~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ quercus quetzalcoatlus

paleontology camp!

there was quite a bit of sand spilling out of the lint trap in the dryer as i restarted the bulging load of size 14 clothing for another cycle. Every pair of underwear but the two extras were worn; all socks; all shirts and pants; when the second batch of instagram photos of paleontology camp came across my feed, my very first thought, “look at his big smile!” was immediately followed by: “he’s wearing a different shirt!”

i got to hear a lot about the people he spent his week with on the ride back from camp, in between him tuning me out to participate in the group text chat the six campers had set up with each other. Conveniently for the purposes of this blog post, they had given each other nicknames. Quinn had become quetzalcoatlus, then morphed into pretzel. The others were bob (previously known as D from L.A.), remus (also CA), frizzie (WI), lead (WA), and k.k. (WA). The leaders, birt and kamel, had also taken on camp nicknames. Frizzie plans to specialize in birds and pterosaurs (such as the aforementioned quetzalcoatlus), bob is headed into paleobiology, but the common theme was that all six of them plan on getting PhDs, quinn’s in dinosaur paleontology. He recalled remus’s question about how many PhDs one could accumulate before getting kicked out of school. Kids on fire to learn!

Their days structured themselves around hikes and museum forays, with a clear division of labor in camp. The leaders prepared dinners, while the campers made their own breakfasts and lunches. bagels and cream cheese for breakfast; for lunch, sandwiches or wraps, goldfish crackers and granola bars. The van became known as the fishbowl, and the six campers themselves as the goldfish, for the sheer number of packages of goldfish crackers they consumed. While leaders prepared dinner, the campers set up all the tents, including those of the leaders. Quinn shared a tent with bob. Among the fossils he brought home was a plain old rock, “my stake-pounding rock!” The campers were also responsible for washing the dishes after meals. Quinn talked about this without any hint of resentment over “chores.”

“Did you know that only one single dinosaur fossil has ever been unearthed in Oregon? And it was a toe from a madrasaur? And it was found by Thomas Condon? He is who the Paleontology Research Station in John Day is named after.” I asked quinn how he was feeling about how the study of paleontology is not limited to the study of dinosaur fossils, the topic of a heated moment we shared a few months ago. At the time, he had felt devastated that his understanding of his dream job was all a lie, and his future was now ruined. It passed. Now he has seen fossils from turtles, plants, mouse deer, “and a very old pig!”

Day 1 Sunday

They drove east that first day into the mountains and hiked somewhere near Sisters, then camped. Before leaving the museum, they had to find one scientific name in the collection sharing the first letter of their name; quinn found Quercus, an oak leaf.

He said the hike that day contained more wildlife than paleontology, and they learned some of the plants currently flowering in the region: beargrass, lupine, and another pink flower whose identity they weren’t sure of.

Their cooking device was missing the correct hose, so they needed to cook dinner over a fire that first night. The kids decided pinecones might work well as kindling, and they lit right up!

Day 2 Monday

They would spend the next two days in the John Day fossil beds/painted hills area of eastern oregon. They finished the drive there, set up camp, and hiked and visited the Thomas Condon Research Center that day.

Day 3 Tuesday

John Day all day!

Day 4 wednesday

They finished up in John Day and packed up, spending a long driving day to Newport, set up camp in Beverly Beach and explored for fossils.

“By the way, mama, we are going to need to get a trash bag or something capable of holding large fossils and take it back to beverly beach to collect my fossil deposit.”

Day 5 Thursday

This was the day they had been planning on going to Florence to see Kamel’s research on fossil pinnipeds (floppy-swimmies) but it was raining and they decided to stay at Beverly Beach. Birt’s tent flooded so they needed to re-do her tent set up.

“Birt slept well that night.”

They went to the aquarium that day instead, communed with modern floppy-swimmies, and took showers back at the state park.

Day 6 Friday

This was the last day of camp, and they woke up, broke camp, and drove back to Eugene. They went on one hike on the way which culminated in some sand dunes where they played on a rope swing (this could have been somewhere around florence, but quinn didn’t know for sure.)

the folder quinn returned home with contained a bundle of good reading material about fossil formations, geologic processes, and animal phylogenies. i know it will be a resource he will look at later! the pile of rocks that came home provides another tangible reminder of camp!

the other kind of tracks

The goldfish made up several songs during their time together. A reimagining of from now on from the greatest showman turned into “And we will go back home, and we will eat these fish. Gold….fish….”

