"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Backpacking With Teens, Part Two: 7th Grade Adventures!

Just two days after returning from my Wild Women backpacking trip (which you can read about here), I set off for my next wilderness-trip-leading adventure: the 7th grade overnight trip on the Appalachian Trail.

The Science teacher, James, and I took 23 7th-graders on a two-day, 15-mile backpacking trip along a section of Maryland's A.T., followed by a day of whitewater rafting on the Potomac as a reward for all of their hard work.

I'm not sure if it was the karma that this amazing group of students had coming to them, or the fact that gods smiled on my final trip with FCS, but this really was one amazing trip.  I've been doing this overnight trip thing for seven years now, and never had one this enjoyable, adventurous, inspiring, and incident-free.

The forecast called for non-stop thunderstorms for all three days.  The reality was that it only rained at night on both nights.  We hiked, set up camp, built a fire, filtered water, and cooked our dinner without one drop, and then had the perfect pleasure of sleeping to the sound of sweet, summer rain on our tents.

The rain turned the morning forest into a misty, enchanted wonderland, and again, dried up by the time we set out for our second day of hiking.

Although we were tired and sore, there was little to no complaining.  The students sang and skipped down the trail, which made it nearly impossible to be cranky around them.  If one group of students got to a break point well before another, the first group would stand and clap and cheer for the stragglers as they hiked in to join us.

Despite the large group, we were also blessed with many wildlife sightings:

a baby possum

two box turtles

a big, fat toad

a large snapping turtle and a tiny box turtle

The main thing I learned on this trip was the value of staying present to each moment.  Every few minutes, I would get the question, "Melanie, how long have we hiked?" or "How many more miles until our next break/the camp/the hostel/the end?"  I quickly tired of answering the same distance questions over and over and over.  I was fascinated to see how obsessed the students were with time and distance.  It was a great lesson for me in what I must look like when I become hyper-focused on the future.

So I began giving them mysterious zen answers.

"Melanie, how far have we gone?"

"Exactly as far as we needed to to get here."

"Yeah but how many miles?"

"Just the right amount."

Sigh.  "Ok, how much further to the next stop?"

"I don't know.  Why don't you begin counting your steps and let me know what you ended up with when you get there?"

"Can't you just tell me how long until we get to camp?"

"Well since we are here right now, this is all that really exists, right?  I'm not even sure that camp exists, since it's in a hypothetical future at which we haven't yet arrived.  The next breath is an assumption, so how can I possibly discuss a camp that I have never seen nor been to?  I can only tell you what is around us right here, right now.  But you could probably figure that out yourself just by noticing.  Let's notice together for awhile, shall we?  How would it be if we only took this step, and then we only took the next, and so on, from now on?  I'm sorry - what was it you wanted to know?"


It worked.  They stopped asking.

All in all, it really was an inspiring time.  It was the first time backpacking for every single student on the trip, and they almost all said they wanted to do it again soon.  I'm grateful down to my core to know that a new group of young people will soon populate the wilderness, caring for it and blazing new trails where my generation has never trod.  If we're lucky, these brilliant teenagers will lead the way.

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