“A Tale of Two Oceans” – BFA’s “Rocks and Writing” Field Trip


BFA students looking for shell fossils on Isle la Motte. Photo credit: Larissa Hebert

Rachel Ledoux, Editor

On July 29, a group of Bellows Free Academy students got to witness the making of Vermont through geology. 

Larissa Hebert, a BFA English teacher, and Woodrow Thompson, her father and retired Maine Geologist, teamed up to put on “Rocks and Writing,” a BFA summer Academy Breakout field trip. The program would combine -you guessed it- rocks and writing, teaching students about geology with intermingled creative writing exercises.

“I pulled together some creative writing activities that could be used in the natural setting as well as some journal prompts that related to rocks and rock collecting,” Hebert said. She added, “The writing portion of the event was embedded into the day’s itinerary so that students could write [during] our lunch break or take a break to write during our time to look for seashell fossils.”

The trip took students to Isle la Motte, an area of Vermont with a wide variety of interesting rock and shell specimens from throughout history.

According to Thompson, he had to spend a separate day scoping out good places for the group to hunt for fossils.

“I had found some Ice Age marine shells many years ago on Isle La Motte, and later in southern Maine. There aren’t many gravel pits on the island, but I had a tip about where shells could still be found,” Thompson said.

After a short stop to park the bus and look at fossils at St. Anne’s Shrine, the fossil-hunting portion of the trip began.

Students were given Ziploc bags to hold shells from an ancient sandy beach dating back about 10,000 years to the Champlain Sea. Many students collected some of the sea shells. Several people found small fossils in larger rocks, as well as some more modern discoveries. 

Suzetta Chiappinelli (‘23) and Keerah Gaudette (‘24) both found small, newly deceased animal skeletons near the sand bank  – a dog-like creature and frog. 

Then, after a lunch break and time to write, the group took off again, heading to the Fisk Quarry Preserve, a public, no-collection area in an old limestone quarry.

Here, students received another explanation by Thompson of marine history in the area and how it related to the trip.

“This trip could be called ‘A Tale of Two Oceans,’” Thompson said, explaining that the fossils were present due to a history of glaciers, oceans and earth’s movements in Vermont and our surrounding areas.

Students then traveled to the Goodsell Ridge Preserve, the final geological stop of the trip. According to the field trip’s itinerary, this preserve is a famous early fossil reef dating back to about 450 million years ago.

Here, students got their final look at marine fossils and rocks before finishing up the trip with ice cream at Devyn’s Creemee Stand and returning to BFA.

Some students shared how the trip was an exciting and enlightening experience.

“As someone interested in paleontology, this was a really exciting experience,” Chiappinelli (‘23) said. 

Tanner Dalley (‘23) backed up the sentiment.

“It was fun and informative,” Dalley said.

A positive review also came from Hebert.

“[‘Rocks and Writing’] was an enjoyable way to spend the day with my dad and learn more about the geology of Vermont,” Hebert said. 

Thompson recounted memories of rock hunting with his daughter, mentioning that he used to take her mineral collecting in Maine with her Girl Scout troop. 

Hebert also explained how much of her career and life has been impacted by having her father as a role model.  

“Some little girls may dream of their wedding day, but because of my dad’s influence, I was more focused on what I wanted to be when I grew up and how I wanted to contribute to the world around me and leave my mark,” Hebert said.

All in all, both the attendants and field trip leaders said that they had an excellent time and really enjoyed the trip. 

“I’m very glad the trip went well, that we had a good turnout,” Thompson said.