Lead Teacher Azucena shares her journey reclaiming her narrative through her field notes recap emails
By: Azucena Quinones
When I first began working at Biocitizen I was super excited for all of the amazing experiences I would have, from camping, exploring new trails, to working with amazing kids. I knew there would be challenges that came with a new job in a new space, but then I discovered my biggest challenge of all: FIELD NOTES. Field notes are a recap of our day at Biocitizen. What activities we did, what species we saw or learned about, and our reflections for the day. It provides our Biocitizen parents with an in-depth explanation of all of the wonderful things their kiddos are learning with us and takes them along our journey of discovery and adventure. I’ve never been the strongest writer. I grew up in Mexico for most of my childhood knowing only Spanish. When I learned I would be sending emails containing detailed field notes of all of our adventures I was excited but nervous. Thoughts came rushing through my head like “What if my notes aren’t good enough?”, “What if they can tell I’m not the best writer?”. But alas, I knew I would try my very best.
I sat down and wondered how long should my field notes be? Should they be short and to the point? Should they be extensive and detailed? Is anyone going to actually read these notes? I began with short and sweet. I thought to myself, yeah that’ll be great. Parents are busy right? They want something relaxing and nice. Then I saw my coworker’s field notes and thought yeah… maybe my entry is TOO short. I sat down again and wrote a little more. Then I saw my boss’s field notes, yeah…maybe mine need even more detail. I would go out in the field and anything I spotted I would think to myself WRITE THAT DOWN, WRITE THAT DOWN!!
Summer came along and I began getting into a flow, writing field note email recaps every day. I felt like I was finally getting the hang of things but uncertainty still lingered in my mind. As a Latinx first-generation college graduate, imposter syndrome has followed me my entire life. I often question whether I belong in the spaces that I’m in and my field notes contributed to that. How was I to navigate this space if I struggled to put my teachings into words?
Then the day came. As I was signing students in for yet another great day at Biocitizen I had a parent say “ I just want you to know how much we enjoy your nightly field notes. We get together as a family and read them at the dinner table every night.”
Excuse me WHAT?? When I tell you my heart exploded with pure and utter joy I am not kidding. They were reading my field notes at the dinner table?!! As a family? All of the fear and uncertainty flew out the window. I had finally done it. My field notes made sense! I belonged here all along…
Reflecting on all of this has made me realize how one of my biggest fears turned out to be one of my greatest accomplishments. Field notes were no longer a fear of mine anymore. Instead, they were a story being told at a Biocitizen family table.
This got me thinking about the impact Biocitizen has had on me not only as an educator but as a human. If I have been impacted this much I can only hope my teaching in the field does the same for our kids.
Here are my two favorite field note entries ->
Field Notes for July 6th, 2021
Today was a great day exploring Griffith Park! Our day was front-loaded with difficult hiking in the morning, then heading down to explore Fern Dell. We started off our day by introducing some of our new Biocitizens and then playing one of my favorite games called RPS Evolution. We all start off as eggs and play rock, paper, scissors until we evolve into dinosaurs! After that, we set off on our journey to the Griffith Observatory. Along the way, our Biocitizens were curious about many of the species at Griffith so we handed out our natural history field guides and made it our mission to find as many species in our field guides as possible.
We found so many species with the most notable ones being the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Red-Tailed Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina), Cowboy Cologne (Artemisia californica), and even the beautiful Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)!
Adult Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
It was important that our Biocitizens made very detailed observations because some birds are tricky, but this was no problem for them. At first glance, the Lesser Goldfinch looks like the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) but they were quick to point out one crucial difference between the two! The dull green color on its back. They really are some expert bird watchers. Our Biocitizens were quick to make observations and identify more than half of the species in their guides!
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) foraging for seeds on Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina)
We trekked up the Observatory and had a nice relaxing break on the lawn before we headed to an amazing lookout spot where we played some rounds of eye-spy identifying other hikes our Biocitizens have been on and taking in how there is so much nature in an urban environment. On our way back we got to spend some time on a “solo hike” where we created space between each of our Biocitizens so they had some time to walk alone and take in all of the sights and sounds around them. Many times when we are hiking we are speaking to our new friends getting to know each other but it’s nice to take some time to take it all in alone! At the end of our “solo hike,” we reflected on everything we saw and many of our Biocitizens described all of the birds they were hearing along with the rustling of the leaves and the beautiful tree canopies. Now it was time to walk through Fern Dell and visit the crawfish!!
Biocitizens enjoying the sweeping vistas from the Griffith Observatory
I bought a small net and all of our Biocitizens got the chance to safely and carefully catch some Crayfish and release them back. We talked about how even if they are an invasive species they are living and it is important to treat them with kindness and be gentle. Coexisting is super important. Some of our Biocitizens got super creative and made their own fishing rods and were able to catch a few! After that, we said thank you to the Crawfish and headed back to our pickup spot:)
Biocitizens finding the invasive Red Swamp Crawfish (Procambarus clarkii)
Field Notes for July 7th, 2021
Today was another great day exploring Griffith Park and a perfect day for birding! We started off our day by introducing some new Biocitizens to the group and playing a game of “The Wind Blows For” where our Biocitizens were able to lead where the wind blows (“The wind blows for anyone who loves butterflies” etc.)This gave everyone a great chance to get to know each other even more and find some common interests. While we were finishing up, our Biocitizens noticed two birds hanging out in a tree near us. The mourning dove, and a Bushtit! Bushtits are the cutest little birds no more than 5 inches in length, with a dull grey and brown plumage. They sang in the trees allowing us to listen to their small chip notes before setting off to forage for more food! We then set off up the hill to a beautiful rest area at the top of the mountain.
Getting active on the bird watching front!
Once at our destination, we enjoyed the shade and tranquility and explored all of the different birds and plants. As we were doing this a Common Raven (Corvus corax) paid us a visit and our Biocitizens were able to learn the difference between a Crow and a Raven. These two birds are commonly mistaken but here are some ways to distinguish them. One big one is their sound! Crows make a cawing sound while Ravens make a low-croaking sound. Ravens are also bigger than crows measuring at about 24 inches in length, while Crows are about 17 inches. Another big one is their tails. Ravens have wedge-shaped tails while crows have fan-shaped tails! Our Biocitizens should be experts at spotting the differences!
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
After playing some rounds of Dragon’s Treasure, a game where our Biocitizens have to use their deer ears and fox feet to get the treasure before the dragon notices them, we set off on the rest of our hike to our lunch spot. We arrived at a nice shady lunch spot with picnic tables. water, and beautiful tree canopies. As we were eating lunch we spotted even more birds like a Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna), Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), and this one is not a bird but was by far a FAN FAVORITE… the Western Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio zelicaon)!
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
Western Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio zelicaon)
Everyone loves testing their sensory awareness during Dragon’s Treasure
We saw this and so many more pollinators enjoying the Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina). We set back on our trek to the pickup spot and did another small solo walk where we all got to take our surroundings in and be in our own thoughts for a while. After saying goodbye to the beautiful views of LA we hiked back down to meet you all for some much-needed rest!
Thanks for tuning in to follow along my personal journey, and the journey of some lucky biocitizens who joined us during this past summer!