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SEP. 19, 2013

The Importance of Students

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Homemade fried chicken is a labor of love. I was reminded of this adage as I frantically dusted chicken and chopped kale, glancing at the clock and wishing I had started cooking dinner an hour earlier. Even though I had been sweating in the Sun Lodge kitchen for two hours, I was barely going to get the food on the table in time.

Thankfully, as I was sweating and stressing over the steaming kale and bubbling chicken, I was joined by our student John, who took my mind off the pressures at hand with stories of his family hunting lodge. John kept me company, telling me about his experience growing up in Atlanta, but spending every spare hour roaming his woods in Alabama, learning to track and hunt. With humble satisfaction, he described how he earned the respect of his country neighbors by hunting down invasive hogs, and how he worked to cull the white-tail deer population of weaker members, keeping the herd healthy. I asked him how he learned to hunt, and he told me about listening to his uncle and other veteran hunters, and that he learned most everything by wandering through the woods by himself and paying attention. I thought of the boy in Faulkner’s “The Bear.”

John observed that during our paddling and climbing trips, he was again the student of a new trade and that our wilderness staff were the master-teachers. He told me that if I ever found my way down to his neck of the woods, he could take me on as a student, and he would be the master-teacher. I was struck not only by the sincerity and generosity of John’s words but also by his insight into how traditional crafts are learned and transmitted. The student must find a masterful teacher, pay attention, and practice. Simple as that.

For John, his uncle and the woods were his master teachers. Similarly, in my climbing, I had a few great mentors and Looking Glass Rock. Most importantly, John and I have had the chance to get in some serious “dirt time”—being out in the elements, and learning to notice the small things. This semester, we will take the time to focus on the small things that transform us from being good enough to truly great. Those little labors of love keep us invested in what we do, and remind us that it is important to do what we love.

Felix Dowsley
Head Resident

APR. 30, 2013

Hannah’s Scones & Eggs: A Breakfast Tradition

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OA Scones and Eggs

“I still think about them every Wednesday…..not exaggerating. One of the best breakfasts of my life.”
~Eliza, Semester 33

For eight semesters I have been making scones and eggs for breakfast at The Outdoor Academy. This simple breakfast tradition has taught me a bit about community and human nature and also allowed me to try out some creative culinary ideas.

One day, near the beginning of this semester, a student asked me, “Hannah, what happens on Wednesday mornings at breakfast? A friend of mine from last semester said something magical happens, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was.” I smiled and said, “You’ll just have to wait and see.” Still it takes a few weeks for the magic to sink in.

At the beginning of each semester, I watch as the students timidly file into the dining room of the Sun Lodge and look at this breakfast as if there is nothing impressive about it in the least. I smile to myself because I now know their reaction will change in a few weeks. It is predictable at this point.

But it eventually does, and by the end of the semester scones and eggs day is eagerly awaited each week. Here is what some current OA students of Semester 36 have to say about Scones and Eggs:

We all wake up on Wednesday morning with smiles on our faces because we know what day it is – Scones and Eggs!!!” ~ Hannah R.

Scones and Eggs day is so good that I journal about what flavor scone we have every Wednesday.” ~ Kate G.

In my hardest moments, I think of scones and eggs on Wednesdays and it gets me through.” ~Annie J.

It is so comforting to expect this every Wednesday. Back home, I’d be eating cereal.” ~ Emma B.

Every Wednesday is original, with different flavors of scones and eggs, and it shows how you can start each day differently.” ~ Ethan G.

Scone day is like heaven!” ~ Grace R.

I love to cook, and especially I love to cook for our community. I believe in eating well, and eating food that tastes good. In my book, a key ingredient in food tasting good is love. One of the aspects of scones and eggs day, I hope, is that everyone attending breakfast receives some love when they break their fast in the morning.

Some students have wanted to receive more than is healthy, and after a semester where some students (teenage boys with underdeveloped self-control! – I love you all!) ate between seven and ten scones each morning and had me scrambling to crank out more and more scones each week, I decided there could be a healthy limit put on scone consumption. For the last six semesters, students have had the limit of 3 scones. This seems to work well for everyone.

“Scones and eggs day is definitely one of the best breakfast days, if not the best, at The Outdoor Academy! You can always look forward to awesome flavored scones (like golden raisin and pumpkin seed/sunflower seeds and potatoes..Mmmmmm) and the eggs are delish! When you get back, carry on the tradition. Its a very sad day when you wake up on random Wednesdays thinking you’re getting those and then you realize you’re not there anymore….ENJOY THEM THEY ARE THE MOST AWESOME EVER!!” – Liza, Semester 33

I try to make a different kind of scones and eggs each week, inspired by what we have available in the kitchen. For the scones, I usually use a fruit and nut combination to provide a balance of fiber, protein, and carbohydrates and get our students off to a great start in their day. Here are some of my favorite flavor combinations: apricot cashew, carrot raisin pumpkin seed, sweet potato chocolate chip, apple almond, banana walnut, blueberry sunflower seed, and pumpkin date cashew. For the eggs, I try to make tasty combinations of eggs scrambled with vegetables like kale, onion, broccoli and peas. Sometimes I give them a little Central American flare and go the eggs with rice and beans route.

Scones and Eggs are an Outdoor Academy institution! Its always a fun surprise to guess what yummy flavor the scones will be or which veggies will be in the eggs! Scones and Eggs day provides a great start to the middle day of the week and is certainly a highlight of residential life.”
-Josh Rosenstein, OA Faculty Member/Scone Enthusiast

Making scones and eggs for 30 people has gotten easier over the years. I put the dry ingredients for scones in the mixer and crack all the eggs the night before, so in the morning starting at 7am I can easily make golden scones and egg scramble, ready to be served in an hour. I make drop scones instead of rolling them out and cutting them into the traditional triangles. Our newly acquired convection oven makes the scones golden and evenly baked.

My first semester at OA, one of our students was vegan, so I started making vegan scones – using oil instead of butter, and orange juice instead of milk. They turned out wonderfully and I haven’t gone back. Thus, four years later, the scones are still vegan. And this semester, I have been inspired by a student who is gluten-free to make a gluten-free scone option each Wednesday too. Catering to my audience of eaters has helped me expand my knowledge of cooking and working with various dietary needs.

Oh man! Your scones were sooooo difficult for me to live up to with my breakfast the following day. . . Constantly trying to equal the glory of the scones. Also, I was absolutely in awe of your ability to convince 15 year-olds that Kale in eggs is a fantastic idea (which, of course, it is).”

As I prepare to bid farewell to OA at the end of this semester, I am keenly aware of many things I will miss. Making scones and eggs is certainly on that list. I have so many great memories of early mornings in the Sun Lodge kitchen and serving scones and eggs to appreciative, hungry students and staff, semester after semester. This is a simple way I have been able to give to this community and it has in turn allowed us all to leave with memories of this certain OA breakfast that I, for one, will treasure for a long time to come. Give Thanks!

Here is a downsized version of my Scones recipe:
2 cups flour (I use 1.5 All purpose, and .5 whole wheat)
pinch of salt
1/4 c. oil 
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1 T. baking powder
1/3 c. milk
1/2 cup creative additions (fruit, nuts, choc chips, etc.)

Combine all dry ingredients, add wet ingredients and stir until combined (adjust your liquid amounts depending on what the moisture content is of your fruit)
Add creative additions and let the dough sit for 10 minutes
Bake at 350 degrees until they are golden brown


APR. 18, 2013

Classes in the Field!

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Last week, students spent 5 days base-camping and having classes in the beautiful Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We call this week out Classes in the Field, and it is regularly cited as a favorite activity by teachers and students. Coming to Cataloochee has been a tradition for the last few years at the Outdoor Academy and this year, for the first time, our students left Cataloochee and directly began their 9-day backpacking trip. This means that when they return to campus this weekend they will have been out for 13 straight days!

We arrived in the Smokies on Monday and stopped at an overlook where Ted gave an overview of the geology of the valley, pointing out our campsite, Big Cataloochee and Little Cataloochee (main settlement zones). Ted also talked a bit about the cultural history of the park and its first Ranger- Mark Hannah. After setting up camp, we drove to Big Catalochee and wandered among the Elk, and explored the Palmer Chapel, the old School House, the Caldwell House and its signature barn. Some students hiked up to the Caldwell Cemetery up the hill and to the Woody House, deep in the woods. We all met up in the Caldwell House where Ted ran down the history of the prominent Caldwell family and Hannah P shared some funny stories she read about one of the Caldwell’s children.  After we headed back to camp for dinner, students started a game of “hot-seat,” an interview game that continued each night of the trip.

Tuesday we stayed around the campsite during the day and teachers offered unique, cross-disciplinary classes that we felt matched the cultural and environmental history of the area. Ted offered a section on ecology, Laura discussed map-making and compasses, Susan taught survival skills and Josh, Hannah & Katie Harris lead a lesson on Appalachian Ballads. Students also had some time to journal, play games and enjoy the beautiful creek.

Wednesday was devoted to an all-day hike through Little Cataloochee. Students visited old cabins and Ted discussed the basics of how someone would have built a log cabin around the turn of the century. We stopped at the ruins of Will Messer’s place and students put their archaeology caps on, combing through the woods looking for evidence of human settlement. We also stopped at the church at Little Cataloochee where Josh and Katie talked about Shaped Note/Sacred Harp singing and Katie lead the group in song. The day ended with an epic off-trail hike down the mountain that ended at our campsite.

Thursday morning saw another period of classes and workshops, where students where able to learn about astronomy with Ted, work on watercolors with Hannah, play music with Josh, or write poetry with Katie. After lunch students went into the woods to delve into and celebrate their inner “wildness” with Michael and then they had some solo time in the woods. We “bomb-proofed” camp in preparation for the thunderstorm that came in that evening and got ready for Trek before bed.

Then Friday morning students got all packed up and hit the trail with the Wilderness Staff, as the Teaching Faculty returned to campus. It was a great week outside and our students are full of new knowledge and skills, great memories and some wonderful stories. We’re sure they will have more upon their return from Trek!


APR. 3, 2013

Student Voices: Sarah’s Epilogue to Cold Mountain

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Sarah OA Student


Once again, students of the The Outdoor Academy finished reading and discussing Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. I love reading novels with different groups because I find that my own understanding is always deepened through new angles and nuances brought up by students. Semester 36 is no exception, and this time, I decided to ask students to create an artifact that synthesized the many themes in Frazier’s work. Hearing folk ballads of Ada and Inman’s tragic love, viewing artistic renderings of views from Ada’s window in Black Cove, and acting out student-created scenes that tied into the novel’s original plot was a blast, and so I thought for those who have read Cold Mountain, you might find the following work by Sarah fascinating—- an “epilogue to the epilogue.”

-Katie Harris, English Teacher & Academic Dean

Ada’s hand slipped into mine, her fingers curling around my hand. It now felt like the natural state, for our fingers to be interlocked. After four years, I no longer noticed the emptiness of where the tip of her index finger used to be.

It had left her the day after the winter solstice. Ada wanted to chop down some trees on the ridgeline. I offered my help, but she insisted that it was something that she should do herself.

So I stayed back to slice the fresh timber into firewood. Every hour or so, Waldo would carry a new load to me. