NOV. 9, 2016
I grew up in the country, surrounded by pastures and woods. Instead of spending days playing video games, I spent my afternoons and summer days exploring the natural world around me. I built forts in the woods, splashed around in the creek, and occasionally captured my neighbor’s somewhat wild horses and rode them bareback through the field (sorry Mom). As I got older, whenever I felt stressed or confused I headed outside for comfort and answers. These days, when I want to clear my mind and connect to what’s important in life, I find myself lacing up my running shoes or hopping on my mountain bike for a run or ride through the woods. I don’t think that I’m the only one that does that, and with good reason. As it turns out, spending time exercising in nature is good for your body and your brain.
I recently read an article that sighted a study from psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David Strayer who found that “creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.” Participants in this study discounted from technology and headed out on a 4 day backpacking trip. When asked to perform creative thinking and complex problem solving tasks, the participants ability to do so improved by 50%. These findings are not at all shocking, nor or those of many other researchers who study the effects of time in nature on the brain, including Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University. Bratman also found that study volunteers who went on brief, “discounted” walks through the lush grounds of Stanford were more attentive and happier after their walks than their counterparts who walked through busy streets.
There’s no doubt that exercise is good for our physical well-being; exercise in nature, removed from distractions and technology is also good for our emotional health and can reduce anxiety and boost wellbeing. We see it in our campers each summer as they head to the mountains for 1 – 3 weeks to connect with nature, friends and to themselves. I see it in the joy on the faces in and the hearts of campers and staff as they return from a day hike at Black Balsam Knob or from 3 days with their X-craft class. I feel it when I talk with teens about their 3-week “Hero’s Journey” on Hante; they are all at once inspired and filled with peace.
So, make time each day, each week or each month to disconnect from technology and go for a walk, run or ride in the woods. Find a pretty park or rose garden in your town, and make time in your routine to explore it. Your body and mind will be better for it.
Paige Lester Niles, Camp Director
OCT. 24, 2016
After six years of planning, grant writing, surveying, baseline indexing and countless hours reviewing documents, Eagle’s Nest is very proud to announce that 143 of our 182 acres are now officially under a conservation easement. For generations to come our students and campers will enjoy the same woods, streams and pastures that we do today. Our forest friends will forever roam their Eagle’s Nest habitat. Our streams will always run fresh and clear into our very own Little River and on to the French Broad. The plant species that grace our lands will be forever protected, rooted in their little corner of the Southern Appalachians.
Deep gratitude goes out to our friends at the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund for providing the funding and the expertise to bring this all to fruition. Their vision and guidance in protecting spaces throughout North Carolina is exemplary.
I can’t think of a better way to honor our Nest as we enter into our 90th year. Please look for our Fall Eagle coming in November for more detail about this exciting project!
Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director
OCT. 18, 2016
There’s no doubt about it – I love being outside and surround by nature. When I need comfort, I seek out a creek and let the cold water rush over my bare feet. When someone asks me to imagine my “happy place” I immediately imagine my sleep resting in tall grass on a high bald with the sun warm on my face. And nothing makes me more inspired than a clear night sky in the country, where millions of stars shine without being eclipsed by city lights. Luckily, I spend three months of the summer at Eagle’s Nest where I can explore the mountains and woods, and delight in the sights and sounds of nature. I let them all envelope me and am warmed in their embrace.
For the other 9 months of the year I live in the city. During the fall, the sounds of night include fireworks from the fair, sirens from the local fire department, and the trains rumbling through. I enjoy those sounds too, but they don’t bring the same comfort as the songs of the spring peepers and bull frogs. I also stay pretty busy, and don’t often have time to escape to the country or mountains. But I’ve found that even in the city, nature is all around me. When I walk to work, I try to tune in to the sounds of the birds as they change throughout the year with migration patterns (funny that the birds and I both summer and winter in different places). I delight each time I find a feather in my path, or at the brightly colored leaves as they begin to change and fall. And even though the street lights are bright in the city, the moon, as it waxes, is bright enough to wake me up at night and remind me that the stars are still up above me, waiting for me to return to my summer home.
As you go through the seasons, wherever you are, take a little time to appreciate and notice nature around you. Watch for the light as it changes with the coming of winter, look for evidence of the natural animals that share your yard (there are more than you would imagine), and bring in an arrangement of autumn leaves to remember the beauty of the natural world around you.
Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director
SEP. 23, 2016
A Follow Up to “Facing Challenges”
This summer my daughter Posey participated in her first Hante. As we prepared for her adventure in the spring, I took some time share my thoughts on why I thought Hante was an important opportunity for her to take in the summer between transitioning from middle to high school. Posey was really nervous about going on Hante, but her dad and I encouraged her to give it a try. I knew that on Hante she would encounter challenges –carrying a heavy backpack for many miles, managing group dynamics, setting up camp at the end of a long day of hiking, making the most of a burned meal, inclement weather, etc. We knew that it would be really tough at times, but so is high school, and life for that matter. It believe it’s important to teach children about taking on healthy risks and challenges, and to help them be resourceful and resilient. I knew that the challenges that she would face on Trek were not insurmountable. I knew that they would strengthen her character and build her confidence, which would help her as she starts to navigate the challenges of high school.
As expected, AT Trek was a challenge. On the opening day after check in Posey asked me “what do I do now.” After many years of attending camp, she was suddenly out of her comfort zone (much like she would be on her first day of high school after years of attending the same small school since kindergarten). I pointed her in the direction of the Sun Lodge and she nervously made her way up the hill. I didn’t see her again until she and the rest of the AT group hiked through the Dining Hall, packs on their back, ready to hit the trail. She was smiling and laughing along with the rest of the crew. I smiled as I thought about the experience ahead of her.
A few days later the Trek leaders called to check in and let us know how they were doing. After I’d received the group up-date I asked “How’s Posey?” Her instructor responded that she was doing well, but that she had had a difficult day. The group had had a 13-mile day, which is very difficult, and Posey had shed some tears. I was a little surprised to hear it (Posey is pretty tough), but I wasn’t worried. I knew that she’d get stronger, that she’d learn to power on, and that she would start to find her groove. And sure enough, she did. Two weeks later, I watched a happy, healthy, dirty daughter march back through Eagle’s Nest with her new best friends. She was laughing and holding their hands; she barely glanced at me.
When I got a chance to ask Posey about Trek she said “It was good. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” which is high praise from Posey. She went on to talk about how great her group was (she still stays in close contact with many of them). The stories started tumbling out, and she told each with a smile and a laugh, even the ones that were clearly connected to days that were challenging in some way.
A month ago Posey started high school. She rides her bike to school everyday, and has joined the Cross Country team even though she’s never been a runner and has to rush from Cross Country practice to her club soccer practice. She laughs about still not really knowing her way around school. I see that she’s trying new things, and that she has the confidence to step out of her comfort zone and take on new healthy risks. Just I thought it would, I see that her experiences on Hante have helped her in her first month of high school. This summer, Posey faced the mountain (actual and metaphorical) and summited it. She grew, and she had had a blissful experience doing it. Posey is already looking forward to participated in Hante Pacific Northwest next summer. I can’t wait to see what challenges and successes it will bring!
Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director
AUG. 22, 2016
Most people can agree that there is something magical about the mountains and the time we spend among them. But I often find it hard to explain why. Even now as I write this, I am not quite sure I will be able to express the thoughts or emotions that come from my experience, but here goes.
Upon arriving in Italy we hit the ground running. Okay, maybe it was more of a slow stroll, but nonetheless, despite the jetlag and 24 hours of traveling, our group set out among the busy and crowded streets of Rome to do the only thing we could. We spent hours wandering the streets and historic sites, taking in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus all while throngs of people chattered around us in an amazing array of languages. Traffic zoomed around and busses and Trolleys zipped along their lines and our group quickly got swept into the motions of this life. But among the motions, there were many moments of mimicry and confusion. Every one of us struggled at some point, whether it was with ordering a cup of water or figuring out how to flush the toilet. Even as an instructor, curve balls fly at you that you could have never predicted. Nothing dramatic or devastating, just interesting bumps along the path that are the nature of travel.
After an especially hot wait for a long lost Bus 81, and the ensuing cramped and sweaty ride through Rome, the group was more than pleased to find the trip North to Cinque Terre was along a quiet, un-crowded train. Strolling along the streets of Manarola just around 5PM proved to be a welcome departure from the bustle of Rome. But, not all was familiar once again. That evening was another flurry of activity to find dinner among the crowded streets as the entirety of the Cinque Terre Region flocked to the narrow alleys of Vernazza for the Festival of Santa Margarita. Again, just another challenge expertly navigated by the group, but one no one expected to find. After being rewarded with an amazing display of fireworks, the region continued to amaze with breathtaking scenery. The towns clutching to the steep hillsides, poised to fall into the ocean, while floods of people popped into the towns for “day-trips”. The trails connecting the town offered a welcome break while also packing in some breathtaking ascents of the terraced vineyards and farms (And when I say breathtaking, I mean physical demands of the hike as much as the beauty).
