Last time around I left you waiting in line...so I think we will move ahead now. I had no doubt in my mind that Dauphin Island's Sea Lab food would be terrible and that the atmosphere would be rather the same as when I went to Space Camp...which, in a nutshell, was as soon as I sat down to eat, literally, we had to get up and move on to our next event. I wasn't going to be a happy camper...I just knew it.
One of the kids pointed out the sign right over the trays which said we could return in line and get seconds. Things were looking up...as I was assured that I would indeed choose the ickiest thing on the menu the first time around and be forced to eat it or go without...at least I'd now be able to get a second try. But wait...this food actually looks edible. And the servers...so incredibly nice...I guess I should have suspected something was amiss with the little hand-made "thank you, lunch ladies" cards taped on the fridge behind them. So, I told the woman what I wanted and scurried off to my table...my table which was clean...and so was my silverware. So, I bit into my chosen fare...a chicken sandwich and french fries...and altho salty...they were quite edible. They also had a massive salad bar - but right after that spinach scare...I'm not biting into anything leafy lately (speaking of which they just recalled some lettuce today)...so I passed on that...and actually too bad, too...because it did look quite tasty...but hanging out in a communal bathroom isn't an idea...or reality...I wanted to entertain. We also had plenty of time to eat our food and drink our drinks before we moved on to our scheduled event.
Enter Hazel Wilson, our designated marine educator guide, who proceeded to show us, via school bus, the devastation on the island that Hurricane Katrina exacted on it. You could see quite a few houses which have not been torn down...houses which were left standing...like a Hollywood set...with the exterior wall removed...and we were the eye of the camera which panned from one room (still appointed with furniture) to the next. In a way I felt like a voyeur...peering into these houses from the safety of a bus...knowing I was only invited in by something evil and malevolent. Other houses, their bodies long removed...the only remaining proof they once stood there being their "legs"...the pilings still sticking in the sand like toys left by toddlers in a gigantic sandbox. Then we went pretty much as far as we could since the island was cleaved in two...a mile-wide canal now where land used to be..."thanks" to Katrina...showing us yet again the power of the forces of nature in action.
On now to more fun events...Ms. Wilson led us down to the beach and encouraged the kids to pick up hermit crabs and dead things. It was getting interesting now. Then on the bus as we didn't want to delay mucking through the marsh...that's why we had to bring shoes we didn't mind messing up or losing. Oh, the kids found all sorts of things from snails to crabs to shrimp...and mud. Lots of mud. But it was okay as we were going to wash it all off in the Mississippi Sound picking more living and dead things up anyway. We were given hand-held nets and buckets...and even seine nets to drag around scooping up even more unsuspecting things. This was far from a boring, run-of-the mill trip staring at things while the guide spoke...this was not only educational but enjoyable for both children and adults...and Ms. Wilson was exceptional.
Fast-forward to dinner...which again was better than I expected...and the dinner crew was as friendly as the lunch people were. These people all had their act together...maybe it was the Gulf air or the area in general...but whoever is in charge of this operation certainly should be running the country. Next on the plate...not the dinner one...but the scheduled events...was a night-time walk on the beach finding and subsequently catching ghost crabs by flashlight...and we didn't lose a single kid. I guess I've seen "Jaws" a few too many times in my life...but even without the shark, the dangerous undertow, the Gulf, and a bunch of kids all running around in the dark didn't seem like a good combination - but luckily the kids were good.
Bedtime came earlier than usual for me...and so did the start of the next day...and I wasn't looking forward to either, but the kids quieted down quickly...I'm sure they were quite worn out from the events of the day. Even the boys stopped running around upstairs and I think even without the aid of Ambien I might have been able to sleep through the night...had the night lingered on until 3:00 a.m...but as it were, I, too, had an early start and a long day of foraging for more sea-things the next day. This place was no place like home...but it wasn't like my previous overnight trip either. It was remarkably quiet. Perhaps being on the far end helped, but no doors clanked...no people screamed in the hallway...and best of all, I didn't have to share my room with a bunch of others who got up every hour on the hour for one reason or another. I slept.
The following day started out with an early breakfast...again edible served with the same graciousness as the previous meals. Ms. Wilson, to my delight, was again our guide and this time we'd be tasked with going out and catching things from two different waterways to take back to the classroom to view under microscopes. We also had plankton "races"...using wire and Styrofoam each table had to construct a "plankton"...and the slowest one to sink to the bottom of the jar of water was going to be declared the winner. I was at a table of all parents...and my ingenious plankton design coupled with the Styrofoam bits added on by another parent was destined to be the sure winner...ours drifted down so incredibly slowly...ONCE. Each subsequent try hardly matched that one magnificent time...and we were beaten by our own kids...how humiliating is that? But I guess if you have to lose to someone - it might as well be your own. But still...and I still resent one of the chaperones, who happened to be the older brother of one of the students...telling us "old people" that our "sea-based" name for our table should be "The Ancient Mariners"...okay, it was extremely funny - I'm just annoyed by the fact I didn't think of it myself. We went with "Exoskeletons"...hey...we were a bunch of old skeletons after all...I admit not nearly as good...but then again, unfortunately, neither was our little plankton display.
Our last scheduled stop before we left was to check out the Estuarium only a short walk away...which was chock full of all types of Alabama marine life...rather like a mini-aquarium, but done nicely nonetheless. They even had a display of dead things we could touch and another with live horseshoe crabs...kind of like what we experienced before only this time we didn't have to run off into the water to retrieve them. Pity. As what we'd done up until that point had all been extremely enjoyable...made even more enjoyable by the staff and the "edutainment" factor of Hazel Wilson. I was sure going to miss this place once we left...but as you shall read in my next blog installment of this story...well, I'll just leave it at that for now.
A Bit About Me
- Mariann Simms
- Along with my daily duties as founder and head writer of HumorMeOnline.com, in 2003, I took the Grand Prize in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (also known as the "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" competition). I've also been a contributor to "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" and the web's "The Late Show with David Letterman". I also occupy my time writing three blogs, "Blogged Down at the Moment", "Brit Word of the Day" and "Production Numbers"...and my off-time is spent contemplating in an "on again/off again" fashion...my feable attempts at writing any one of a dozen books. I would love to write professionally one day...and by that I mean "actually get a paycheck".