Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Celebrating our Outdoor Selves

   A theme that continually popped in my head when reading the last 100 pages of "Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Experience" by Patricia Ellis Herr was her humble nature to praise her daughter Alex and not herself. Patricia leads her daughter on a journey to peak bag the forty-eight 4,000 foot White Mountains when Alex is age five and six. Yes, Alex is a unique child to one, want to do this but second, follow through to completion. I would like to praise her mom though. Patricia does not give herself a high five in the book for one, seeing and acknowledging Alex's desire to summit all 4,000 foot peaks in the Whites; second, learning the art of hiking in the Whites; third, leading her daughter safely up each peak; and fourth, acknowledging her own desire to summit all 48 and then completing this achievement. It struck me that throughout the book, she continually wrote, intentionally and inferentially, how much of this adventure was her daughter's and not her own. At the end of the book, she finally acknowledges her own accomplishment and admits that she selfishly invested in this adventure for herself and not just for Alex. Why at the end of the book? Why only one sentence about it?   Mothers are nurturers. We are giving: of ourselves, our time and our energy. Our giving is unconditional. Often receiving (and sometimes wanting) nothing in return; except for maybe love. This is the theme of another recent book I read, Brothers and Me by Donna Britt. She chronicles her life of giving: to her brothers, her husbands and her children. It isn't until the end of the book that she realizes giving is selfish - in a good way. Giving is purposeful, even if done subconsciously, because it allows the giver to feel good about herself. Donna acknowledges and gives her readers permission to feel okay for selfishly giving to others, whether to their family, friends or community. This was my own revelation about myself when reading Brothers and Me which allowed me to read Ellis's book with a new set of lenses.
   Patricia gave unconditionally to her daughter's peakbagging adventure. As she explains in her book, she wants to foster and not inhibit her daughters' passions and desires for exploration. Her story is an example of how mothers give consciously and subconsciously to help their children fulfill their dreams and aspirations.  Patricia deserves a high five for being a giver but also for  finally acknowledging her accomplishment, even if it was brief and at the end of the book. Most importantly, I celebrate her because she selfishly had a vision to climb all forty-eight, 4,000 foot peaks in the White Mountains with her daughter. She implemented her vision and accomplishment it. Yes, Alex did it and that is amazing. However, Alex couldn't have done it without her mom. In her story, Patricia exemplifies a mother with  a strong mind, body and spirit that made choices to adventure and accomplish. I celebrate her!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Turning First-Timers into Campers

Sunset from rocks at Bear's Den

        For more than five years, I've had amazing opportunities to lead high school students on camping or backpacking trips. With each adventure, students fall into two groups: experienced and first-time campers. The experienced students can't wait to go and the first-timers have a million questions and fears. I answer their questions and fears, arming them with knowledge, strategies and my optimism that they will have a great time. Not to boast my record but I am zero for I can't count the number of students I have led camping that have not  had a positive experience, leaving them wanting more.
Siena teachers love camping too!
     Last week's camping trip was no exception. Three teachers from the Siena School where I teach middle school Science took the freshman class of twelve students to camp at Bear's Den on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. The goal of the trip was part academic and part team building and bonding. It provided students the opportunity: to learn new camping skills for first-times, to lead and model skills from the experienced, discuss and role play how human behavior impacts the environment, test their physical endurance while hiking the rocky and hilly AT, complete service to improve the environment, and most importantly free time to solidify and appreciate relationships with each other and nature. It was those moments of free time that I enjoyed observing the dynamics between peers and their usage of the environment as a playground. As the 36 hours of the trip passed, students became infinitely more comfortable and confident with their usage of the natural playground. This confidence gained in themselves and with each other is invaluable; subconscious lessons each will use and remember for a life time.
    One first-time camper gave me the ultimate compliment. Upon first siting me in the hall on Monday morning, she called, "Hey Ms. Chambers, guess what I did this weekend?" Without giving me enough time to respond, she blurted, "I camped in my backyard." Wow! This tickles deep to know that connections and relationship were built in one 36 hour camping trip! Image if we could give every child this opportunity.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Creating Community in Nature

    For 10 years families in my neighborhood have gathered to camp every fall. We live in a community that has a "it takes a village" mentality. We carry that philosophy when we recreate outdoors. Our bonds are strong but made even stronger by sharing time and space in nature.
    Some families have remained while others have come and gone and new families have gathered. Some are experienced campers and for others, it is their first time. The first timers borrow gear and use the presence of the experienced as comfort to venture into a new family endeavor. Whether new or old at camping, we all take comfort having each others' backs and those of our kids.    Ten years ago, our children were preschoolers or younger. Camping with youngsters is more work but made easier in a community of friends who share time as the watchful eye. Now our children are older. The ever-present watchful eye is sporadic as the adults hang together around the campfire while our kids roam the woods creating adventures. Just like the adults, the kids have grown up watching out for each other and seek fun together as a pack. As parents, we take our unconscious turns at reminding our children to make good choices when it seems they need a reminder. On Sunday we pack up our sites and drive away each year with huge smiles and exclamations of "I can't wait to do it again next year."