OA students Megan Hull, Marga Dejong, Anna Kirchner, Cole Price, and Kay Henry-Hettle have front row seats while watching the elk.
The clank and clatter of metal pots fill the early morning stillness as icy creek water is put on camp stoves to boil. Mugs are lined up on the picnic table, ready for hot tea or cocoa. A few brave souls resuscitate the dying embers of last night's fire into a warm gathering place. One by one the students emerge from their frosty cocoons under the tarps and stretch, yawn, stamp their feet and gloved hands, and splash some creek water on their faces to wake up. Another school day at The Outdoor Academy has begun.
Our week in the Great Smoky Mountains offered a return to the simple way of life. Each morning after breakfast we held our academic classes. English class met out in the grassy field to edit students' short stories, while Natural Science explored the stream bed. Environmental Seminar engaged in spirited debate about the state of the world, while World History looked back to the past to learn lessons for tomorrow. After a hearty lunch, we might head out for a day hike to nearby homesteads, learning about the local Appalachian History. A few hours of study hall would wrap up nicely with a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Dinner might be a warm stew cooked over the fire, followed by long talks into the night. One evening we went to see the elk come down into the valley. The males were in rut and they called out in their haunting, alien bugles to let each other know where the boundaries of their turf lay. We sat up in an old barn loft and watched the natural scene unfold right below us. It felt like an honor to be so close to such powerful creatures.
Study Hall, Outdoor Academy style. (pictured: Garbrielle Dowell)
A male elk calls out to another male in order to protect his territory.
Throughout the week of classes in the field, our pace was slow and we took time to sit alone, read, contemplate on, whittle, knit, talk and marinate what the semester has meant to us so far. There were no distractions, just our community, our books, and the natural world. It was an excellent respite from our routine, and just what we needed to truly realize the beauty of living a simple life in the woods.