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Student Work

Sample eco-mysteries

The following student work samples are from "Writing Eco-Mysteries," Twig Georgeís chapter in Beyond the Science Kit: Inquiry in Action.

The Case of the Missing Field Mouse by Katie P.

(Katie dictated this eco-mystery after taking part in a workshop at Teatown Lake Reservation in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, conducted by author, Jean Craighead George, and nature center biologist, Rod Christie)

The owner of Teatown Lake Reservation, Rod, called up Stacy Haynesworth, nature detective.

"All the field mice are gone, and could you find out why?" he said.

"Well, have you done anything new with the reservation?" Stacy asked.

"Yes, we have," he said.

"Iíll be right over."

At 12:15 p.m., Stacy came with her notepad, her pen, and her magnifying glass. Rod showed her where the field mice were missing. They walked through lush, beautiful woods. All the underbrush had been neatly trimmed, and there were bugs crawling all over their legs because they cut down the dead trees.

When they got to the vernal pond that should dry up in summer, she saw that there were no salamanders or mosquitoes because the board of directors had dredged the pond and turned it into a deep swimming hole.

"Those fish in there eat the salamanders," said Stacy, "but that doesnít affect the mice."

After a while they came to the Teatown Lake. It had been dredged, too. There were only people swimming and boating. There were no weeds so there were no fish. But that didnít affect the field mice, either.

Then after all that, they got to the field. It looked like a golf course. All the wildflowers had been mowed, and the grass was about two inches tall. Then Stacy knew why the mice had gone away.

"The villain," said Stacy, "is the mower."

"The mower!" said Rod. "What did the mower do?"

"The mower mowed all the wildflowers away and so there were no weeds for the mice and they went away. Also the hawks and owls could see them and catch them."

Rod told the board of directors to replant the wildflowers and put the tall grass back anyway they could. In about half a year the field mice had come back. The End

Mine and Hers by Cara B.

(Cara, a student in Susan Wellsí fifth grade class at Carroll Manor Elementary School in 1995 wrote this poem comparing a tree in her school yard with a tree in Jean Craighead Georgeís Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo)

hers is an oak so big and tall 
mine is a willow so short and small 
her limbs could cover a tennis court 
mine couldnít cover three picnic tables 
on her branches there are blankets of orchids 
my branches are bare and exposed 
hers has butterflies and lizards chasing insects 
mine is lucky to have a winter bird perch on it 
hers is a theater of horror, suspense, and rage 
mine is a theater of dryness, coldness, and age 
ours are both living breathing things 
ours are both a new generation 
ours are both equal, bold and brazen 

Who Really Killed the Box Turtle? by Jason P.

(Jason was a student in Patti Winchís 4th-5th grade class at Hollin Meadows Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. He wrote this story in the spring of 1995.)

Chapter I: The Box Turtle

It was a dewy morning and Joanne and I were walking to Hollin Meadows Elementary.

My name is Jessica and I am eleven years old. My friend's name is Joanne. She is 4'2", she is light brown with silky brown-reddish hair, and she is also eleven.

I am 4'4", I am brown too, except darker than Joanne. My hair is dark black and it is silky too.

We meet each other at the corner of Hybla Valley Avenue and go to the file in the back of the school. When we get there, I see my box turtle, Akismarioh, coming toward us. We go to him. Then the bell rings and we rush in to meet our teacher.

Chapter II: Dead

"Hello girls," Mrs. Wayder said.

"Hi, Mrs. Wayder," we say together.

We sit at our seats. Broom putt putt putt putt. Oh no! I look outside, whew, just the lawn mower.

I must have been going mad or it really happened. Something got sliced up under the lawn mower and I thought it was Akismarioh. Then after that I said that my imagination must be going wild. It could have been anything.

As Joanne and I were walking at recess, she saw that the swings were open, and told me she would be back. I have an ex-friend named Lisa who came and talked to me.

"Hi," she says in a fake, sweet voice.

"Hi," I say rolling my eyes in a nasty way. After all, she did steal my mother's ring last year.

I see her turn away and leave. After a few minutes Joanne is back. I smile and say, "Let's go see Akismarioh and Dragon, my garter snake."

I go over near Akismarioh and see clearly that he and Dragon are dead. Then I whispered, "The lawn mower, the lawn mower. I'll get the lawn mower."

Chapter III: It's Alive

It turns out my garter snake is alive. The reason I thought Dragon was dead was because he was lying on his back and looked like he wasn't breathing. I'm still furious with the lawn mower for killing Akismarioh.

I go over to Dragon. The long, think twisted tree vines hang from a bent, half dead tree. This dead tree is where Dragon lives. Most of the things he eats live in there too.

School ended and like always I rushed into my house. "Hi Mom," I say, starting immediately on my homework. She was drying dishes.

"Hello, Jessie," she says back. "What's the rush?" she asks, still wiping.

"I'm going to the field with Joanne after I finish my homework." "No, you're not," she says giggling a bit. "You have your dentist appointment, remember."

"Darn," I whisper. I thought it would slip by her.

I'm getting braces today. I will look rotten in them, I know it. We wait for hours at the orthodontist. At least two. Then finally I'm called. After one more hour I've got my braces and I'm out. It took us a half hour to get home, so when I met Joanne it was 4:10.

