Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/May 1905/Life in a Seaside Summer School
|LIFE IN A SEASIDE SUMMER SCHOOL.|
THE UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA.
LATE one night in August I boarded the staunch little steamer 'Queen City' at Victoria, and steamed out upon the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and up the western coast of Vancouver Island. This remarkable body of water, fifteen miles wide and seventy miles long, is the common gateway for British and American vessels. The treaty which settled the boundary dispute many years ago (1846) fixed the international line in the middle of the strait, so that each country has a broad and deep water passage to the Pacific Ocean. As we proceed northwesterly up the coast on the British side of the strait, the rugged and rock-bound coast of Vancouver Island rises on our right, while across the water is the Olympic coast of Washington. Of both shores little more is known than the mere coast line and a narrow strip near the water. Back of the shore line are foothills running back to the mountains still beyond them and covered all the way with dense and almost impenetrable forests of cedar (Thuya plicata) and fir (Abies amabilis). We steam along slowly, for this is a dangerous coast, and there is a heavy swell on the water and enough fog in the air to obscure the details of the shore line.
It is broad daylight when we turn into the deep harbor of Port Renfrew, almost directly opposite Cape Flattery, and come up to the long wharf. Here we find Jackson, the genial little Englishman, who fills the several offices of harbormaster, postmaster, storekeeper and hotelkeeper. When the boat comes in from Victoria, as it does once in a week or ten days, Jackson is a very busy man, but then he has a long time in which to recuperate before the next arrival of the boat. While he is looking after the freight and luggage, and sorting over the mail, we go to the big summer hotel and ask 'Jim,' the Chinaman, to get an early breakfast for two. My companion is a genial geologist, who has been here before, and knows Jim, and how to persuade him into complying without too great delay. While waiting for breakfast we look northward over the harbor to the foothills which surround it, and whose sides are covered with dense forests down to the water's edge. I have rarely looked upon a scene of such natural beauty, and stood long feasting my eyes upon sky and mountain, and forest and water.
Breakfast eaten, and the camp mail secured, my genial geological friend advises me to prepare to take the trail to the camp several miles away, which I do by putting on canvas leggings and stout hobnailed shoes. We try to dicker with the Indians (familiarly known as the 'Siwashes') to take our heavy luggage to the camp by canoe, but they are lazy and rapacious, and refuse to do so unless we pay several times the usual price, which we in turn refuse to do. So we take what we need most and start out over the trail. And such a trail! It begins fair enough, looking quite like an ordinary trail, but soon it changes into a mere path, and then abruptly drops down the slippery sides of a canyon, crosses a stream, and runs straight up
the other side. The geologist leads the way, carefully planting his feet in the notches in the canyon side, and I follow, thankful for the big hob-nails in my shoes. He jumps the stream, and so do I, and then he scrambles up the steep wall on the other side, and I follow, puffing and panting. At the next canyon the trail literally takes to the trees, crossing by a fallen tree whose trunk is slippery with damp mosses and lichens. Those blessed hob-nailed shoes do their duty, and I reach the other side safely, only to find my companion far ahead crawling under some fallen trees under which the trail runs.But all things come to an end, and so does this wonderful trail.
It has been more interesting in other ways than in its crookedness and difficulties. At the port the trees were, so tall and large as to attract attention. But as we went deeper into the forest the cedars, spruces, firs, hemlocks and pines became so much larger that we had to stop now and then to admire their giant trunks, and their great masses of green foliage a hundred feet and more above our heads. Huckleberry bushes of two species (Vaccinium ovalifolium and V. parvifolium) grew by the trail side offering their tempting fruit to us as we passed. There were mosses and lichens everywhere, sometimes hanging from the branches in great masses, a foot in diameter and a yard in length. At our feet, by our side, even on the mossy trunks of the trees, were pretty flowers of many species,
ferns, and even shrubs in profusion. On the ground here and there were gigantic ferns (Pteris aquilina lanuginosa) seven to eight feet high, and a yard across, and looking more like shrubs than the modest brakes of the east.
Do you marvel that I call this a wonderful trail, and that in spite of its length and difficulties it was so full of interest that these were soon forgotten, and only its beauties and scientific interest remembered?
The camp, technically known as the Minnesota Seaside Station, consists of a substantially built log living-house and two laboratories, which stand on the shore overlooking the strait of Juan de Fuca and
the Olympic Mountains of Washington. The beach is rocky, and on the rocks and in the water are immense masses of giant seaweeds. Here we are received by the director, a tall, stout man with a twinkle in his eye; the sub-director, a merry little woman, whose specialty is
the study of the seaweeds, and the chaperon, a cheery old lady, the mother of the sub-director. I look into the big room in the living house and note the great fire-place with a big settee on each side, which promises solid comfort in the cool evenings.
