Humor: Field Tripping
Spring has arrived and a tremendous roar is reverberating across the countryside. This clamor is not just from fleets of ginormous tractors pulling corn planters that are the size of a 747. The main source of this noise is coming from hordes of schoolchildren shouting “Woo-hoo! School’s out!”
When I was a grade-schooler, the month of May was essentially a long, slow glided slope from the soaring altitudes of academia into the lazy days of summer vacation. Once the weather warmed, our teachers knew better than to try to teach us anything new. They knew we had little interest in learning about gerunds or how to multiply fractions or the causes and consequences of the Peloponnesian war. They knew that, for many kids like me, the scent of lilac blossoms was a drug that would put us into a state of dreamy indolence.
One method the school administration used to cope with this lack of learning was to take us kids out on field trips. The idea was that we would be exposed to new things, yet we wouldn’t be confined to the classroom where we would only loll about in the throes of spring fever.
My understanding is that taking students on field trips nowadays involves lengthy legal release forms that have to be signed by the parents and the faculty and be notarized by at least one Supreme Court justice. In my day, the school would take us on field trips and hope to bring back approximately the same number of kids.
One of my most memorable field trips happened the spring when I was in first grade. We were taken to the nearby metropolis of Sinai, home to 130 cheerful souls and a grumpy old tomcat. Some sort of track and field event was being held at Sinai High School. I didn’t really understand what was going on; all I knew was that there were mobs of kids running maniacally to and fro on the school’s lawn.
The high school had been built close to a slough. As I recall, there was a low retaining wall that had been erected next to the slough. I suppose the idea of the wall was to keep kids from venturing too close to the murky muck of the swamp. But it wasn’t as if the wall encircled the entire pond; all a boy had to do to defeat its purpose was to walk a ways.
We had been sternly warned to stay away from the wall. This, of course, only caused it to become the focus of infinite fascination.
I was maniacally tearing around with the other kids when a rumor arose regarding the discovery of a duck’s nest. Always eager to learn new things and have new experiences (and looking for an excuse to flirt with the forbidden), I scurried off with a bevy of boys toward the retaining wall.
As we neared the wall, a hen mallard exploded from the adjacent reeds, scolding us with stern quacks of maternal anger. Someone said something about eggs, so I climbed up onto the wall to get a better view. Seconds after I reached the summit of the wall, I toppled over and into the slough.
I am a committed and lifelong nonswimmer, so you can imagine my terror when I landed in the drink. My panic swiftly subsided when I discovered that the water barely reached my knees.
I scrambled out of the chilly and aromatic water. The other boys chortled at my clumsiness, and I tried to convince them that this had been my plan all along. No sale. Fibbing with shoes full of water has never been my strong suit.
We eventually located the duck’s nest and her eggs. Somebody said something about taking the eggs, but I personally didn’t care to risk it. The hen had seemed incredibly angry at merely being disturbed; I couldn’t imagine what she might have done had we opted to raid her nest. I bet there isn’t a legal release form on the planet that would have covered what may have happened next.
I spent the rest of the day listening to the squish, squish of my shoes as I walked. On the plus side, no one could argue that my feet weren’t clean.
I actually learned a lot from that field trip. I learned that my balance wasn’t all that keen, and that the odor of slough water isn’t much of an improvement over the smell of old socks.
Above all, I leaned that an upset mother of any species is a force to be reckoned with.
Jerry Nelson’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.