“I wonder if there will be bears.”
“I wonder if there will be snow.”
“I wonder how high we’ll be.”
“I wonder if we’ll see the mountains.”
On Thursday, March 19th the majority of students at Lake and Park School boarded a bus and traveled East towards the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. For close to an hour, we watched the scenery change from skyscrapers, freeways and tightly packed houses to farmhouses, forests and winding country roads. At 10:00am, we arrived at our destination: Rattlesnake Lake.
“There it is! We’re here! That’s the rock that looks like a snake’s head!” said Walker.
The rock outcropping of Rattlesnake Ledge towered over us as we disembarked the bus and gathered in our smaller, multi-aged hiking groups. We had spent the previous day building camaraderie and preparing for the trip with these groups, sharing our hopes for what we might see along the hike. We shared our wonderings about the trail and surrounding ecosystems and shared our fears for a new experience. Teachers and students were entering into an environment full of unknowns prepared only to discover and be taken by surprise. We had hundreds of acres of wilderness at our feet and a day to explore. For every constant that exists in the indoor classroom, the outdoor environment provides an unknown variable.
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” -Rachel Carson
Some groups began ascending right away, while others took time to explore the beaches along the lake shore. The sight of so many rocks immediately fueled discussion on what types of rocks were there and how they arrived. Some children spotted cairns and began constructing rock towers, inukshuk and mountains of their own. Others pounded rocks together to crack them open and discover what was inside. With so much to touch and hold, there was an equal amount to take in with our eyes. Some of us sat quietly on rocks and gazed across the water at the returning geese and upwards at the circling eagles.
As the children explored freely, a small art studio was set up in the trees near the trail head. The students collected watercolors, clipboards, pencils and paper and visually recorded what they saw. Some painted the surrounding mountains and drew maps of our location. Animal tracks were spotted in the mud and some students traced and labeled them, wondering about the other animals roaming the beach. Beginning the ascent to Rattlesnake Ledge felt like boarding a plane to a faraway location we couldn’t wait to reach. The trail immediately led us into the forest and the the lake disappeared behind us. We curved around enormous boulders covered in lime-green moss and were awed by how many shades of green there really were. Oregon grape and sword ferns brushed our ankles as we moved along the dense, lower section of the trail. Occasionally we’d pass an enormous cedar stump and notice the new growth of huckleberry bushes emerging from their tops. The size of the stumps was shocking. “How old is this tree?” asked Eli B. Gradually ascending, we began to catch glimpses of the lake through western hemlock and douglas fir and sense our gain in elevation.
The higher we trekked, the more the forest changed. Many groups stopped to rest and noticed the cooler air. We found a fallen hemlock exposing its upturned roots. and wondered about how the tree is still useful for the forest. Harriet said, “I bet rats and badgers crawl inside and make it their home.” Ruby wondered what it would be like to be an animal living on the mountain, “I love closing my eyes and listening for the sounds of nature.”
The dense, green vegetation that covered the lower forest floor gave way to soft earth covered by decomposing cedars. “Why have all these trees fallen?” Wondered Chloe.
“Woah! What’s that?!”
-Finn upon discovering a new fungus.
The rich color of the cedar wood was engaging and we couldn’t resist holding it and crumbling it in our hands. Feeling the wood, Griffin said, “The inside of a decomposing tree feels and looks like red clay.”
Close to the top, some of the children began to feel tired. We talked about how it was okay to feel tired and be challenged physically. At the suggestion of one teacher, some children stopped to hug a tree for an extra surge of energy. Others sang songs like “Roll on Columbia” and “I Love the Mountains” to keep them moving. Others counted steps and switchbacks. Max B. reported there were 13 switchbacks to the top of the mountain.
We were overjoyed when we reached the sign informing us we had arrived at Rattlesnake Ledge. We were greeted with the view we had been anticipating for two miles. Some of us stopped and enjoyed our lunches looking north toward Mt. Si and Gold Creek. Other groups continued a half mile further to take in the eastern view of the Cascade Mountain foothills from a higher ledge.
Sitting just over 2,000 feet, looking out into such vast space left many of us awe-struck and silent. It felt like we had just completed the poses in a yoga class and were finally ready for shavasana, finally ready to rest. As we rested in quiet stillness, our senses went to work, taking note of what we could see, feel and hear. As teachers, we were all touched by the profoundness of these observations:
“From up here, the trees all look like a corn field. The cars are centipedes, the people are ants.”
“The trees are mountains, and the mountains are the entire atmosphere.”
– Ted & Finnian
“I’m just imagining what this land looked like before people were here. It would look totally different and actually makes me feel kinda sad.”
“I’m seeing mountains in the background and mountains in front of those mountains that are different colors.”
“It’s cool to be able to see the roads but not be able to hear them.” -Harriet
“It looks just like a carpet.”
From the ledges, we could see Rattlesnake Lake as well as several other lakes. We could see the Cedar River and a number of other, smaller creeks. Using our eyes to connect the rivers and streams to lakes and keyways, we discussed the Cedar River Watershed and how the city of Seattle receives its drinking water.
The way back went quickly. The sun peeked through the clouds, spread through the trees and warmed us as we descended. Our observations on the way down were different than the way up. We frequently asked, “was that there before?” We noticed mileage markers posted on trees and timed how long it took us to walk .25 miles, .75 miles and 1 mile. At one point we paused and realized we could hear running water. Using our ears we pointed to where the sound was coming from and estimated how far away it was. We repeated this exercise again and again, listening for bird calls, voices and breaking branches. Returning to the lake, we gathered as a large group on the rocky beach. We sang songs and listened to friends share about moments that felt special and important from their day on the mountain. During our bus ride back to Seattle, we continued our singing and sharing.
“It was hard (reaching the top) but the view was worth it”
– Camille “Going down the mountain was much easier.” – George “I liked finding our own walking sticks” -Anderson “I liked mining rocks on the beach.”
Everyone made it to Rattlesnake Ledge. Each of us encountered challenges, frustration and setbacks throughout the day. Yet, we all walked with confidence and perseverance and felt so proud of our achievements at the end of the day. When asked if we would do it again, everyone let out a roaring “YES!”. We are so fortunate to have the ability to travel outside of our school and city to further explore our world. These are indeed rich educational experiences for our students.
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.” -David Sobel