With the director I go to the laboratories, where we find three rooms, in all of which students are hard at work. Here are tables, microscopes, reagents, books and other laboratory apparatus, and the rooms look much like the laboratories in the colleges and universities, except that here the furniture is roughly made by carpenters. A Vancouver Coast Octopus. We go down to the beach and take a close view of the seaweeds, the hermit crabs, sea anemones and star fishes. We look up and note the gigantic size of the trees which form the forest background. We hear the clangor of a bell, and the director suggests that we hurry back to camp, for that is the noonday dinner signal. He takes us by the men's 'lavatory,' which is a quiet brook near one of the laboratories. Towels and soap are here in profusion, for every man supplies his own. Here, day by day. the men perform their ablutions and make their toilets. The water is always abundant and the toilet room is never overcrowded!The dinner served in the big room was quite characteristic of our camp life. On each side of two long tables were long plain benches. Over these we stepped to our assigned places. Potatoes, turnips and bacon, with bread, butter and tea, all in generous quantities, constituted the substantial meal. It was a merry meal, as were all our meals. When twenty-two hungry campers sit down to a 'square meal' there is always much jollity. Dinner over, the noonday lecture was announced to take place in a shady spot two hundred yards from the camp. It was given by the director, who sat on a log, and talked to us on the characteristics of the spruce, hemlock and fir trees of the region, while his audience sat on other logs or on the ground near him. Above us are the trees under discussion, and at our feet are the cones which have fallen from them. So we have a bit of out-door laboratory work while listening to the lecture. When we break up, some go to the laboratories, while others stroll over the rocks hunting for specimens.
Later in the day we take in a quiz given by an instructor to his class in bacteriology. After supper, which is much like dinner, an evening lecture is given by another instructor, who tells us about Agassiz and his work, while we sit about the fireplace, with its crackling fire of driftwood, for the evening is cool, although it is August. A little later I am shown to my berth in the men's compartment on the second floor. The carpenter had built plain wooden berths in tiers of two each, and these have had boughs of cedar laid in them on which I roll in my blankets and sleep soundly. A similar compartment is provided for the women of the party, and here our chaperon gathers her charge. The sounds of the retreating tide as the waves lap upon the rocks lull our senses, and we sink into such a sleep as only those can enjoy who live in camp.
The roar of the breakers wakes us early, and I go down to the beach and walk along its rocky ledges for half a mile and watch the swaying kelps (Nereocystis) and the nodding sea palms (Postelsia) as the waves dash over them. A messenger comes to call me to the breakfast I am forgetting, and we hurry back by a short cut over the neck of a promontory, crossing a canyon on the trunk of a fallen spruce five or six feet in diameter. On its upper side it carries several large trees, and yet its wood is as sound as when it fell a century or so ago. After breakfast the sub-director instructs her class in seaweeds for a couple of hours, when the director takes them and goes down the beach in search of those giant brown plants of the ocean, called kelps. He leads us a merry scramble, and at last finds what he is looking for (Dictyoneuron californicum) and sits on a boulder and gives us an open air lecture upon kelps in general and this one in particular. At its conclusion he announces that we must hurry back in order not to be late to dinner, for promptness in all things is the rule in this school. He who does not appear at meal time doesn't get any meal, that is all. It is a simple rule, and it is very effective.
After the noon meal the geologist takes his class out for their first lecture, finding a rocky, water-worn cove close by the water, where
we gather while he tells of the agency of water in rock formation and sculpture, with the cove itself as an example. No method of instruction could be more simple, none more effective. After the lecture we wander for hours over the rocks and study the strata in the cliffs above us. When we get tired of rocks we peer into the tide-pools and study the wonderful vegetation, of a kind all unknown to the inland botanist. Then we poke the spiny sea urchins in their snug niches in the pools, and pester the curious sea anemones, which are to be found everywhere. We watch the crabs, who in turn watch us and scuttle away sidewise with a very knowing look in their funny eyes. And thus the days go. There is always something a-going. One evening a mysterious play regarding the 'Hodag' is performed in a lantern-lighted dell in the forest, followed by a sober lecture upon the superstitions of mankind and the difficulties met with in attempting to eradicate them. Another evening a scientific comedy is enacted, followed by a lecture on the structure and activities of the cell, which the play illustrated. Near the close of the session an evening is given to athletic sports, and another to a social dance, in which the music is furnished by a squeaking phonograph.
On the last Sunday evening the geologist gave us an address on 'Science and Religion,' and on the night before camp was broken up the writer hereof gave the closing address on 'The Place of Science in Education.' Yes, we were busy, and learned a great deal not only about the plants and animals and rocks, but many other things as well. The director proved himself a genius in his management of the school and camp, and when we broke up we parted from him with the keenest regret.
Who goes to such a summer school you ask? That can be answered best by giving a list of those who were there this season. First there were the officials, director, sub-director, chaperon, geologist, doctor and professor. Then the students were a Chicago school teacher, a St. Paul high school teacher of science, three university instructors, two Minneapolis teachers, an Illinois high school teacher of science, six university students and one high school student. The writer may be included here as the guest, making a party of twenty-two in all. I can not think of a more helpful session of combined study and 'outing,' nor of a more natural and effective method of giving and receiving instruction than that in this seaside summer school on Vancouver Island.