by Kiri Guyaz and Pam Elwell
“If once you have slept on an island, you’ll never be quite the same…”
—From “North of Time” by Rachel Lyman Field
The scent of salt on the breeze, the cry of gulls winging over, the soft endless song of the waves, the freedom of the boat lifting through the water—the best classes begin this way, with learning that is immersive, experiential and always intensive.
For three days in mid-July, two MHS staff, assistant librarian, Kiri Guyaz, and IT Ed Tech, Pam Elwell, participated in Photography Across the Curriculum, a workshop offered by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) at the Burnt Island Light Station just off the coast from Boothbay Harbor. These learning opportunities are residential programs designed for the creative educator. Sharing ideas with other educators is one of the greatest benefits to these gatherings. In addition to the MHS staff were two science teachers, three art teachers (one of whom is also a children’s book author) a librarian, a gifted and talented teacher, a social studies teacher, and an English teacher. Several people also work as photographers on the side.
The course began with a ride on a converted lobster boat out to the island. The captain was the very energetic Elaine Jones, DMR’s educational director as well as the driving force behind the Maine State Aquarium, the lighthouse restoration, and the living history program on Burnt Island. She also tells a fabulous ghost story!
Students explored and photographed a variety of ecosystems and their inhabitants, learned about and then practiced photographic techniques, engaged in critiques and feedback sessions, learned about flora and fauna, and were educated about both the maritime and natural history of the island. Learning frequently began with sunrise shoots and continued past sunset, with most activities out in the field, in the woods, on the rocks, and occasionally in the water.
Working on the island at sea presented countless opportunities to learn, grow and stretch one’s skill set; even the weather served up a wide variety of conditions and changing light. For the first half of the workshop, the island was enshrouded in fog—Kiri was even able to catch an uncommon meteorological phenomenon, a fogbow—a white rainbow made of tiny fog droplets. It was a hidden world, such as the way a sailboat would emerge briefly, like a ghost ship floating in a horizonless world, only to swiftly disappear.
Especially fun and challenging was teaching oneself new techniques—such as capturing the endlessly rolling waves in varying stages—in softly-blurred, flowing motion, or droplets frozen in a split-second instant. Whether hunting hermit crabs on the beach, capturing old-man’s beard lichen draped on the trees, finding a tidepool reflection of the lighthouse, or catching dawnlight on daylilies, students had an infinite choice of subjects. And along with the technical study, there was always time to reconnect and gain a sense of place—which is part of the magic of discovery on an island.
If you are intrigued by these programs, visit http://www.maine.gov/dmr/education/burnt-island/courses.html.