Getting Our Feet Wet
New Albany, OH
2023, Senior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Joel Davis
Taking a cautious step forward, unsure of the waterproofing on my boots, I bent down and brushed my fingertips through the cold water of Big Walnut Creek. As I drew figure eights in the tranquil water and watched the ripples slowly disappear, I heard the triumphant shriek of a girl a few yards off. I whipped my head up.
“Guys! Something’s moving!” shouted Allison.
At once, we all raced to find out what it was. When I reached my classmate, my eyes searched around her ankles only to find no movement at all – except for the small waves formed by the steps of approaching classmates.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“It’s right here!” She eagerly pointed down near her boots.
I bent down, excitedly scanning the area right next to her finger, yet found nothing but a very still rock. I glanced up at her and back down at the rock. Soon my confusion was quickly replaced by the distraction of our newly arrived teacher, Mr. Davis.
He had tucked his paisley tie underneath his mismatched striped button-down shirt to avoid getting his tie wet. His large and steady hand grabbed the rock and turned it over, revealing a crayfish the size of his thumb. He pinched the crayfish’s back, picked it up, and whistled.
* * *
The whistle cut through the silent classroom as we all watched Mr. Davis’s mouth with anticipation. As his whistling became shaky, we shouted encouragement at him. When he finally ran out of breath, he cut himself off like an orchestra conductor would a flutist and turned to Allison, the designated whistle timer.
“39 seconds!” she announced.
Mr. Davis broke into a crooked grin. “That was so good! Give it up!” he said, prompting our thunderous applause.
“Alright kids, it’s Creek Day. You know what that means. Cody, Krish, you’ve got the large net. Dr. Phosphorus and Dr. Nitrogen – Bella and Angela – you guys remember who you are? Good. Your kits are in the back. Everyone else, bring down a small net.”
At once, we surged out of our seats. I quickly grabbed my nitrate testing kit. After everyone had retrieved their items, Mr. Davis asked, “Everyone ready? Good! Line up next to Darwin. I’ll be right back.”
We followed his instructions and walked over to the life-sized cardboard cutout of Charles Darwin in the corner. Mr. Davis left the room for his adjoining office, disappearing for a moment, then reappearing with an iPad. He snapped a few photos of us, placed the iPad snuggly under his armpit, and gave us a onceover.
* * *
“Gather ‘round, kids!” Mr. Davis excitedly exclaimed. “This is the first catch of the day! It’s a freshwater crayfish. Ohio crayfish are pretty similar to lobsters in terms of anatomy, but they’re much smaller. This one’s small.”
He turned over the crayfish so it lay belly-up, and used his other hand to point at its twig-like limbs. “These are swimmerets, and they’re hard, so I’m pretty sure this crayfish is a male. Swimmerets in males are also used for intermittent sperm transfer, or as I like to call it, free gene flow,” he explained, wiggling his eyebrows comically.
“Here, Angela. Use your thumb and index finger to pinch his back.”
I inched my fingers towards the crayfish’s back and followed Mr. Davis’s instructions, carefully placing my fingers on the cool, slippery back of the squirming crayfish and pinching down hard enough to prevent it from slipping.
“Good, good. Now pretend to eat him!” He instructed.
“What?” I laughed nervously.
He grinned at me mischievously.
I raised the crayfish up to eye level. Cautiously holding it a foot away from my face, I slowly tilted my head back and opened my mouth.
Mr. Davis snapped photos with his iPad. “That’s definitely going into the end-of-year slideshow. Anyway, that’s all. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you have any questions, call me over!”
With that, I set the crayfish back down into the creek and walked through the shallow water back to my nitrate testing setup. I snatched my test tube and headed towards the middle of the creek where the water was deeper. There, I bent down and lowered the test tube into the creek water to collect a sample.
Then, as I started to head back to my equipment, I felt something cool graze my toe. Surprised, I let out a shriek, cutting through the peaceful atmosphere and attracting the attention of Mr. Davis.
