Hermit Island
September 2021

Samantha would not be stopped. She simply could not quit until we found a sea star. Wading through tidepools up to her armpits, she was on a mission, and knowing they only live in the deeper water, it took real commitment. Waves pushed us from one spot, overhead water from another, until finally we found ourselves at the last possible option at the tip of the furthest point. And with only minutes to spare before exploration time was over, we spotted the only sea star we’d seen all day in chest deep water. With only slight hesitation and after some coaching and encouragement, under Sam went — head and shoulders — emerging with a purple sea star larger than her hand. Cheers from the shoreline celebrated her efforts.

For years Hartsbrook has been joining Waldorf schools from around the country to study zoology and tidal ecosystems on the coast of Maine. Hermit Island is remarkable in that, in one place, you can easily access rocky intertidal tide pools, estuarine salt marshes, beaches and dunes all within short walks from the camping sites. Each is a unique ecosystem, yet they are all intimately tied to one another. It’s an ecologist’s dream! While we were not able to join the other schools this year, thanks to the support of teachers and families, we made our own trip happen.

We spent days exploring the coast of Maine, including a hike up nearby Morse Mountain where, from the rounded granite peak, we could see a birds-eye view of all the ecosystems we were there to study. In the rocky intertidal, students inventoried species and learned the history of the bedrock in the area. On the beaches we learned the science of tides and key plant species critical to dune ecosystems and the students created land art using natural materials. The students also spent a beautiful afternoon composing watercolor paintings on the beach. We even took advantage of the low tide to explore the squelching mud and unique species of the tidal mudflats including milky ribbon worms, soft shell clams, and bloodworms, washing off in the chilly ocean afterward.

Special thanks to Alex Workman for making the trip happen when many would have given up. Big thanks to all the parents who helped with logistics before the trip and Jim Peirmarini who planned food for the trip and led students in cooking truly impressive meals. And thanks to students for sleeping outdoors, making fires with wet wood, telling stories, and dragging themselves out of the tents in the morning. I’m already looking forward to next year!

— Peter Sniffen, Earth Sciences