A reptile farm. A dam. And now, the Dungeness River Nature Center.
Field trips have been a rite of passage for me and other kids for ages.
It’s likely most of us have shared jokes and songs on a bus to pass the time. I remember listening to my first tapes and CDs on bus rides in Oregon. One of my fondest memories from field trip bus rides is learning “Weird Al” Yankovic lyrics from friends.
In recent years — like so many other things during COVID — school field trips were derailed. It prevented many excursions and first-time experiences.
My youngest son has remained adamant about not riding the bus, as he’s been dropped off and picked up from school his whole life. So his likeliest chance for a real-life bus ride was on a field trip. (Never mind his vague memory of a preschool trip on the Boys & Girls Club’s blue bus to the Pumpkin Patch.)
When he learned of an upcoming trip to the Dungeness River Nature Center, he couldn’t have me sign the permission slip fast enough.
He was even favorable to me serving as a parent volunteer and coming along.
My older child, who went on a similar trip earlier, less so. “Nah, it’s OK,” he said.
So morning of, I went to my younger kid’s classroom with a handful of other chaperones and we readied to go. My son was one of a few to say it was their first time on a bus.
I sat by a window … which happened to have a wheel well taking up much of the leg room. As a 40-something with a dad-bod, I remembered buses being much roomier as a kid.
But I didn’t mind.
The leather from the seats smelled the same.
The windows went down the same in increments: from a sliver of air coming in, or full blast. But air control really depends on the dozen windows ahead of you.
My group talked about what we would see at the river, and I assured them we wouldn’t encounter any giraffes, or killer animals like tigers.
Within a few minutes we were there. It was the shortest field trip bus ride I’ve ever been on, but for these second-graders, you have to start somewhere.
At the Nature Center, we walked to the outdoor “potlatch” hat classroom south of the center, where the children discussed the health of the Dungeness.
Hearing frogs is a strong indicator that it’s healthy, center director Powell Jones told us.
Jones and Montana Napier, the center’s education manager, later led us to the river with some kids in boots and others with plastic tubs and nets.
We went on to capture mayflies, stoneflies and other tiny creatures in our net. We also cleaned rocks with our hands, and those with boots on did a “Dungeness Dance” shimmy in the water.
I learned after that while some students rode the bus for the first time, a few said it was their first time in the Dungeness River, too.
Our groups returned from the river to analyze the water for creatures and determine what we saw.
I didn’t observe the tubs much as I was trying to snap pictures and help one student with their wet socks. Oh, the life of a chaperone!
Afterward, we went inside the center, a highlight for me, to see the new exhibit area.
Groups scattered to take in the taxidermy, listening stations and microscope. Having not been inside the center since I attended a presentation about the invasive European green crab in May 2022, it definitely impressed.
Each student in my group said something different was a highlight, from listening to recordings of Elaine Grinnell’s stories to the many animals. We all agreed that seeing a flying squirrel, a beaver and numerous birds was very cool.
It was so cool that my older son had an easy time convincing us to return a few days later.
To cap the field trip, we went searching for different sizes of rocks north of the bridge to find ideal habitat for salmon in the river.
Kids used a chart to find the ideal sizes and sifters like gold miners.
Not surprisingly, kids still love getting dirty. Many in this group said it was a highlight of their trip.
Soon thereafter, we boarded the bus, briefly discussed what we learned and they went to lunch at school.
Years ago, I’d take lunch breaks at the Railroad Bridge Park. I’d find respite taking in the river and the rural feeling of the area while chomping on a sandwich.
In that time the park has grown, but it still maintains that accessibility to one of the most beautiful spots on the peninsula.
When my boys and I returned to the park, we kept tradition and stopped in the middle of the bridge.
“Why do we always stop in the middle and stare?” my oldest boy asked.
“Because it’s beautiful,” I said.
While my lunch tradition has changed, this field trip was a reminder that we can still experience firsts at all stages of our lives, and explore places we love in new ways.
If I’m asked to go on another field trip, I won’t hesitate. But I’ll make sure to get a seat without a wheel well.
Matthew Nash is a reporter at the Sequim Gazette.