Monday, December 21, 2009

Fish out of water

By Chiara Swartout, Canoes In Sloughs Field Educator

It’s mid-afternoon at Bothin Marsh and we are approaching the turnaround point of our canoe adventure. It is at this moment that I realize I should have checked the tides more carefully, because I have no memory of this marsh ever coming even close to draining as I am seeing it now. We watch gull fights from the island newly exposed in the middle of the marsh as we head back, pushing our paddles off the mud rather than through the water to move back to the launch site.

It is a day where I particularly relish being in the lead boat with students, because the two girls in my canoe need no introduction or motivation to being fascinated by the natural environment, which includes serenading pelicans and a peregrine falcon fighting a crow overhead -- clearly, today is an epic bird day. We are met by two boats of kids who, undaunted by the sluggish task of paddling through mud, have taken it upon themselves to tie their boats together in the form of a raft to increase their power. “Row, row, row your boat!” they shout as they power back home.

I am thoroughly impressed by these kids as they are neither frustrated nor tired at the end of a thorough day of paddling. As we approach the beach, the shoreline jumps alive with what appear to be perch that have been driven onto shore by our boats! The two girls from my boat step out of our canoe and instantly jump over to the squirming fish, excitedly, but gently throwing them back into water, which is quickly filling up with an ever-increasing number of canoes of sixth-graders negotiating the narrowing channel.

I realize I am clearly not going to motivate anyone to carry a boat up to shore when they can be chucking perch back into water, running along the shoreline towards their yelling classmates, who are spotting perch from the water. So I watch and wait, taking in this beautiful demonstration of care in ensuring that these fish are thrown back to the water, shallow though it may be.

It was a teachable moment that required no explanation from the teacher. I know the students were just as struck as I was by the show of a vibrant ecosystem thriving in the wetlands in their backyard, and they demonstrated this understanding in their eagerness to discuss ways to protect it as we debriefed the day.

It is these days that motivate me to continue teaching day after day in the ecosystems about which we educate our youth. This setting creates unexpected and unrepeatable experiences for youth – who are often fish out of water themselves – to witness and enjoy, turning the San Francisco Bay from a mass of greenish brown waves and mud into an ecosystem to celebrate and protect.

Click here to learn more about our Canoes In Sloughs program.

1 comment:

Kev said...

Sounds like an epic day out there on the marsh. I can just imagine the screams and excitement at seeing those fish out of the water. Keep spreading the Bay love, CJ!