this option still didn’t satisfy our little landlubber. I took a knee so we could see eye-to-eye and tried to convince her that she’d been a brave explorer all summer long, catching crabs barehanded and clambering over the rocks and tree roots. She just needed to be brave for a little longer, on a very safe boat ride that wouldn’t last more than a minute. This eventually won her over, and after guiding her through each step of the loading process we were on our way. Of course she decided that “this type of boat” was actually “pretty cool” by the time we disembarked, so at least she learned a valuable life lesson about seaworthy craft. After snacks and a round of hugs, the campers were all on their way. This program was only a small part of my employment experience here in Maine, but it was nonetheless a memorable experience. Not only did I get to hone my skills as an educator and interpreter, but it gave me a great opportunity to see the natural world through curious, young eyes as I first did years ago.