Anchor's Up, Laptops Open and Minds Full of Ideas
       [email protected]

Come Sail Away with Us to Where Beautiful  Words Flow Like Wine​​

​Earth Day

 

The Worcester County Board of Education decided that the eighth grade students should participate in Earth Day. Berlin's students would visit Assateague Island. The other schools would visit the Pocomoke River.

We were going to Assateague with four eighth grade classes, about a hundred students, four teachers, ten to twelve parents, the Guidance Counselor and the Vice Principal. We had very little time to prepare. Each teacher made their own plans for the day. I decided to incorporate a treasure hunt, a scavenger hunt and general clean-up into one big hunt. Student would need a bag. Assateague National Park provided the school with hand drawn maps of the general area in which we would be turned loose.

In the two days prior to the field trip, I went over things to look for on the beach. Plus, stay out of the ocean. We wanted different kinds of shells and only one of each species: oyster, clam, conch, whelk, moon, cockles. Look especially for left handed shells. Biters from different crab species. Mermaid purses, conch eggs. In a nut shell, anything that was alive once and came from the ocean. I gave special instructions to a new boy. A big boy. Plus, stay out of the ocean. On the bay side, they were to look for different seeds, plants and hopefully Assateague Ponies and other wildlife.

On Earth Day, we were ready.

The evening previous to Earth Day, it had poured. The sidewalks were still wet when the principal gave the students a pep talk. It was mainly stay away from the ponies, stay out of the ocean, don't bother the ponies, stay out of the bay and don't feed the ponies.

We loaded onto the buses and took off for Assateague Island. Everyone had a bag or bags for their booty. Some had fifty-gallon industrial strength trash bags, others thirty gallon and some with cloth bags.

We rode down Synepuxent Neck, crossed over the Chincoteague Bay on the Verrazano Bridge on to Assateague Island. I could see that the marsh was flooded from the heavy rains and high tide.

The driver turned south and drove five or six miles and stopped at an intersection There was a road going to the beach and one to an old dock where the ferry docked before the bridge was built.

Before I could even get off the bus and say a few words, the new boy yelled “Let's go.” The whole class, boys and girls, broke out into a dead run. In thirty seconds they were out of sight around a bend in the road.

I was yelling, the three parents were yelling and so was the guidance counselor. We walked briskly down the road to the old dock. Half the class were standing waist deep in the water. The new boy had ran to the edge and without hesitation, jumped in. Half the class followed.

The parents, the counselor and I knew this was a bad omen. A harbinger of worse things to come.

We got the children out of the water and at the edge of the marsh we had to cross. No path could be seen, only the tops of the marsh grass swaying in the ankle deep water. I pointed at a dead tree across the marsh. One parent was going to lead us across the uncharted territory.

She started off, splashing water in every direction with a column of students close behind. She stepped into an unseen mosquito ditch. In an instant, she was knee deep in mud and waist deep in water. The children jumped up and down in joy. This was the greatest field trip they had ever been on and it wasn't even lunch time. We made it across with half the students looking for mosquito ditches to jump into.
Mosquito ditches were dug mostly during the depression by the CCC. The idea was to let little fish swim into the marsh and gorge themselves on mosquito larva. They are about eighteen inches wide and go straight across a marsh, sometimes in square patterns.

Most of us walked down a path made by the park rangers. The others spread out on either side and foraged. Picking up anything and everything as scavengers. One was a metal cube along the path and edge of the marsh. Everyone was picked up, studied, carried a few yards and dropped. The next day our principal received an angry telephone call. It was a mouse trap. We had messed up a study of marsh mice by a University of Maryland student. But we were not warned.

Some trees were labeled; loblolly pine, red oak, white oak, willow and so on. The bayberry bush had an information sign. The leaves and berries were used by the early pioneers to scent their candles.

All the trees were stunted from the salty wind blowing off the ocean. The water table was brackish, so the plants never got enough fresh water. The sand doesn't provide a good anchor for their roots. Any tall tree would blow over in a moderate wind storm. The pines, especially, looked like large Japanese bonsai trees.

We picked up beer cans, bottles and assorted trash. Our trail led us to the center of the island. A developer from Washington owned most of the Maryland part of Assateague. In the late fifties he had an asphalt and concrete road built running down the center of the island. Side streets were named and street signs installed. He was ready to sell lots. Some lots were underwater in ponds and lagoons. Others were half in the Chincoteague Bay. It made no difference, people love waterfront property.

