“Every child should experience this!”
I moved to the lush Pacific Northwest from my home state of Colorado with my husband in 1980 after graduating from the University of Colorado the year before. Our first years were spent in Seattle. It wasn’t until our young family moved to Bellingham in 1993 that I truly began to explore this new place I now called home. Those islands I could see through the trees piqued my curiosity. Colorado had nothing like that. I heard killer whales lived around them. How amazing it would be to see such majestic creatures in the wild.
Then, one rainy June Sunday in 1994, it happened. My family was sitting, waiting at Lime Kiln Point State Park on the westside of San Juan Island! Puff…whales…in the kelp…by the rocks…right in front of us! We were on land! They were right off shore! They came to us! I could not believe our good fortune. It was all it took. I was hooked! Later that year my son’s fourth grade class took a field trip on a whale watching boat. The whales came again, this time out in the open water. J pod dazzled students with their joyful antics leaving boys and girls alike giddy with awe. Every child who lives here should experience this I thought to myself. That was the day the seed for the field trip was planted.
Lime Kiln Point became my place of wonder and refuge. My time there stretched from day trips to week long camping trips at the county park just up the road. The whales roamed the waters regularly right off shore in search of salmon during the summer providing numerous exceptional encounters with my kayak and from land. Their presence mesmerized me. At times I felt they knew what I was thinking creating my own mystical bond with these creatures. Many people feel it in their own way. My feeling kept me coming back for more.
I went back to school in 2007 and earned my teaching certificate from Western Washington University, the same year our youngest graduated from high school. After teaching for two years, my husband and I chose a more flexible schedule and I returned to subbing while contemplating where I wanted to focus my efforts. My thoughts of “Every child should experience this” from that day on that field trip kept coming to mind. The whales had inspired and soothed me so much over the years. They were now an endangered species as a result of human actions. The more I experienced them, the more I cared. The more I cared, the more I learned. The more I learned, the more I wanted to act. It was my time to give back and share what I’d learned with others.
Sharing the experience of the killer whales and their plight is one way to capture the attention of the young curious mind. Young people learn their actions make a difference to the whales, but it goes far beyond that. Caring for the killer whales results in caring for the environment since everything that happens on land affects the health of the Salish Sea and the food webs it contains. The same elements that impact the sea’s health, impact ours. Students are empowered by learning how simple things like recycling and picking up trash and dog poop protect marine life inspiring them to become tomorrow’s environmental stewards and protect the place we all call home – the watershed of the Salish Sea and all that is in it.