Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mud Puddle Snorkeling

Coopers branch isn’t much to look at. Its tiny, barely 5 foot wide, and maintains a scant trickle of water. As is typical of urban stream, it swells to 10 times its size after even just a small rain. I was skeptical that it would be able to keep 40 snorkeling middle schoolers engaged, but this was their creek. The stream that passes through their neighborhood, that drains chemlawned back yards, so I agreed with their dynamic teacher, that the experience would be worth the risk.
I got lots of strange looks as I schlepped bags of snorkeling gear from Oella up the trolley trail to the snorkeling location. “Oh! Snorkeling, really?” was one comment I heard, and used it as an opportunity for friendly explanation about how it might not look like much, but just beneath the surface lies a whole different world, possibly full of life, and we were going to explore that, even though I was myself a little skeptical. Coopers branch is a tiny impacted waterway, a heavily suburbanized stream. Most of its watershed is impervious road, driveway and roof top. It drains communities in Catonsville and empties into the Patapsco River at Oella, across the river from Ellicott City, and I was skeptical that we would see much.
I gave instructions and handed out gear. Everyone got in the water, but not everyone snorkeled. Those who did saw life from a different perspective. Crayfish, blacknosed dace, some kind of minnow, frogs and water snakes were all sighted. There wasn’t a lot of diversity, as was expected, but life was abundant and the students were excited to explore it.
They all got connected and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Exploring our connection to the creek and the creek to us and how that all fits into the larger world around us. Each student came away a little more connected to the Coopers Branch, whether they stuck their face in it or not. And as usual the view below was unexpected and spectacular. Even in this tiny smudge of a creek.

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