“Angela, you alright?” he hollered, waddling over in his yellow rubber boots. Realizing what had just happened, I groaned in frustration. “Yeah, my right boot leaked. I’ll have wet socks for the rest of the day!” I complained.
He raised his left eyebrow in amusement. “Don’t worry. I’ve prepared for this,” he assured me, waddling away.
With water quickly gathering in my boots and sloshing around, I trudged back to my station. I followed the instructions on the manual inside the testing kit, adding drops of chemicals that would turn the water a certain shade of pink. I set a timer for ten minutes, and while I was waiting, another whistle resounded throughout the creek.
I looked up to see Mr. Davis beckoning us over to the middle of the creek, where a small stream of water poured over a jutting rock, creating a mini foaming waterfall. Just like that, the quiet creek was disturbed by the splashing of a dozen teenagers eagerly rushing towards the mini waterfall, but ultimately failing because of the resistance of the knee-high water. After stumbling a couple of times, I finally reached the mini waterfall. That’s when I heard a scream of pure terror.
“WHAT IS THAT?!”
Sure enough, Mr. Davis was fearlessly showing off the insect of my nightmares in the palm of his hand.
“This,” he said, pausing theatrically, “is a dobsonfly larva. This little critter is gonna spend another year or two on the bottom of this creek eating other insects, and then she’s gonna form a pupa. Then she’ll emerge like a butterfly and spend the last month of her life laying eggs in a nearby stream. Anyone wanna pretend to eat this one?”
The silence in the air spoke for itself, but it was soon broken by a chorus of giggles. “Tough crowd,” Mr. Davis commented, trying to fight down a smile. He gently placed the larva back into the water in a spot where none of us would step on it.
“Okay, kids, it’s time to wrap it up. Grab everything you brought down with you. Let’s meet over there when you’re done.”
* * *
Back in the classroom, we sat in our seats and wiped our wet feet down with paper towels, as Mr. Davis disappeared to his office for a minute. He returned carrying a huge basket filled to the rim with hairdryers.
“Come and get ’em! Dry your socks,” he said, setting the basket down on his desk. He crouched on his stool, untucked his paisley tie from his shirt, and struggled to pull off his own bright yellow rubber boots.
Once my feet were dry, I stood up to share the results of the nitrate test. The water had turned a faint pink; its nitrate level was very low, only 0.25 parts per million. Fortunately, Big Walnut Creek wasn’t polluted with much fertilizer or sewage.
“More nitrates mean that more nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is produced, so it’s great that our creek doesn’t have much,” Mr. Davis explained. “Other bodies of water like Florida waterways receive more agricultural runoff from neighboring farms. The excess nitrates in those places can cause harmful algal blooms, which is when the algae absorbs all the oxygen in the water, leaving none for aquatic life. The blooms are even worse nowadays because the hotter temperatures caused by global warming allow for algae to grow faster, promoting even more blooms.”
He paused to grab a hairdryer. He plugged it in and started drying his socks. “And that’s what our next unit is on: the effects of climate change on eutrophication! Kids, bring your notebooks to the next class.”
As I glanced down at Mr. Davis’s argyle socks, I realized how much I would miss him. He would retire in June. All we’d have left of him would be the memories we’ve made together, the photos he took of us and shared, and the encouragement he gave us to get our feet wet in the natural sciences.
I wrote this piece to commemorate my Biology teacher, Mr. Davis, and the moments our class spent together with him. Writing this piece felt very bittersweet since I finished it within days of Mr. Davis’s retirement. Remembering small details about Mr. Davis and our class for the piece put me through emotional whiplash, making me laugh and cry at the same time. While writing and editing the piece, I looked back at the photos he had taken throughout the year and sent to us. I’m lucky to have been his student, and I miss him so much. Mr. Davis was such an inspiration, and he always encouraged his students to dive into the sciences. He helped us understand the extent of our actions on the environment and helped me to consider the environmental sciences as a future career path. My exploration of the Contest theme assured me that there are great people coming up with effective solutions for climate issues, just as I saw great people like Mr. Davis educating others about climate issues. The efforts of both make tackling the climate crisis seem more feasible, and I’m grateful to them because of that.