One of the benefits I’ve found since retiring from the military, besides the chance to regale the hapless (and slow) with countless “I was there” stories, is that I now have a lot of time to be with my kids.
Instead of flying over the Arctic Circle, sailing the Persian Gulf, or meandering about the French Quarter in search of churches and monuments (that’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it), I now coach youth soccer, umpire Little League (I call this...“hazing”), and act as a piñata at birthday parties.
I also get to go on field trips.
This week, I volunteered to chaperone my daughter’s class in an Outdoor Learning Experience. This annual event, touted as an invaluable chance to get up close and personal with the glories of nature, takes 90 or so Sixth Graders to an off-season summer camp to endure an educational smorgasbord featuring topics such as Pond Study, Animal Tracks Study, Poison Plants Study, What-First-Aid-To-Use-After-Rolling-In-Poison-Plants Study, and so on.
It also involved a little unit called: Tree Study or what I like to call, Naptime.
Don’t get me wrong. The study of trees and their benefits can be quite stimulating, in a “Spend-An-Evening-With-An-Insurance-Salesman.” Little did I know there was so much to learn, from branch patterns to which is the best kind of tree to make slingshots out of.
For instance, did you know that trees which drop their leaves are called deciduous, those with pine cones are called coniferous, and those with yard sale signs are called telephone poles?
When I arrived at Camp Mengele, I was immediately grouped with two other parents who were likewise too lazy to state a preference for something cool like Boating Safety, Shooting At Things, or Pizza Delivery. To our horror, we quickly learned our combined knowledge of all things “tree” consisted of: they give us paper, shade, and baseball bats.
Expressing our misgivings to the “Camp Nature Director and Wendy’s Drive Thru Associate”, Dr. Jones (I am NOT making that up), we were assured we were more than capable of guiding children along the road of arboreal excellence. Besides, if all else fails, she said, just wing it.
With those words of wisdom, she squared away her fedora, stuck a six-gun in her belt, and used her bullwhip to swing off to the archaeology pit (OK, she didn’t wear a fedora).
Watching the first group of shiny-faced cherubs approaching our station, we steeled ourselves for the first of ten forty-minute sessions. Luckily, Dr. Jones already labeled our trees (Tulip, Ash, Hemlock, Dogwood, Cedar, Hickory, and Stump) and the teacher in charge supplied us with ample answer keys and field guides (which we stuck in our back pockets and forgot about until laundry day).
Even though we were a little nervous, the three of us were as ready as we were going to get.
Surprisingly, the first session went pretty well. Dividing the students into three groups of three, we proceeded to go over characteristics of trees, their uses, and how to measure their growth.
I learned that, when pressed, the students always said, “Trees lose their leaves, they can be used for firewood, and we use lasers to measure them (I guess that, since lasers sound cool, they figured it was the right answer).
The students also always said, “Oak” or “Maple” when asked the name of a particular tree. Unless it was an evergreen. In that case, they said, “Christmas Tree.”
Subsequent lessons went just as well. Luckily, the instructor guides were pretty basic (“Trees are made of ‘wood’”) and we were able to easily impart what we hoped was expert-sounding instruction throughout the course of the day.
In fact, we were so successful that, when asked what their favorite topic of the camp was, the students invariably answered, Obstacle Course.
Followed by Boating Safety, Archeology, Orienteering, Animal Tracks, Stream Study, Poison Plants Study, Going To the Bathroom, Lunch, Throwing Rocks, Wiping With Leaves, Garbage Can Hunt, Picking Up Sticks, Throwing Dead Things At Girls, Lighting Farts, Tree Study, and Pond Study.
We took great pride in knowing we weren’t as sucky as Pond Study.
In other words, Pond Study blows.
Think I’ll go hug a tree.