Sunday, June 26, 2022

Bio Station sees return of educational programs

by Ian Withrow
| May 19, 2021 2:00 AM

I’d like to start off today by acknowledging the elephant in the room. I’m sure you all are aware, but…there was no Deep Dive column last month. Believe me, the absence has been as difficult for me to process as it undoubtedly was for you. How devastated you all must have been to discover your favorite column in the entire Flathead Watershed (if not America, probably) was nowhere to be found. I’m truly sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, I do have a perfectly legitimate explanation as to why the column never made it to print.


Ian Withrow

A short while ago, on a day very much like this one, I was drinking some tea and watching through the window as a group of kids coasted by on skateboards outside. Without warning, I heard myself say to an empty room, “Those kids better get some coats on. This isn’t t-shirt weather!” And in the potent stillness that followed, the cold reality sank in. The facts were no longer in question: I had officially mutated into a Grown-Up.

It was the suddenness of the transformation that struck me. One day, I’m jumping through sprinklers and avoiding floors made of lava, and the next I’m turning down the volume so I can drive better in traffic and exclusively wearing New Balance shoes. Not that I don’t enjoy some of these developments. I’ve long believed cargo shorts to be among humanity’s finest achievements, and there is no greater source of entertainment than giving the barbeque tongs a few solid clacks on the way to the grill. But in the aftermath of my Grown-Up discovery, I began to question: Was this the end of my childhood wonder? Would it mean no more marshmallow cereal, or couch cushion forts, or early morning cartoons?

In 2020, like so many businesses and organizations out there, we were forced to cancel all in-person activities. This meant no college courses, no community outreach events, and no Flathead Lake Aquatic Research Education K-12 (FLARE K-12) field trips. FLARE K-12 educators quickly adapted their programs, creating virtual field trips and innovative online curricula to keep local schools connected with the science of the Flathead Watershed. But for over a year, the Bio Station campus has been blanketed by a fundamental quiet, making it all too easy to dwell on the implications of one’s age.

But in 2021, as April turned to May, something changed. Thanks to the incredible hard work and dedication of our healthcare industry and so many others, the grip of this insidious pandemic is loosening. The days are growing warmer, the future is looking brighter, and FLARE K-12 is once again able to safely bring students and teachers out of the classroom and into the field. Our program has already hosted several in-person field trips, and recently took part in the Flathead Watershed Through The Seasons teacher workshop at Lone Pine State Park.

This week, FLARE K-12 is partnering with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Flathead Lakers, and Montana State Parks to host a Mussel Walk for middle school students. Another Mussel Walk is in the works with the Boys & Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation, and additional Bio Station field trips are on the schedule as we close out the month.

Does this mean things are back to normal at FLBS? No, but it’s definitely a start. Spring is the time of renewal, after all, and age is a perspective that slides down a relative scale. I admit that my days of getting off the couch without groaning are long gone, but I refuse to let a silly thing like responsibility take my childhood wonder away.

The return of FLARE K-12 gave me a front-row reminder of what it means to be a kid on the brink of summer, at the forefront of discovery, with the mysteries of the world at your fingertips. It was just the reawakening I needed, because adult brains can fixate on the wrong kinds of things, and despite our best efforts we never really lose our innermost child. It may be buried beneath the cynicism, and aches, and heart-healthy fiber. But it still exists, and it still thrives on marshmallows, and it still dances to a soundtrack of cartoons and sprinklers…

But it also thinks you should have a coat on, because in all seriousness it looks like it’s going to rain.