About six miles from the one room school where I attended kindergarten through the sixth grade, a land formation rose like a tower above the flat farmland of the Thumb of Michigan. Local residents called this Deanville Mountain. It was not truly a mountain, but it seemed so to us. Our teacher took us there in her car many times. By that time I was in the fifth grade, and only nine of us were enrolled in the school, so she was able to pack our small bodies in her car, where we giggled all the way to the top of Deanville Mountain. At the top, as we all knew from our rides to the Burnside drive-in with our parents, we could see Lake Huron, shimmering blue in the distance, at least thirty miles to the east.
Geology and prehistoric Michigan:
Once there, we heard lectures about how the glaciers had swept over Michigan, flattening the land, but that in this spot, the glaciers had pushed a large deposit of gravel and sand over limestone deposits. Here, since it was being cut away in spots by gravel mining, we could see the evidence of geologic time for ourselves. We looked for and found fossils and from more recent times, arrowheads. At the top of the hill, we found a boulder with a depression in the center worn smooth; our teacher speculated that Native American women, grinding corn into corn meal, might have worn this hollow bowl in the stone. Each of us touched the smooth bowl with our fingers, awed by this new idea.
The artesian well:
One fall day, when we all tired of trying to learn flora identification from books, she drove us again to Deanville Mountain. At the top of the hill, she turned the car down a road we had not traveled before. After a mile or so, she turned into a wooded trail, which eventually opened up into a small clearing where she stopped the car. The first thing I heard was the sound of running water. It was a short walk to a straight pipe about two inches in diameter out of which was flowing a steady stream of water. She invited us to catch the water in our hands and drink. It was the coldest, most teeth-chattering water I had ever tasted. We learned from her about underground streams and artesian wells.
Then she gave each of us a paper grocery bag and told us to go into the woods off the trail and find as many different leaves, fronds, and seeds as we could find and put them in our sacks. We spent the rest of the afternoon in this way, discovering the natural world around us. The next day, we made our own flora handbooks, matching leaves and seeds to the pictures in our text. It was a lasting lesson.
Learning about my world and my sense of place:
Would I have learned so well the idea of the artesian well, without tasting water straight from the pipe? Or would I know the difference between poplar, birch, oak, sugar and silver maple, box elder and the different types of conifer without that day? I might, but when I thought of them, it would be without the magic of that warm late summer day in September, where light fell on the leaves in a new way; I was learning about my world most convincingly, by being immersed in it. I was involved in both idea and sensation at the same time, and without this connection, the word “artesian” would not make me smile. It may seem to the world a small place, that one room classroom, but the walls often seemed so transparent that the room extended for miles around.