On an evening earlier this week, with the windows open on my back porch, I could hear nothing else but the apex organism of this ecosystem—our students—voices trilling, pitching, and barking in the way that can only signal the conversation, contest, and competition of adolescents at play at dusk (and surrounded on three sides by very tall stone walls). At 7:42 p.m., the Front Lawn went completely silent as students sprinted, en masse, to check in for study hall, and my ears were instantly overtaken with new sounds: the whistle of a bald eagle, the songs of thousands of frogs, the chuckle of a pileated woodpecker, the splash of turtles, and a chorus of crickets. Noxontown Pond is the defining feature of our ecosystem, and to the daily scenes of life at this school, it supplies both the set and the soundtrack. As the evenings and mornings cool, and we open our windows, we see the changing light reflect from its surface, and we hear the sounds of the pond carry across the campus.
Like the Front Lawn, the pond is teeming with life. But, as all of us who have scrutinized its water using microscopes can attest, not all of that life—in fact, not most of it—is visible from the shore, a canoe, or even when swimming under the surface. When we look at it under magnification, we see the multitudes of protozoa, diatoms, and tiny insects who have made this pond their home. Even without magnification, there is much to see in the world of the pond that requires careful watching and close listening. (All of which, I might add, is also true of teenagers.)
We on land are a part of that life, and living on the shores of Noxontown Pond is a great privilege. For those of us who take the time to pause, watch, and listen, the pond is our classroom, our teacher, and our companion. It tells us the season—we know down to the precise week when the ospreys will appear in the spring, and when they will depart again—the weather, the time of day. It gives us a place to be still, and a place to play.
Tomorrow, Saturday, is our fall celebration of nature at St. Andrew’s, which we call Pond Day. Students will have a chance to engage in a plethora of outdoor activities, most of them pond-side, such as kayaking, sun-printing, birdwatching, and dog-walking. When you speak to your children this weekend (I promise we frequently remind them to call you!), please ask them the activities they chose, and what they observed about their campus and their ecosystem. Our newest students are just beginning to learn about the splendor that surrounds them. As they grow and learn at St. Andrew’s, they will discover that the pond provides a habitat that will nurture and ground them for their entire lives.