Humbled by Giants

Last weekend, my grandma and I escaped the fog that had blanketed the Rogue Valley for days, venturing beyond Cave Junction, to where the road winds down the diverse rock formations and forests lining the Smith River. We were headed for the coast that I’d had a long overdue reunion with the weekend prior on a field trip. I’d wanted to go back as soon as I’d left and took the opportunity to do so, while at the same time share many of the things I have learned over the course my time here in Oregon.

Our first stop was a short botanical trail that led to an unadvertised wonder.


The scene on our arrival could not have been more perfect as the sun broke through and illuminated the delicate features of the sprawling cobra lilies occupying the fen. We both stood in awe. This was only my third encounter with the unique plants and my grandma remarked on how she’d never in her life seen anything quite like it. Energized, we continued on toward the sea, where the noble Coast Redwood trees live. I have been infatuated with the giants since I was first humbled by their presence and could hardly contain my excitement.

But this was abruptly stifled as my grandma said that the last time she’d visited a redwood forest, she’d felt that “once you’d seen one, you’d seen them all.” I nearly swerved off the road as I gasped and searched for a way to respond to such a blow. I composed myself as I resolved that no one who had truly encountered the trees could utter such a thing. I knew then that before we could reach the sand I was aching to dig my toes into, we had to spend time in the forest.

an ensatina

I took the split off of the 199 that takes you just barely into California and the Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park. I was headed for the Simpson Reed Trail I’d been on a few months earlier. It was short, but I was hopeful that it would be enough. Within our first few minutes on the trail, I was already babbling away about fire resistance, finding amphibians, and chewing on redwood sorrel. Although my grandma wouldn’t touch the slimy creature I’d discovered, she did humor me and try the tangy sorrel leaves. The tallest of the trees scattered the sunlight in warm rays that lit up ancient looking ferns and soft mosses; it was as though the forest were putting forth its best ‘face’ for my grandma. And in less than a mile’s walk, it worked.

When we got back into the car, she turned to me and said,

“Chelsea, thank you. That was truly magnificent. I was wrong, I understand.”

redwoodsI could have cried. It wasn’t just that she now understood my love for the trees, or even was on her way to developing a love for the forest herself, but the reminder that people don’t need to be convinced of the importance of preserving such natural wonders. More than sharing knowledge and facts, environmental education is about love. Drawn to the enthusiasm you can shamelessly share for what you are passionate about, people’s eyes are more open to see and respect that connection, and they may even begin to develop a passion of their own.

The rest of the day was just as magical. Back across the border into Oregon we spotted a few late southern Gray Whale migrants from Cape Ferrelo and explored the colorful rocky intertidal zone of Harris Beach.

the fluke of a gray whale
the fluke of a gray whale

So absorbed in exploring the coast, I’d forgotten that I’d mentioned earlier on our redwood forest hike that the largest trees in Jedidiah Smith State Park were along Howland Hill Road, which wound from Crescent City to Hiouchi.

As the late afternoon sun sparkled on the ocean’s calm surface and I began to entertain ideas of never leaving, my grandma again took me by surprise.

“Chelsea, do you think we’d have time to go back the long way along that road from Crescent City?”

My heart nearly burst.

to the Coast

Last weekend, most of Cohort 7 (plus Mandy from Cohort 5!) spent two days exploring the redwoods and the Oregon coast on a field trip for our Natural History class. The course focuses on the Klamath a knot, the unique and diverse bioregion we call home here at SEEC, and includes weekly field trips with the occasional marvelous weekend adventure.

Chaney wrote up another story, illustrated with photos of salamanders and redwoods and tide pools, so check it out here to learn more about what we learned about, and to get inspired for an adventure of your own!


Winter Wonder – Crater Lake

The weather’s looking unseasonably warm and clear this weekend. Need some inspiration to get out and explore? Look no further.

Before heading home to Tennessee for the holidays, Cohort 7’s Chaney Swiney spent a day snowshoeing on the southwest rim of Crater Lake. He wrote about his day, illustrated with numerous photos of the winter scenery, so click here to check it out! And, when you get the chance, get up to Crater Lake and see the winter splendor with your own eyes. Though snow levels are well below average, it’s still worth your visit.

Llao Rock and Mount Thielsen, just after sunrise

An Unexpected Journey

If I had to make a list of the top ten words that describe me, “adventurous” would not be one of them. I’m the kind of person who prefers a quiet night at home with good friends and a bad movie over an excursion to a local rock climbing area. You could even go so far as to say that I’m boring. In fact, I think most of us might describe ourselves that way if we took a realistic look at our lives. We spend hours completing one mind-numbing task after another until we are released to watch television in the comfort of home. It is a very hobbity existence where nothing terribly exciting happens and adventures are for elves and men. Yes, I’m a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and much like Bilbo Baggins I enjoy nothing more than doing nothing. But a few days ago adventure came knocking at my door, not in the form of a quest giving wizard, but powerful all the same.

On Tuesday January the 6th I received an email from Klamath Bird Observatory asking if I would be able to take part in a shorebird survey that Thursday in Coos Bay. My initial reaction was to scrounge for anything that would keep me from having to venture outside of my hobbit hole.

Do I have class on Wednesday or Thursday?


Do I work?


What about a meeting? Surely I have one of those scheduled!