Despite its quaint seaside feel, even Cinque Terre proved to have its own quarks that never made it really feel like home. It wasn’t until arriving in Trento that I truly felt the change. Stepping out of the train station was a welcome surprise. There were mountains in every direction. For the first time I finally felt something familiar. And starting our Trek in the Dolomites only strengthened that feeling. From the first day in Pragser Wildsee, I could tell I felt “in my element”. The maps and terrain, though new in many ways, was also welcomingly familiar. The humility I felt among the stone giants, and the awe of seeing the sweeping landscapes were a language I was fluent in. Even arriving to the first Rifugio I felt this kindred connection with everyone we met. Here people were overjoyed with life, invigorated by the challenges of trekking everyday. I think it was when the group really started to connect on an unconscious level and when I believe we found our “flow”. Even when it rained for all of our 8 hour hike, and the wind blew, and everything felt wet and cold, it was still a welcomed experience – one I knew too well to truly distaste. It was just another side of the mountains that I had come to love. And through this familiarity and connection, every new experience felt like I was discovering new sides to an old friend. We watched clouds of rain engulf us. We ate lunch with all-too-friendly calf who would chew on any lose article of clothing or gear. We had joyfully fragmented conversations in half spoken-half signed languages. We ate our fill of dry cheese sandwiches and polenta many times over. We took wrong turns, and shortcuts that took longer, and spent hours laughing about the muddy slips and falls we all took.
These were not the mountains I called home, but they were filled with a spirit and energy I knew well. The experiences were both new and old, like de’ja vu. It was a place I was coming home too as much as I was visiting. And leaving was just as hard. Leaving the Dolomites was just as much a departure from “home” as it was the start of our trip’s departure. Even the group felt it. On our train ride home someone asked “Why can’t we just leave for home from Trek? Taking a train and going back to Rome feels like slowly pulling off the Band-Aid. It’s so hard to watch it all disappear in the distance after everything we’ve done up there”
Our last days in Rome we treasured our time together before finally splitting into our separate ways. But I could feel that just leaving the mountains, had already started our goodbye. Waking up each morning was just a bit harder and each step we took was another step away from the journey we shared; A language we spoke so fluently to ourselves and each other. A place I will call home even if I never return.
DEC. 14, 2015
Hante AT Trek 1976 – Sam’s Gap to Laurel Fork Gorge
15 Years Old
July 12, 1st Day:
Hiked 6 miles. Sunny at first but changed to thunder storm on Big Bald Mtn. Got 3 bee stings at first of hike. Scott P. got lost and twisted ankle. Had peanut stew for dinner.
July 13, 2nd Day: Hiked 10 mi. Beautiful weather, sunny and warm. It was hard hiking today but we made it in about 4:00 PM. I twisted my ankle but it seems to be okay. For dinner we had spaghetti.
July 14, 3rd Day: Hiked 15 mi. We had great weather today. We started about 9:00 and hiked to the Nolichucky River. There we went swimming and washed our hair. We left the river about 2:00 and hiked until 8:00 which was quite unexpected. We missed Laurel Springs and ended up camping at Beauty Spot 4 miles later. We had Almond Rice for supper then went to bed about 12:00.
July 15, 4th Day: Free day. Today we didn’t do much of anything. We read aloud out of Walk About and hiked up to the bald. A couple came by and talked to us about the A.T. and then gave us a watermelon. We had potato fritters and Elderberry fritters for dinner.
July 16th 5th Day: Hiked 10 mi. When we started out it was cloudy but it soon cleared up. First off we climbed Unaka Mt. Then we went on to Cherry Shelter where we had lunch. Soon after that a thunder storm rolled in which continued until we reached our campsite. We camped in an apple orchard and had Bulgar Curry for supper.
That was the last entry for Hante 1976 but we went the full amazing 10 days. Flash forward 1 year and I again was out on the trail. The summer is 1977 and this time around the experience is different but also wonderful. My journal entries are also much longer this year so you’ll just get one.
Hante Trek 1977: Mt. Rogers – Laurel Fork Gorge
16 Years Old
Friday, July 22: What a beautiful camping spot! We’re up near the top of Mt. Rogers in a big field. There are a few stands of Spruce trees, but other than that they’re only crops of rocks, ferns and grass. The clouds are blowing right on us and I can hear a bird singing in the distance. The space reminds me so much of Scotland and the Moors around in the Lake District.
Today I think our whole group grew, each beginning to know the others better. By the end of the 10 days we’re surely all going to know everyone else’s fault and hopefully our own.
We’re having cheese rice for dinner and then we’ll all get a good night’s sleep on the soft grass. Tomorrow it is over Mt. Rogers!
Oh! We ate lunch at Old Orchard Shelter – what a view (if you could see through the clouds)!
It is so fun to read back through these entries and relive this trek – the details from my 16 year old brain help to bring back those 10 days on the trail. As I flip through the few pages of my journal from the next year, 1978 (Fontana Dam to Dick’s Creek Gap, Georgia), I see that my head was not into journaling. That summer became more a leadership summer for me and I think my need for writing was not there on that trip. That year was a year of pictures of which you see a few here.
Life on the trail is a journey, no matter how long you are out or how old you are. It is a place unlike any other to have space for reflection, to challenge your endurance, to build friendships and life live fully immersed in the natural world. I encourage you to step out this summer and go on your own Hante – you will never regret it!
Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director