Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tropical Forest Adventures

We recently spent a week in the forests of tropical Belize.  This was fitting, as it was our Tropical Forest Ecology course.  In fact, professor Jeff Port (Bethel University) took this quite seriously and made sure that we spent as little time in the building classroom, and as much time in the forest classroom as possible.

Learning about the strangler fig, a parasitic plant that grows around and smothers trees

Between the Chiquibul Forest Reserve (part of the largest national park in Belize) and our own 17-acre campus, there was no scarcity of things to explore, discover and learn from in the wilderness.  Thankfully we also had Jeff's expansive wealth of knowledge to help us focus our lenses and teach us the things that nature couldn't overtly tell us.

Gallivanting about in the forest with notebooks and binoculars in hand, we got to do and see some pretty amazing stuff.  For example:

See the dewlap of an anole (a male anole will display his brightly-colored dewlap to assert territorial dominance or attract a mate).

Try a taste of a termite (yes, you can eat them!  They taste like carrots or mint, depending on whom you ask).

Marissa grabs an unsuspecting termite off its mound

Have class literally in the middle of the (beautiful) bush,

Learning about relationships and adaptations in the forest

Eat lunch at the mouth of a cave.

Rio Frio cave in southwestern Belize

See Christmas plants in 80-degree weather.

Taylor discovers that we have poinsettia trees on our campus

And if you're lucky, you may even get the opportunity to push Harvey, our 15-passenger van, through some mud.

Handprint aftermath

One of the favorite activities of the week was mist-netting with birds.

Mara, Eric and Taylor scrutinize a Spot-breasted wren

Jeff, who has professional training in catching and banding birds, showed us how to catch some birds and hold them (without harming them), study them a little bit and let them go in a short enough time so as not to stress them out.

A Tawny-crowned greenlet

The stunning Blue bunting

Some of the students even got the chance to hold a bird in their open palms when Jeff was ready to release it.  Many times, the bird would lie there resting for a few moments before it realized that it was free to fly away (which was quite amusing).

Ren enraptured by the Ochre-bellied flycatcher

Rachel overcomes her fear of birds with the help of an adorably
 oblivious Dusky antbird

We certainly learned a lot from our adventures, and as usual the Belizean forest did not disappoint!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Dreams of A Better World

Part 2 of our God & Nature course was nothing short of inspiring and thought provoking.  Professor Corwynn Beals (George Fox University) invited us to try on different lenses for the week as he presented theological and philosophical questions surrounding issues such as good, evil, and humans' place in separating and judging things as such.

He also led us through a bit of self-exploration to uncover some of our core beliefs that affect why we choose to live the ways that we live.  Once we uncovered these, and analyzed the deception and/or truth in them, we thought about what some of the core beliefs of our culture are, and how these may be hindering us from achieving the dreams that God has for his world.

There were several incredibly hopeful moments throughout the class.  One powerful instance was when the students all sat down together and brainstormed about dreams for how to create a better world, based on the discussion and reading they had been doing all week.  They also thought individually on the matter and presented papers with practical, first-step solutions that they could carry out back home.

A theme woven throughout the week was having class in outdoor settings, whether that was on our 2nd floor deck, walking along the Mopan River, standing in the water at Monkey Falls, or hiking to the place where the Macal & Mopan rivers meet up to form the Belize River.  True to its title, this week was certainly one that more deeply informed our relationships with both God and nature.

Hanging out at Monkey Falls after class

foot bridge over the Mopan river

Many thanks to Corwynn for leading such an influential and valuable week!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Food & Faith & Volleyball

During the first week of our God & Nature course, professor Uko Zylstra (Calvin College) took us through some pretty tough issues.  We thought a lot about food ethics, how nutrition relates to our faith, and the interconnectedness of ecological health, human health, economic health and community health.  We also took a look at the Bible through an agrarian lens, with the help of Ellen Davis' book, "Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture."

In between classes this week, we found many opportunities to enjoy our jungle campus.  Among other things, we cooled off in the river a few times,

and played some volleyball in the garden.

Lauren serves it up

It was supposed to be a friendly, relaxed event, but professor Uko brought his game face and it quickly became competitive, as he had warned us it would.

Canadian vs Canadian

Besides learning about Uko's volleyball skills, one of the main points that students ascertained from this week is that how we eat connects very closely to (and should thoughtfully reflect) our faith as followers of Christ.  This is something that we will continue to explore and put into practice throughout the rest of the semester here at CCSP.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Classrooms With Currents

We recently got our first taste of tropical ecosystems here at CCSP Belize by studying streams.  Belize is a country full of rivers, streams, creeks and other various waterways.  It is easy to see here (perhaps easier than in the States) that people rely directly upon these freshwater sources for everyday needs.  But it is not only Belizeans who depend on the health of streams - the health of the whole world depends on the health of its freshwater sources.

The Mopan river
With the help of Gordon College professor Dorothy Boorse's positivity, encouragement, excitement about streams, and vast amount of knowledge, we learned a great deal during our Stream Ecology course: why are streams so important?  How can we find out how healthy or unhealthy they are?  What other web of factors affects streams (and what other web of factors do streams affect)?  How can we better protect our streams?  In addition, we learned about some of the different critters that live in the streams, such as snails, fish, tadpoles, and macro invertebrates.

Not only did we learn about such things in the classroom, but we also got into actual streams to observe them for ourselves.

Lauren & Marissa search the bank for macro invertebrates with professor Dorothy

Mara, Taylor & Rachel battle the current to measure the dimensions of
the stream bed

Jeremy & Eric go upstream to hunt for more critters

One great thing about Stream Ecology week is that having fun is inevitable while immersing oneself in all the different streams.  At one particularly beautiful location, we stayed extra long to get a little recreational swimming time.

Monkey Falls, a popular local swimming hole

Exploring the pool at Monkey Falls