Field Trip Leader


(This column was first published in the May 14, 2001 Buffalo News.)


I have spent most of my life as a classroom teacher, but leading field trips remains an activity that is simply beyond me. Every time I have accepted such a responsibility I have been punished. As soon as I reluctantly agree to serve, I start worrying and by the time I meet my group I am in a cold sweat. And I have every reason to worry. My past experience leading trips has been universally bad.


I know that when we enter a woodlot or set out across a swamp all the birds will disappear and all the wildflowers and trees will become unidentifiable. I will find myself making statements that begin, "The last time I was here..." or "Yesterday we saw..." or even "Just before you arrived...."


A few years ago, for example, I led a group of youngsters from Mill Middle School into Williamsville Glen -- now Amherst State Park. While I waited for Mrs. Denman's class, I watched a tufted titmouse feeding in a nearby tree. It responded readily to my poor imitations with its cardinal-like "Peter, Peter" calls. But -- you guessed it -- as soon as the students arrived, the bird retreated and I was left to provide lame excuses for the lack of response to my repeated whistles.


What reminds me of those experiences is the scheduled visit of Joseph Cornell this week. Cornell is as good a field trip leader as I am bad. He's so good in fact that he now shares his techniques with teachers. He has written several fine books on this subject including "Sharing Nature with Children." Bill Michalek, the Beaver Meadow naturalist, tells me that he considers this book a trip leader's Bible. "I use it constantly and highly recommend it," he says.


I'm looking at the book as I write and I can see where I have failed. Cornell gets youngsters immediately involved in active games -- building a human pyramid, for example -- and only when he has captured their full attention does he introduce less physical activities like his camera game for pairs of students, "one child playing photographer and the other playing camera. The 'camera' keeps its eyes closed until the photographer 'takes a picture' of some beautiful or interesting natural object or scene by pressing on the camera's ear for three to five seconds while the camera opens its 'shutter' (eyes)." Cornell suggests the power of this activity: "The cameras see the world in a fresh and interesting way, because the time of observation is too short for distracting thoughts to intrude."


Joseph Cornell will be here this week teaching an all day workshop for naturalists. An indication of his popularity is the fact that his session has been sold out for some time.


But he will also deliver the keynote address at the annual Buffalo Audubon Society banquet this Wednesday evening and BAS executive director Bill McKeever tells me that it is not too late to attend. The dinner will be at Classics V Restaurant on Niagara Falls Boulevard at 6:30 p.m. For reservations call Beaver Meadow at 457-3228.


Also at the Audubon banquet two naturalists will be honored. The Harry J. Kord for Conservation will go to Chuck Rosenberg for his help in protecting the Klydel Wetlands in North Tonawanda. I know Chuck from his work with Mike Galas constructing and mounting dozens of barn owl boxes in local silos. He is a wonderful choice for this award. Also the Sheldon E. Merritt Award for Distinguished Service will go to Allen Ott for his many volunteer activities for Audubon.-- Gerry Rising