They rewrote hakuna matata using “the Birt will Durn,” the phrase uttered by Birt which earned her the nickname, because of the sausage that fell in the dirt on the first night, and her justification for going ahead and eating it anyway after re-exposing it to the flames.

A whole new world was in the process of becoming a song about basalt. “Unbelievable rocks, indescribable basalt…. A Very Old Rock…”

Finally, there was a song being written by Remus about bagels and cream cheese.


While paying half attention to a tilt podcast, i was directed to this thought-provoking ready for adulthood checklist from the author of the book happy campers.

in that regard, i see how camp encouraged his growth towards independence and self-responsibility. It gave him a taste of being truly responsible for himself in a way he hasn’t experienced before. i also appreciated how the group took care of each other (tent set up, dish cleaning). He may not have packed each day’s outfit in its own gallon ziplock bag the way i did when i went to camp, but he went ahead and wore the clothes anyway! It may seem like i’m making a big deal about his clothing changes, but i witnessed him wear the same shirt 3 days in a row for outdoor school just last month; and that was with a mama chaperone in the live studio audience, letting him know i saw that he was still wearing the same shirt again and reminding him to think about changing it at his earliest convenience.

Summertime learning

Quinn’s adventures in learning tag program day camp ran for two weeks, and we managed a carpooling arrangement that got him to the OSU campus each day. His chosen class schedule included united we solve, mathcraft, lego robotics, and create your own country! I think he enjoyed them all; at first create your own country was his favorite, but when the novelty wore off and the countries he and his classmates created had all cornered the market in the various limiting resources, he began saying more things about lego robotics in the evenings. I know the puzzles class was right up his alley as well!

Swim lessons – 4 of the 5 summer swim lessons took place this month. We will pick up again when school starts with one every other week so he can keep building skills!

I took quinn with me this year to oregon country fair – it has been a while since he was there! He experienced it through a much different set of more grown up eyes. At the same time, the magic of fair elicits from each of us the wonder of a much younger child no matter what age we are. We stopped in our wanderings to watch a parade go by and attended a concert by the march 4th marching band. We became absorbed for quite some time at an interactive musical art installation consisting of the innards of several pianos bolted to a structure; an assortment of the hammers were available for use around the panels of strings, waiting for passers by to experiment with sound by tapping on them. Food was a big focus, and quinn enjoyed a strawberry lemonade and a kabob (he thinks meat lollipops are yum) for lunch while rich and i shared souvlaki. Quinn mostly absorbed quietly and did not express many desires for most of the day while we walked around, but i coaxed him into trying out the handmade marimbas, and a young dad nearby broke into a grin and bopped his head to quinn’s rendition of take on me. While we watched another concert (the shook twins and john craigie) he was having to dig for the stamina to carry on with standing in the crowd, but the simple distraction of putting on my overshirt, tying knots in it, and letting me dance him around, was enough to lighten his mood. Late in the afternoon he finally made his requests known: ice cream, and to watch “one of the plays.” We had walked past several plays in action throughout the day, but he hadn’t shown any sign of wanting to stop, so by this time of day, he had to settle for some acrobatics performances, which he felt was suitable. After his raspberry ice cream, we ordered burritos for dinner, and it was time for us to make our way homeward with just one more stop to buy three sets of fairy dragon wings for our three pancakes.

At karate, he started learning green belt techniques this month. Our sifu’s sifu visited, and quinn wanted to maximize his time at the dojo to overlap with his time here. Sifu Diaz always remembers quinn each time he visits, and is so warm and friendly to all of us. He wanted to watch the kids’ activity known as jump tag (something he hadn’t experienced) before we got down to the business of belt testing. This was my turn to test, and quinn attended as a spectator, and turned out to have observed quite a lot of details about my test, in spite of sitting on the floor in the back with his face in a book. Our dojo marched in the local summerfest parade again this year, and that night rich, quinn and i watched fireworks together.

family firework gazing

family cloud gazing

In usual summer fashion, quinn spent a few days in “office camp” at my work, armed with audio books (he got caught up on wings of fire) and khan academy (he worked on programming, but also thinks he might be interested in the chemistry course, since he can see that the “balancing chemical equations” and “periodic table” units are near the beginning). He also figured out how to watch naruto episodes that aren’t found on netflix, by you tubing them in japanese and reading subtitles. I asked if he was learning any words and he said no, because he had determined that the words are all in a different order from english! Something tells me that if he is determining the order of the words, it is only a matter of time before he starts translating… i love the unexpected learning that can take place in the unstructured pockets of summer.

2 comments to ~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ quercus quetzalcoatlus

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>