Lake Simcoe Conservation Matters
Several weeks ago, I got to put on my boots and get muddy with my fellow classmates. Our teacher said he wanted us to learn about wetlands and so he wanted to take us to one so we could see first-hand what a wetland is. I was familiar with wetland functions from some of my earlier grades, but had never actually visited one. Mostly, I was just excited that I was getting to go outside and not be stuck behind my desk for the afternoon.
So, with my teacher and some parent volunteers in the lead, we all got on a bus and off we went. We must have drove for at least 30 minutes, before stopping in the middle of nowhere. But apparently, the middle of nowhere is actually somewhere because we had reached our destination. We all got off the bus and had to stand around for the mandatory overview of safety protocols. You know, stuff like how to hold a dip net so no one loses an eye. We listened as best we could but were eager to trample down the path that led us to a pond-like area. That is where the magic would begin.
As is probably the case for most school groups, my classmates could be grouped into about four different types of students. There were the well-behaved kids that listened carefully and followed the instructions dutifully, asking questions but not letting their excitement take over for good manners. When the time came, they dipped their nets into the water, picking apart their finds and placing them in the white containers to better inspect the specimens. They spent time cross-checking the laminated identification cards to see what it was they were looking at.
Then there were the adventurous students - the ones trying to break away from the crowd. They wanted to go on their own journey, eager to be more independent in their exploration - temporarily losing a boot and gaining a wet sock or two in the process.
There were also the keener students. In nature, they were in their element. I bet they could just as easily have led the exploration. They knew things like how some frogs freeze solid in winter, or how some insects had adapted to staying under water by taking a bubble of air down with them, in the same way divers do with air tanks. They seemed more comfortable wading in mud than sitting in a chair behind a desk. It was like the change of scenery transformed them – at school, from shy, floor-gazing youth, to talkative, confident young adults eager to share their knowledge.
Finally, there were the kids who had probably never really been out in nature. They followed along, standing at the back at first, as though they didn’t know what to do with themselves. But once goaded into dipping their nets in and exploring the contents, their fascination became evident. Soon enough, they were right up there, intently focused on their finds.
And I can’t help but wonder – why would we think we can make something better than a wetland?
Which of course leads us to the actual finds. I discovered a dragonfly cracking open its exoskeleton, transforming from squishy water bug (that shoots water out of its butt) to winged marvel -- a relic from the dinosaur era. My friend Sam uncovered colourful green frogs and tiny boatmen - miniscule insects that look like they actually have oars attached to their sides and use them for propelling. Though the teacher helped us to be careful to separate out predator from prey – sometimes drama broke out in the bucket and kids squealed with excitement as they clamoured to see the action.
In the end, we learned a lot about wetlands: what they are; why they’re important; how they’re homes to so many species; and what’s threatening them. Even though all that stuff can be learned in a textbook, the real learning came from the experience. Now I get why the teacher wanted to get us out of the classroom - so we could see, touch, feel and smell nature. He wanted us to be part of a unique ecosystem while they still exist. Apparently, 68% of the original wetlands in southern Ontario have been lost already.
The excursion left an imprint on me. I’ve thought a lot about the trip since I got back and that was weeks ago. I can still hear the frogs calling, the birds chirping and the excited voices of my classmates. And I can’t help but wonder – why would we think we can make something better than a wetland? Didn’t nature make it perfect in the first place?