“We’re going on a field trip!” I announced breathlessly to my mother. I was a fifth-grader with braces on my teeth, too-short bangs, and long brown braids. After attending school in a small Alaska village and on a Montana Indian reservation, I was now in Tulare, California, at Wilson Elementary. School. The field trip was to a lumber mill.

So, what is a field trip? A field trip is an outing by a group of people away from their normal environment. The purpose is usually observation or participation for education.

This is my 2015 calendar of field trips and what I learned, or anticipate learning:

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

California: Joshua Tree National Park (March)

A lizard can wear two different kinds of camo at once, and blend into both the sunny and the shady part of a rock. There really is a San Andreas Fault. Palm Springs can be 90 degrees and at the top of the tramway behind and above it, 50 degrees – with snow.

Santa's House at the North Pole

Santa’s House at the North Pole

Alaska: Business trip with drive to/from Anchorage/Fairbanks (early May)

I’ve been to Fairbanks many times, but never to North Pole, only 20 miles away. Yes, there is Santa’s House. No, there is not much open outside tourist season.

A long haul from Toronto to Denver.

A long haul from Toronto to Denver.

Michigan to Colorado: Relocating family members from Canada (late May)

I can still drive a stick-shifting 4-Runner. I wanted to see more of Iowa, but it rained most of the way. I did notice white barns with large cupolas on top. I need to research the “why” of this repeated size and design.

WWII Bunkers

WWII Bunkers

Alaska: Dutch Harbor/Unalaska in the Aleutian Chain (August)

I have never explored this part of Alaska, located in “The Deadliest Catch” waters. I will prepare for 40 degrees with wind and rain. Besides Pearl Harbor, it was one of the few US locations to be bombed by the Japanese in WWII. I anticipate seeing military and Aleut sites and artifacts,


'A' is for Alaska: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos -- Anna Bortel's story.

‘A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos — Anna Bortel’s story.

Kansas: Newton (Faith and Life Bookstore – September 17, Hillsboro – September 18)

People who live in this area may not consider this to be “field trip.” For me, it’s a step back in time to re-experience where my Mennonite parents’ people re-created home in America. At Tabor College, I will be presenting slides and reading from my book, “’A is for Anaktuvuk: Teacher to the Nunamiut Eskimos.” This teacher took a very big “field trip” – and changed Alaska history.


Alaska Marine Highway ferry

Alaska Marine Highway ferry

Washington: Bellingham to Alaska: Skagway (October)

On a no-frills Alaska Marine Highway ferry, I want to learn about the WWII Aleut Relocation camps near Juneau, where the US government sent people from Alaska’s Aleutian Chain; Sheldon Jackson’s establishment of an early Alaska educational system; and the Gold Rush at Skagway.

Rocky Mt Mennonite  Relief Sale

Rocky Mt Mennonite Relief Sale

Colorado: Rocky Ford – Mennonite Relief Sale (October)

I love the excitement of the live and silent auctions, quilt sales, eating as much pie and ice cream as I can hold, buying German sausage, and stuffing myself with Mennonite New Year’s fritters; all with the good conscience that the proceeds go towards relief, development and peace work around the world. The “educational” part is seeing purchasable crafts that empower artisans in developing countries and hearing what the Mennonite Central Committee is doing to help people develop a sustainable lifestyle.

After my fifth-grade field trip, I returned home bubbling over about my first-time bus ride, the over-look platforms alongside the machines, and the smell of wood. Wood shavings and chips spilled out of my jacket pocket.

5th grader

5th grader

  1. What field trips have you taken in 2015?
  2. What did you experience? Return home chattering about? Gather in your pockets?
  3. What field trips are you contemplating? What is holding you back?

(This article was first published in the Kansas “The Country Register,” Aug/Sept 2015 issue.)