When Dr. Johan Erikson and I (mostly Johan) planned out the Environmental Science Semester, one of our goals was to incorporate what I’ve been calling “collateral learning”. One form would be experiences that did not seem to have a direct academic content purpose, but nevertheless created an impression, or formed a memory, that both enriched the student experience and perhaps looped back to things they have learned or will learn. With this in mind we made a side journey to the iconic Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.
True confession time – this is the region where the summers of my youth were whiled away in blissful exploration, long before mobile phones and e-mail accounts or social media intruded upon one’s ability to leave the world behind and drink in the experience. It was perhaps naive of me to imagine that our group would be struck with that sense of child-like wonder by a simple hour-long visit. Yet, the enthusiasm with which the students sprang onto the rocks and fanned out to explore, marvel at rock formations, look for critters, or get lost in the sunset gave me hope that a little bit of wonder would cut through the whirlwind of modern life and settle in our minds.
When I told the students that this was one of the most famous, most photographed or depicted lighthouses in the nation, there was some healthy skepticism. After all, it looks so simple and plain, no red stripes, no grandiose house attached. We later confirmed that this is the lighthouse depicted on the Maine state quarter, from the currency series of state quarters. Some were interested in the history, and in the fate of lighthouses in the modern era. No one could fail to take interest in the fantastic rocky point on which the lighthouse is set. When I asked, “What would Johan say if he were here?” there was a great combination of eye rolls and friendly groans, but also smiles and chuckles – one part “Really? Academics again?” and another part appreciation of the life we academics lead, viewing the world with one eye on the wonder and beauty, and the other through the lens of our training and discipline. I think in the end, the students managed to keep their eyes on the wonder and beauty, and that’s just fine for this episode of collateral learning.