Teachers from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania participated in CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms Teacher Professional Development courses this summer. Three of them agreed to share their experiences with us. Today's guest blog is by Chris Chamberlin, a biology and advanced ecology teacher at Amherst County High School in Amherst, Virginia. Photos by William Mitchell, Bill Portlock and CBF staff.
A group of strangers arrived in Tappahannock, Virginia, on June 21, 2010. Not knowing that we would become fast friends, this band of weary travelers settled in at the Conference Center at St. Margaret's School, abound with hope for the upcoming week. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Bill Portlock, Julia Elkin, and Randy Shank greeted us with refreshing beverages and welcoming smiles.
As teachers, we constantly encourage our students to take chances with new experiences, and our first day was an exercise in practicing that mantra. Using a large fish seine, several members headed out to the Rappahannock River to sample the water. Crabs, silversides, menhaden, and pumpkinseed sunfish filled the net as we all gathered around Bill and Julia for a lesson in animal behavior and aquatic biochemistry. This site was also home to at least one breeding pair of bald eagles, but my most indelible memory was of the countless dragonfly species knifing through the air, protecting our skin from unseen pests. After several more activities and informative, group sharing exercises, we headed to bed with visions of our upcoming canoe trip on the Mattaponi River.
Formed from the confluence of several tributaries, the Mattaponi River is impressive. Its crystal clear waters, teeming animal life, and varied habitats sparked many conversations throughout our canoeing adventure. We learned about the upland influences and point and non-point source pollution affecting the Mattaponi as we delved deep into freshwater marshes and watched rare sparrows catch insects on the wing. This gorgeous river appears clearer than any other major Chesapeake Bay tributary, largely due to the vegetative buffers and courageous citizens who have spent many years protecting it from developmental pressures. We ate lunch at a gorgeous piece of property owned by one of the heroes of the Mattaponi, who has spent countless hours speaking for the river. Listening to her story enabled us to leave that place with a renewed hope of how one person can actually make a big difference. Sleep enveloped us quickly that evening, as many tired arms were finally able to rest.
The second segment of our trip was to Tangier Island and was arguably the most memorable. Perhaps it was because one can only access Tangier by boat or plane. Or maybe it was because we learned about the watermen, whose difficult lifestyle and several hundred-year-old culture is dwindling. It also may have been the wonderful bounty of blue crabs we caught in our pots and cooked "island style" on Port Isobel, the CBF-owned island adjacent to Tangier. My personal favorite memory was the dinner plate-sized bat that flew past my head Thursday evening. Whatever the memory, every single person left that island with a renewed sense of appreciation for the nesting ospreys, eastern oysters, blue crabs, pipefish, pufferfish, eels, and many other creatures that Bill and Julia gleefully taught us about. I would also argue that our intrepid captain and his level-headed grandson showed us what family truly means. Fortunately for this group, we had become a family of our own, with plenty of stories and experiences to share with students, friends, and family alike. Traveling back to the mainland was bittersweet; nobody really wanted to leave this new-found paradise.