Mansfeld and the creek

On October 25th, 2019 12 students from Mansfeld Middle School left Tucson for an adventure high in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Some of these students had never explored this mountain range, and for them, this was a mysterious and new experience. For those that were returning, this was a special chance to see and experience something new. This was the first expedition of the semester, and for this trip, we hoped to learn about the Sky Island ecosystems and their relationships to the low scrub valley below. 

It was a beautiful October day. Rich blue skies filtered through green pine needles. Sunlight illuminated the green and brown forest floor with full colors of yellow and gold. The smell of warm pine sap and decaying deciduous leaves was intoxicating, not a smell often smelled by desert people. We first wandered down a slope to a forest meadow where ponderosa pine trees offered us space to sit and introduce ourselves. Here we sat in silence for some time, taking a moment to listen to the sounds of the locals that chirped and cooed their hearts away. After some time, students took turns telling their names, what they liked about themselves, and what they were excited to learn and experience today. Many different answers were offered, and suddenly the students were operating with a mission. 

Our walk took us over a bridge the suspended us above running water. For desert people, this is a rare sight. The students expressed new excitement over this, pointing and laughing, even if the running water was a mere trickle. This trickly would soon grow larger and larger, providing habitat for massive trees, aquatic insects, birdbaths, and nutrients necessary for life on this mountainside. We discussed this process deeper. Students learned how mountain springs feed all life in their path, down to the valley floor. The riparian corridor allows for many species to thrive here even though drought or disaster. Migratory bird species use the canopies fed by these creeks for nesting and roosting, the local bears wouldn’t be able to survive without it. The students were fascinated by the diversity and intricacy of this high mountain biome. 

Following the water, we found a series of pools that had been cut into the rock. Here we ate lunch and looked out upon the beauty this clearing provided. When we finished up, the youth were eager to get to the pools, a task that required steep-sloped scrambling. Once down, we began to stick our heads in the water, dip our feet in, and enjoy a desert rarety. Desert people cherish desert pools as a luxury. Most of the students had never experienced a mountain pool before. The smiles and excitement on their faces cant be captured into words. Each time a student would dunk in, another would follow. Each inch was surpassed by another inch by another student. It started as a game and ended as a therapy. 

We discussed micro-ecosystems and their fragility. Students were a little upset that I allowed them to play in these sensitive pools. I explained to them that all of our actions have consequences. Instead of thinking in “right” or “wrongs”, I asked them to observe their actions and to make a decision based on the consequences. They were not pleased, but they understood the lesson. Being outside is as much about expression as it is respect and self-control. The process of observing a landscape, its many ecosystems, and deciding how to interact with it based on the consequences that will be a reaction to our interactions is the responsible and correct way to behave outdoors. This lesson provided freedom to the students to act and play. They now have a deeper and real relationship with the beautiful natural world outside their front door.