As kids turned into teenagers in my hometown of Orange, there was one rite of passage we all anticipated — a science field trip.
This wasn’t just any science field trip though. It was Bios, the School on Wheels. For two weeks, teenagers would pile into 15-passenger vans and travel around the Lone Star State camping, visiting museums and wildlife preserves and learning through experience.
On board with us was an entomologist, two science teachers and a photographer (my dad), as well as some young adults to keep us in line. We sold wildflower seeds to raise money for the trip.
I watched as my two older sisters went on the trip and returned with crazy stories about snakes, bears and the desert conditions of West Texas. Growing up in the swamps of southeast Texas, I couldn’t imagine that these things all existed in the same state as alligators and cypress trees.
When I turned 13 I finally got to go to Bios. Never in my life had I pitched a tent, heard of a bear box or dug a hole for my bathroom. Bios gave me those experiences. I saw Seminole Canyon, Big Bend and the McDonald Observatory. I slept in a tent while javelinas sniffed at my head, my shampoo was secured in a bear box and the occasional rainstorm flooded all my belongings.
I never went to summer camp or Girl Scouts so this was really the beginning and end of all my outdoors experience.
A few years after I attended, the teacher behind Bios took a new job and the trip stopped. Now retired, he tried to bring it back. When he called to get insurance for the nonprofit, companies laughed in his face when he said he wanted to travel with teenagers in a van for two weeks to teach them about science.
Now I know that in my short 28 years on this earth a lot has changed. I’ve seen cellphones become necessity, the atlas my dad stocked in my first car become trash and have more channels on my TV than I could watch in a year. But never did I think we would live in a world where something like Bios seemed crazy.
I donated money to help reboot Bios and when my check was sent back to me with the explanatory letter I cried. I could tell my former teacher had written that letter at 3 a.m. completely exhausted and disappointed and just out of options.
For all the progress this world has made, we’ve also lost a lot.
It’s not just the fact that generations behind me will never learn in that hands on, see-it-for-yourself way that I did one summer. It’s the fact that we live in a world of such fear and precaution that we can’t even fathom such an experience.