Thursday, June 7, 2018

Field Tripping

With summer vacation perched promisingly on the horizon, it is school field trip season. This was apparent last week in Boston, where I traveled with my older two children and their class for a full day of city exploration – and where around every corner we found a new group of school kids following some similar agenda.

Not Franconia's skyline.
Whether it’s touring the big city or taking a closer look at a local landmark, the kids always look forward to field trips. Partly, I think, this is because they are sprung from the confines and routines of school. Mostly, though, it’s because they get to explore some new place – or a familiar place in a new way.

Over the years, the kids have been on an interesting mix of school trips, and I’ve been lucky to tag along on lots of them. Among their favorites they list the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, with its engaging planetarium discussions and eclectic range of displays; the state house in Concord, where they sat in the Senate chambers and high-fived the governor; and the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, where they’ve learned about animal habits and habitats.

Last week, my younger daughter’s class visited the Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park. While the Flume is just down the road from school, many of the kids had not been here before the field trip.

Caught up in the excitement of being outside on a gorgeous day, the kids seemed somewhat oblivious to the natural beauty that attracts people from all over the world to this place virtually in our back yard. These kids are, after all, growing up surrounded by green things and mountain views. But trips like this give them a chance to learn a bit more about the natural history around them.

Between scrambling across the many glacial erratics along the path, feeling the cool mist from water spilling over the 45-foot-high Avalanche Falls, and clambering through the Bear Cave and the Wolf Den, the children paused – ever so briefly – to notice wildflowers blooming on the forest floor, chipmunks scampering near the trail, woodpecker holes drilled in neat rows into a birch tree, and the calling of a barred owl from somewhere nearby.

The next day, this chaperone went from meandering through the natural wonders of the Flume to pounding the pavement – and cobblestones – of Bean Town. The Boston trip is an annual tradition at my kids’ school, and one the fifth and sixth graders look forward to all year. It’s a long day – starting with boarding the coach bus just after 6 a.m. and ending some 15 hours later when the bus pulls back into the school lot.

This year’s Boston trip included a walk along the Freedom Trail. The students toured Paul Revere’s house and listened to the tale of Revere’s midnight ride at the Old North Church, wandered through Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, scaled the 294 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, and even got to climb aboard the USS Constitution before returning to Faneuil Hall Marketplace for dinner.

Any one of those places holds enough historical import to fill a book.

Beyond the history, though, and the chance to take a first-person look at some of the things they’ve learned at school, the Boston trip is an experience these country kids – and their chaperoning parents – don’t have every day. The busyness and noise of the city, with all the unfamiliar smells and its skyline of tall buildings rather than tall mountains, is so starkly different than the pace of home.

Just as city life seems distant from our more rural existence, so does history often seem distant when considered from the pages of a book. But walking along the route of that history makes it a bit more real. It is easier, then, to notice the connections between the past and the present, this place and other places.

One of these is that the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill monument was laid by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825. Lafayette, though French, was a hero of the American Revolutionary War, and when he toured this country five decades after the United States had declared its independence, he was met everywhere he went by adoring Americans.

The day after he visited what would become the Bunker Hill monument, Lafayette headed north, to New Hampshire. The mountain that occupies a large portion of the horizon here in Franconia is named in the Marquis’ honor – Mount Lafayette. My children’s school is named for the mountain, which they can see from the playground. Mount Lafayette stands at the northern end of the Franconia Range, which traverses south across Mount Lincoln to reach Mount Liberty and then Mount Flume, down which Flume Brook flows to reach the Flume Gorge.

How fun to join field trips to a place close to home and one farther away – places connected, even if obscurely, through the threads of history that wind from city to town, over mountains and along rivers, from long ago to now. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her blog, Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the June 8, 2018 issue of the Littleton Record.