"What took you so long?" she asks frustratedly.

"My braces," I say back.

"Oh, I forgot," she said quietly.

We go to the yellow, white and pink honeysuckles. Dragon lies near the pearl bush. I call it that because it has only white honeysuckles.

At fist I couldn't see him because he was green but after a while I could make out his eyes.

I thought the lawn mower did it, I really did. But I would soon find out who really killed the box turtle.

Chapter IV: Describing the Forest Area

The next day I found my box turtle lying in the ruffled holly bushes. When I first saw him he was in the middle of the field -- someone must have moved him since then.

Near these holly bushes there was bamboo. The bamboo had whitish powder on the outside of it, then a white substance under a thick covering of green. The dirt was splashed over the ground and was covered by bits and pieces of moss. Dragon was curled comfortably around a bamboo stick.

I saw Lisa near it, with a hammer! It looked like she was going to hit Dragon.

"Lisa," I scream, "Stop!"

Joanne runs up right behind me. "Yeah, stop it!" she yells.

"I wasn't doing anything, really," Lisa whines.

"What were you doing with a -- plastic hammer?" I ask. "Yeah," she says. "He chews on it."

"Sure," Joanne murmurs.

Lisa runs away. I walk closer to see he is no longer on the bamboo, he is on the ground with two hammer marks in his skin.

Chapter V: Too Many Questions

Who's done it?

Was it Lisa?

Why did he or she do it?

Were they jealous or did they just want to see the joy of something dying? These thoughts swirled in my mind until school was over. I went to the field and saw the box turtle. (I don't call him by his name because he's dead.)

It had moved over near the poison ivy bushes and the poison oak. Fins and the head were stuck out of his shell, the shell was cracked open, with bits and pieces of shell lying next to it. Flies were drinking the blood and maggots were eating the liver. "Eeww," I mutter.

"Hi, Jessie," Joanne calls.

"Hi," I say. "Look!" she exclaims. "A little hammer, like the one Lisa had."

"That's it! We've solved it," I cry.

"Huh?" she says, puzzled. "the hammer she had yesterday, it's by Akismarioh's body!" I shout.

"Where is the connection?" she asks.

"Listen, a lawn mower blade spins, right?"

"Right," she says.

"Well, if a blade cut him up the pieces of shell would fly everywhere, and she must have cracked the shell because the shell pieces are close together and not spread out!"

"Now all we need is evidence," she says.

"Let's get the hammer," I exclaim.

"Wait! We can't forget fingerprints," she explains. "You get a pen. I'll get the tape. We need the fingerprints."

"Oh yeah," I add. "Get some gloves too. I've got a great way of getting her back."

"OK," she says. "I really can't believe she would do that, but don't worry, we'll get her back good."

Chapter VI: Confronting Our Suspect

Today Joanne and I confronted the suspect, and that includes fingerprinting. We took tape, put it on the hammer and got the fingerprint. We matched it up with Lisa's fingerprint -- it matches!! -- but we needed more evidence.

"You are dismissed," I say gleefully to Lisa.

"Jessica, why don't you have poison ivy?"

"What do you mean?"

"Jessica, you don't have poison ivy, and you stuck your arm all the way in it."

"They must have been fake leaves," I whisper, turning to ward the window. "Either that, or it was regular ivy."

"Tomorrow let's confront our culprit," she shouts.

Chapter VII: We've Got You

Today we saw Lisa, and she felt uneasy about us being there. I could see it in her eyes.

"Um, it's a pity how your turtle died," she says, smirking a bit. Joanne was ready to stuff her like an animal. I pushed her back.

"Stop, Joanne. Don't let her know you're mad."

After that Joanne straightened up a bit.

"We know you did it," I say. "Your fingerprints match the ones on the hammer. Your hammer was sitting by my turtle."

"The pieces weren't scattered so the lawn mower didn't do it. You did it."

"You also killed my garter snake."

"How did you find out?" Lisa screams.

"Just now," I burst out laughing," and from the evidence," I say, pulling myself together

"Shoot! I thought I was slick," she whispers angrily.

"Gets 'em every time," I giggle, nudging Joanne.

"Oh yeah, sister. You everything but slick." We laugh again. She's caught, finally. Now I know who really killed Akismarioh.

Chapter VIII: Detention

For killing a school animal Lisa was put in detention for two weeks. She got no recess. She wasn't allowed to leave the office without an adult. She had to eat lunch there, got to the bathroom in the office, and she also had to do her school work there. Her mom had to pick her up each day. Also, she had to take care of the office's fish so she would learn to appreciate animals.

I told her I'd get her back and I did. She was caught, punished, and taught a lesson. But my pets weren't back, they were gone forever. Too bad she wasn't!

Chapter IX: My New Box Turtle

I found another box turtle and I fed her like Akismarioh, except for I took this one home. I named her Chun Li. Stupid name, I know, but I loved it.

I wonder how long I will keep this box turtle. Should I let her roam free? Will Lisa Kill this one? Will she get me back again? If she kills Chun Li, I won't be able to get her as easily as I did this time, or will I?

So many questions. Oh well, for right now Chun Li is safe, and so am I.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9912078. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.