By Olivia Rose
On an overcast, drizzly thursday, I along with several members of The Watershed Project staff rolled up to Wildcat Canyon, excited to celebrate this beautiful place with students from Ohlone Elementary. As a new member of staff, this would be my first field trip, and I was admittedly a bit nervous. Luckily, as I watched students pile out of cars and vans I could tell I wasn’t the only one. Some of the students were obviously very excited to be there, some a little tired, and with less than ideal weather, others were very skeptical about the whole thing. After greeting each other and splitting into smaller groups, we got started with the adventure of exploring our watershed. Our mission of the day was to discover, through observing Wildcat Creek, how living and nonliving organisms support each other in a riparian ecosystem. When the day began I was completely unaware of the discoveries that would unfold, the courageous people that surrounded me, and the heartwarming feeling that would overwhelm me as the students drove away.
We wandered down to Wildcat creek, where students began making observations and taking notes in their field journals. It was inspiring to see many of the students, for the sake of exploration, bravely jumping into the creek without hesitation. They discovered first hand, just how deep the creek was, the temperature, and the velocity of the water rushing through it. With several students we found ourselves investigating how and why the water was a “brownish” color. To find the answer we started to look at what was around, and within the creek, such as soil, leaves, and rocks. The students thought the leaves might be contributing to the brown color of the creek. They tested this theory by rubbing wet leaves on a rock or the paper in their journals. They discovered that the leaves left behind a “brownish” color. While we investigated, you would see students supporting each other in a variety of ways. Whether it was helping each other find the answer to a question, or physically helping each other across the creek by lending a helping hand. We walked away from the creek with a bit more understanding, not only of how the living and nonliving components of the creek support each other, but also of how we as humans support each other.
After our creek observations, we took a break to enjoy lunch, and then we began our hike around Wildcat Canyon.We strolled along, observing the forest that surrounded us, and the hills that wound down to the creek we had came from. Throughout the day the rain persisted, reminding us just how a watershed works. As we continued our hike, and the hills got steeper, we realized that the rain had turned the trail into a muddy slip ‘n slide. We had a choice: go back or try to make it up the hill. We left it to the students, and based on their enthusiasm at the creek, I’m sure you can imagine what they chose.
Struggling up the hill, feeling the drizzle of rain our faces, the chill in the air, taking one step and then sliding back down in the thick muck, I was shocked to look around and see smiles. I was surprised to hear laughter. I found myself comforted to be in the presence of truly courageous people. Yes, of course I’m talking about the students that bravely took on this hike, but also the teachers and chaperones. Supporting thirty kids up a very muddy slope, is no easy task, let alone doing it yourself. But with a bit of bravery and the support from others, anything can be achieved. So at the top we found ourselves, giving each other muddy handed high fives, and shouting “We just did that!”. As we made our way back, I could hear students beginning to chant, “Mud is fun to play with, mud is fun to play with!”. Reminding myself, and I’m sure other adults in the group, just how much fun it is to play outside.
By the end of the day, as the students were loading up, I began to realize that Wildcat Canyon had given us a gift. It provided the space for these students, teachers, and chaperones to learn together, laugh together, and play. Thank you, Wildcat Canyon, you helped me recognize that while setting out to understand the natural world and make scientific discoveries, we may well walk away with a better understanding of ourselves, what we can achieve individually and what we can achieve together.