Moments of Wonder

In the closet of my childhood bedroom there are rows and rows of shoeboxes, each one carefully labelled in black permanent marker: Bagamoyo 2002, Zanzibar 2004, Pt. Roberts 2006. Inside each box is a treasure trove of beach glass, small bits of driftwood, and oddly shaped pebbles that have been collected from every beach I traveled to as a child. Holding a smooth and twisted piece of driftwood in my hand, I can conjure the smell of seaweed and the wonder I felt when I first held this small piece of wood.

Where did it come from? What forces sanded and warped it into its present shape? How did it arrive on this beach? I imagined a strong tree, grown from a tiny seed, that crashed down in a storm. I imagined strong currents that carried the tree many miles away until it reached an ocean. I imagined sand and rocks in the water, smoothing and shaping the tree until all that was left was the gnarled piece of wood that I held in my hand. As a child, I could spend hours marveling at the objects and organisms I found on the shore.

As an adult, I know it’s very important to leave things as they are–and the only things I take with me are photos–but the sense of wonder I experienced in my youth remains as strong as ever. I think those childhood experiences are what keep drawing me back to quiet and beautiful natural places. I can still spend hours watching a creek flow, marveling at the forces that created a boulder, or sketching a leaf I’ve never seen before.


Here at the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute we focus on place-based education because it connects people to the places and spaces where they leave. We provide students with opportunities to experience wonder as they explore the Gorge and learn about the ecosystems within it. During my first week here I found a collection of notes and sketches from students that had been left in a field trip bin. As I sorted through the pile I encountered the following poem and was struck by how deeply it resonated with me:

“I wonder about the tall, tall / Trees / I wonder about the small, small leafs / I think and I wonder / about the wonderful nature / And I ask, / how much do I know?”

These are questions that I am wondering myself as I experience the Columbia Gorge for the first time. I am finding my own moments of wonder in each day, and I know that there will be many more to come as I continue to learn about the ecosystems of our forest (and shrub-steppe!) home. I look forward to sharing this new year of learning and exploration with students from across the Gorge as we experience moments of wonder–together.


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