My schedule was woefully clear and something distinctly Tookish woke up in me. Why shouldn’t I take full advantage of this opportunity and do something that I love in a new place. I might see some really cool things and it might even be fun. Before I knew it I had responded to the email, copied down some directions from the computer, packed my binoculars and scope, and was ready to set out on my unexpected journey the following afternoon.

I don’t know if you have ever gone on a trip last minute like this, but I always get a distinct feeling of excitement when I mount up in my Honda Accord and set out into the unknown. And for me this truly was the unknown. I had no idea what awaited me as I left Ashland and set out on the great concrete serpent known as “the 5”.

Continue reading An Unexpected Journey

Let there always be wild places

At the start of the new year my family lost someone very dear to us under tragic circumstances. He wasn’t someone I knew very closely, but he was someone who I really liked and someone I looked up to.  He and I shared a deep love for wild places, and both of us chose careers following that passion.

After a couple of days moping around the apartment I had to get out, so Jeremy and I took a walk down to North Mountain Park. We followed a wilding trail that curved along a baseball field on one side, and a small but dense woodland marked as protected habitat on the other. As the trail softened to wood chips and split around various artistic and child-geared structures, we chose the path that most closed followed Bear Creek as it flows through Ashland.

The time came for Jeremy to leave for work, but I elected to stay behind. I found a quiet spot next to the creek and sat a while, thinking. A spotted towhee, a familiar face from home, called out from the opposite bank, flashing a hint of black and orange as he popped in and out of the brush. I thought about how, even so far away from the familiar of home, I felt connected by the mountains that ran almost parallel to my own Rockies, the deer and coyotes that moved through both of my backyards, the birds that sing both in Oregon and Colorado.

I listened to the whisper of water over riffles. I watched a clump of fur drift lazily downstream and wondered how its owner had become separated from it, likely snagging brush as it made to cross the shallow stream. Deer? Dog? Perhaps coyote? I thought of the salmon that had recently fought their way upstream to spawn here, and all the time I thought I had, the stories I would have loved to hear.

I considered the tiny little salmon waiting in the stream bottom, the streaks of brown feathers darting in and out of thick brush, the call of a flicker, the small hoof prints in the soft mud. I thought about all of the creatures of fur, feathers, and scales that had come here before me, and those that would pass this way long after I was gone. I was reminded of the nature of energy, how it is neither created nor destroyed, just ever-changing. Finally, I let myself cry.

I could have sat there by the creek forever, but the air was turning chill and the sun was ducking in and out of the cloud cover. I stood somewhat stiffly, breathing in the cool January air. As I turned to make my way slowly back home, I felt full and whole.

As I came up to the top of the hill overlooking the baseball field a red-tailed hawk soared overhead, making constant minute adjustments to hit a nearby thermal just right. As she circled higher and higher, I felt truly blessed to live in such a place where my kind and hers could live side by side.

Let there always be wild places, however small and humble, for they are not just for the wildlife that they protect, but for all of us. Sometimes it’s for quiet, sometimes for play, sometimes for beauty, and sometimes for when life pushes you back on your heels.  For whatever reason we find ourselves there, these are places that help us to feel connected, to feel alive, and to feel at peace.

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 9.48.12 PM
in memory of Cousin Larry

Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development: what motivates our students and ourselves

A few years ago I worked at an outstanding outdoor science school in southern California and had the privilege of moving into a program coordinator position. At the time, I had no idea what this position would entail.  None of us really did.  We were in need of inspiration to get us started for the year.

After speaking to our boss’s wife, a brilliant and motivated local teacher, she directed us to Los Angeles teacher Rafe Esquith. You may have heard of him. Just a few of his honors include the 1992 Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, A Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University, Oprah Winfrey’s “Use Your Life Award”, and he was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. If you would like to read one of his New York Times Bestsellers, check out There Are No Shortcuts or Lighting Their Fires.

Rafe Esquith
Rafe Esquith

This man writes of truths that have a place in every classroom (inside or outside). For example, the simple aspect of building trust among your students, rather than fear, is crucial to establishing a working system within your class.

Teach Like Your Hair

Esquith also devotes a chapter of his book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire to Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development. As my reading began, I felt that this concept transcended not only every aspect of teaching, but also our everyday involvement with other human beings. These levels are so beautifully simple, yet require a lifetime of work to accomplish. Please read on for a brief summary of Kohlberg’s Six Levels.  As you read through these six levels, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:

What are my motivations for some of my decisions, actions or behaviors?  How can I work up towards the sixth level?  How can I create a teaching environment that encourages students (of all ages) to aspire towards the sixth level?  

Are you eager to know what these are yet? Then read on…

Continue reading Kohlberg’s 6 Levels of Moral Development: what motivates our students and ourselves

Back from Break

Happy New Year from SEEC, albeit five days late.

First, apologies for our month-and-a-half long silence. Once Thanksgiving came, it was hastily followed by end-of-semester activities and then three weeks of break that saw Cohort 7 scatter all across the country with no one to blog about anything. But, we are back now, and we are ready for winter term, snow in the Cascades and Siskiyous, preparation for Fall in the Field, and more blog posts. So stay tuned, and enjoy the snow if you can!

Photo – the snow-covered woods of Crater Lake’s south rim (Chaney Swiney)

Discovering natural wonders with the Siskiyou Environmental Education Center (SEEC)


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