“So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the Earth to see where your main roots run.”
-Henry David Thoreau-
April 20, 2017-
Throughout the last three days, we’ve traveled by foot under changing skies- one moment we drip with rain, and then in another we’re pelted with hail. The next minute, its seems, we squint beneath a bluebird sky. Juncos chatter and scold from the feathery needles of a Douglas-fir, seemingly reminding us that this is their home, not ours. We’re surrounded by year-round residents of this place, Earth Teach Forest Park: drumming woodpeckers, steadfast trees, crawling ants, and slinking mammals. Can the ants see the stars in the clarity that we do? Whether they can or not, we can certainly gather wisdom from their diligent work, their long back-and-forth journeys.
We’re lucky today for many reasons- we’re a big group of twenty-five 7th and 8th graders and four teachers, which means more people to laugh with, more stories to share, more voices to join in with songs by the the campfire, and less load in our packs with more backs to carry our group belongings.
Our days are unstructured, free, as we journey together along established trails or overland, emerging into the well-loved gems of this place, locations many students of John Muir Magnet School have visited for four years, at least. In the case of our stalwart teacher-leader, her education of this place has been ten-years long. The names evoke stories in and of themselves: Shasta Flats, Heron Lake, Snake Meadow, Base Camp, The Tree in the Rock, Basalt Basin, The Boulders, Homestead Meadow, The Fen, The Cliffs, and beyond.
Spring has come, at last, to the mountains and the last of winter’s snow is cleansing. We wake this morning to its stark whiteness, its blanketing stillness. Conifers stand tall, carpeting the slight rise above the lake. They appear to be frosted with a generous dusting of powdered sugar- my favorite sight of winter. Sounds of teenagers waking in their tents in the meadow is a sign that I, too, must rise from my warm nest, that I, too, just greet the day. My vestibule opens onto an expanse of white- covering a once-soggy meadow next to Heron Lake. Our tents are scattered throughout the various dry, flat spots peppering the shores of the lake.
We earn our miles here. Our feet are caked in mud and clay, a sign of fearlessness in the face of discomfort. Our tents weigh down with snow throughout the night, then drop onto sodden ground with the coming of the sun. We stuff them, still wet, into our packs- a sign of resilience in changing environments. And we cook dehydrated foot huddled under a group tent in a downpour, eagerly awaiting hot water and warmth. This is certainly a sign of delayed gratification, a needed skill in this life. This place is known to little feet as well as older, teenage wisdom. The more experienced students teach novices and pass on well-earned knowledge. All is real here, this way of learning during the school week, a fine replacement for the classroom as we learn the most valuable lesson of all: surviving this existence, and learning coexistence, together.