Wintery and chilly, with blustery winds, cloud cover, and even sprinkles of rain, today was the perfect day for my class to take its annual “Lewis and Clark” expedition to Washington Park. In the couple of days leading up to our trek, we study Lewis and Clark’s journals, paying particular attention to the categories of items cataloged, described, sketched, mapped, and recorded. We also admire the space-saving (and paper conserving) style of the journals — after all, Lewis and Clark toted the journals over mountains, down falls, and across miles of previously uncharted territory. On our expedition, my 7th graders attempt to mimic both the precision and wonder that Lewis and Clark convey in the journals.
Our journey, we know, is only symbolically reminiscent of the actual trials faced by the “Corps of Discovery.” Today, as fate would have it, we wholeheartedly embraced the challenges and triumphs of our Chicago winter journey, in true 7th grade fashion.
Our trek began with the discovery of two cardinals, a few crocuses, and a plant that my students called hippie head (and later named capillos capitis herba). Among the wonderful benefits of getting outside our normal classroom space is that students who might not shine in class can show another side of themselves. A student who struggles with academics noticed the cardinals, and carefully and beautifully sketched them, while as quietly as possible, telling his classmates where to look to discover the birds for themselves. Upon our arrival in Washington Park, we were met with flocks of Canadian Geese. Several exuberant girls were “calling” to the geese — geese who were certainly disrupted by the twenty thirteen year olds invading the quiet morning –and the geese seemed to retaliate. Across the lagoon, I heard shrieks and then laughter. A gaggle of girls explained that the geese dive bombed them, expertly dropping a gift on the head and journal of one of them. I proclaimed the journal’s green smear the perfect artifact, worthy of description and a sketch of the offending goose, just as Lewis and Clark would have done.
In my afternoon class, when I asked LB just how many rocks, branches and other detritus he’d thrown into the lagoon, he paused and noted, “This will be the eighth one. I’ve been keeping track for the journal.” The class seemed to ooze energy — trees were climbed, lagoons were crossed flamboyantly, downed trees became jungle gyms, Linnaeus statues were summitted, and small pebbles were raining down upon us like snow.
Energy spent, and shouting, chasing, climbing and catapulting over, the thirteen year old explorers finally settled in for contemplative sketching and writing. I watched in awe and they allowed themselves to be awed by this moment.