As I step foot onto Bagheera, immediately the theme song of Pirates of the Caribbean starts to play in my head. It is hard for the song not to because being on a schooner is such a grand adventure. As we travel through the water, I feel the wind against my face. As the ship is heeling between 10° and 20°, moving across the ship is always an invigorating challenge. I am so lucky to have been a part of this wonderful adventure. Please enjoy a short video that shows how spectacular traveling on Bagheera was for ESS.
We arrived at Lowe’s Cove just as the tide was beginning to flush away the mudflat. We left the Darling Marine Center a few minutes ago and all of the students had begun to feel the stresses of research.
Matt asked Dr. Greg Teegarden, “What should we bring to the cove?”
“This is a learning exercise and I want everyone to follow their proposals and bring what they think they need. If I tell you what to bring and what to do, this becomes a cookbook experiment, which has less value than struggling to figure it out,” replied Dr. Teegarden.
By the looks on all of the students’ faces I could tell they were not impressed, because sometimes it is easier to be given information than to figure it out yourself. Nonetheless here we were just about to step onto the mudflat. Greg had just delivered suggestions about the rambunctious technique required to travel efficiently on a mudflat. At this moment everyone made haste and took their first steps on to the deceivingly stable, stinking, gait-hindering mudflat.
At this time I was scurrying around the upper rocks trying to find the perfect placement for cameras to capture all of the activities. It all happened so quickly. I watched carefully as everyone took his or her first few steps onto the mudflat. I watched Dr. Teegarden race onto the mudflat with grace and proficiency, while Matt slumbered onto the mud, finding it nearly impossible to move. When I compared the techniques of the inexperienced students to the experienced waddle of Dr. Teegarden I was fascinated.
I wonder how long it will take before someone falls?
The thought had just passed my mind when I looked out and saw Erin screeching as her center of gravity went back, but her feet stayed deep within the grasp of the malicious mud. I watched as Erin’s automatic balance correction mechanism attempted to correct the fatal misalignment of her body. We often take for granted the amazing mechanisms that are involved in keeping humans upright. From my vantage point I could clearly see Erin’s body struggling to stay standing. As she realized her feet could not shuffle to keep herself from falling her arms flailed out and began to create concentric circles in the air, as though she were attempting to fly like an eagle in the sky. Unfortunately, the end was the same for many of the ESS students, a butt covered in mudflat mud.
Just as this scene ended another began, this time it was Nhu. Nhu always has a fantastic reaction to new situations. This day was no exception. As Nhu took her first steps onto the mudflat you could hear her squealing at the new experience. As she attempted to adjust her gait and take the advice of Dr. Teegarden, I could see her mind begin to wonder if Dr.
Teegarden was giving true advice, or if he was simply bring everyone onto the mudflat for his own mischievous experiment. As Nhu scrambled across the mud, I watched almost as in slow motion. She took a step and went to lift her back right foot, but the mud grasped it like a mother holding her child’s hand while they crossed the road. Nhu attempted a correction, but the laws of nature had already made the decision, she was going to fall into the mud. As her knees made contact into the mud, I later found out that her expression was one of disgust, anxiety, and amusement.
I could continue with the many accounts of the struggles of the mudflat, but I want to keep some stories for people to share when they return. I will leave you with some advice for when you go onto the mudflat. Some of this advice is from Dr. Teegarden, and some of the advice is from my own accounts and experience from this day.
When you walk on a mudflat, keep your center of gravity low and walk with pep in your step.
When you are walking on a mudflat, know your destination and don’t stop, otherwise you will feel the hands of mud come upon you.
If you do stop, do not forget you are on a mudflat when you get ready to start moving again, otherwise you could fall flat on your face. Instead when your foot is stuck, simply twist your heel out and up. This will help break the grasp of the mud.
Never travel alone. If there was one revelation I noticed with the group traveling on the mud was how everyone relied on the help of friends to pull each other out of the mud (see video of Erin for an example)
Do not forget to have fun. The mudflat is a place to study and gather information, but from my brief experience yesterday, it is also a place to have fun.
I open my eyes; it is 5:10 in the morning and it is time to start the day of travel. I think to myself, I hope everyone didn’t stay up too late last night because today is going to be a tough day. As I slumber out of my top bunk in the hostel in Halifax, my mind begins to race. I want to make sure to get started early so we can efficiently move out of Halifax to our next destination.
As I stagger down the stairs, I fully expect to see Johan Erikson any minute. I am sure he isn’t sleeping much at this time because of the long trip ahead of us. As I round the corner away from the stairs, I walk into Courtney. She is struggling up the stairs with her enormous dry bag, one of the foundations for the roof rack. One down, seven to go. I grab her bag and shuffle it to the van, which is parked less than two meters from the hostel’s entrance. There it stands, tall, blue, and with the faces that so many people gawk at when we drive. This reminds me of the hundreds of questions we get when we drive: “Where is Saint Joseph’s College?” “What are you guys doing in Canada?” “Whose faces are on the van?” “Do you know the people on the van?” “How come your face isn’t on the van?” The list can go on and on.
As I am unpacking the mountain of bags that had collected inside the van from the night before, I am remind how much stuff is crammed into this tiny space. I begin to have quite the collection of bags outside the van when Dr. Erikson makes his way outside. It is 5:30; we need to leave in 30 minutes and there are still seven unaccounted for students! I continue to work with Dr. Erikson for another 15 minutes and I still have not seen any more students. It is time to see the progress being made by my lovely children.
I make it back inside and to the lower floor of the hostel to check on the ladies. One part of me thinks they will be up and glowing and excited to see me as they walk right past me to the van. The other part of my brain, the left and rational part of my brain, cackles at this thought, knowing full well that when the door opens, I will see three wonderful faces crushed into soft pillows. I grasp the door handle and turn it, the anticipation KILLING ME! The door opens and… everyone is sleeping. Bummer, that would have been nice. I wake everyone and tell them they need to be out by the van in five minutes. The faces of panic erupt.
Back at the van after waking the crew, faces of sad, tired students grumble their way through the door.
“Hi mom,” groaned Alana
“Morning mom,” said Erin in a rough voice.
Being called mother as a male 23 year-old recent Saint Joseph’s College graduate is an interesting experience, but one that I feel happy to hold. As everyone makes their way to the sidewalk, I can sense the rushing feeling begin to flow in as I realize 6:00 is approaching quickly and we still need the big bags on the roof. Finally I see them… It’s a car! It’s a plane! It’s the big bags coming! Dr. Erikson is up and on the roof before I can get the courage and focus to lift the bags. I heave and strain and lift the first dry bag to the roof and Mike helps me lift it and hold it until Dr. Erikson can pull the monstrosity up. We continue to lift the bags up until all of the bags are on the roof and safely tied down and secured for the long trip.
Now in the drivers seat, I look back and see everyone piled into the van in a conglomeration of bags and sleepy faces. With my navigator to my right and the snoring beginning to echo through the van we pull away from the hostel and off to the many adventures ahead of us. Another successful packing, only eighteen minutes late, not a bad start.
The trials and tribulations of caring for eight full grown college students is not an easy task, but when you see them come together and accomplish simple tasks like packing a van, you are reminded that the learning process and growth is great, is necessary. I was in their shoes only a few years ago and that process is hard, but the reward is rich.