Then came the storm of the century. The Great March Storm of 1962. A noreaster pounded the east coast for three days and five high tides. The road was destroyed. Most of the lots were underwater.

Maryland and the federal government decided to buy all of Assateague and create a state park and a federal park. Hunting shanties and shacks could operate for ten years. Private vacation homes were bought. One was owned by the CEO of Scott Paper. President Nixon vacationed there.

It was lunchtime. We trekked back to the buses to retrieve our lunches and be taken to the lunch area. The bus drivers squalled and cried when they saw the wet and sandy children run to their buses. It wasn't any use for the drivers to complain. The children were laughing and having a splendid time. A great earth day. I was the last to leave the bus. I looked back. Every seat was wet and the floor was covered in sand.

Our principal paid a visit at lunchtime just to check things out. Making sure we had the same number of children that we started with. He frowned looking at all the wet feet and muddy clothes. Parents would be calling him tonight complaining that their child will probably catch pneumonia and no one in their right mind would send children out on such a bad day. The guidance counselor was wet to her waist and wanted to go home. The principal stuck to his guns and said no, the children needed her.
I gave him my report. Everything was fine and the children were enjoying earth day and they were in a learning situation.

We threw our lunch trash away. My class was ready for the beach. I gave them a pep talk and explained what was going on. Stay out of the ocean. Don't bother anyone surf fishing. Do not pet the ponies. Don't even approach them. Stay out of the ocean. Stay off of the dunes. Don't bother living things.

We would be going south toward Virginia. The other class would be walking north toward Ocean City. Stay together, do not run ahead or lag behind. Stay out of the ocean.

They all nodded and smiled sincerely.

We headed up the ramp to the beach. The beach was wide at this location. The ocean was rough with huge breakers. Sea gulls of various species were flying around us. Some of the children threw pebbles and shells in the air. Sea gulls chased them hoping for a piece of bread or other food.

Ghost crabs were skittering on the beach. Their burrows were at least fifty feet from the ocean's edge. Periodically the ghost crab has to run back to the surf and wet their gills or they will die.

The children tried to catch them to no avail. The crabs were too fast. Then they tried to dig the crabs out, but the burrows were too deep.

I gave my last pep talk; stay out of the ocean, stay off the dunes and don't bother fishermen and other people on the beach. I sent the new boy to the edge of the dunes as far away from the ocean as possible just to be on the safe side.

We walked south, children in a rough line from the surf to the dunes. They picked up everything; crab biters and shells from four or five species, conch and whelk shells, lots of moon shells, oyster shells, clam shells and occasionally the fragile shell of an angel wing.

Mermaid purses and strings of conch eggs were in every bag. Nothing was skipped. Sometimes it would be picked up, carried a few yards and then thrown away.
Someone was screaming “get off of the dune.” I looked to the west at the dune line. The vice principal was doing the screaming. Someone was on the top of a dune, waving his hands and jumping up and down. It was the new boy.

The Park Rangers don't want anyone climbing the dunes. Wind constantly carries sand from the beach to the dunes causing dune build up. The hole the climber makes in the side of the dune allows the wind to swirl around and remove sand. The wind picks up sand from the ocean side of the dune and drops it on the west side. A sand dune may move westward many feet during a strong easterly wind and appear further west.

According to beach erosion scientists, a barrier island like Assateague is a big sandbar. It constantly moves from east to west. Tree stumps sometimes protrude from the beach on the ocean side. The tree lived and died on the west side or bay side of Assateague.

I trudged across the beach to the big boy and the dune. I called him down, threatened him with all kinds of punishment and put him next to the vice principal. I dared him to ever get more than ten yards away from her.

A job well done. I walked back to the surf.

A man with a metal detector displayed his booty for the day. Two rusty spark plugs and a broken fishing reel.

The Assateague Ponies gave us a wide berth. No chance of a student being kicked in the head.

Finally, with wet feet and sun burnt faces we trudged from the beach to a parking lot where, happily, our bus was waiting.

When we walked and ran into the school with wet and sandy shoes, dragging a leaky bag, the principal and custodian frowned and shook their heads. The bags were dropped off in my room. The dismissal bell rang and everyone flew out to their bus.

Tomorrow we would sort through their treasures and write a brief paper on their experiences on Earth Day.

1687 9/3/15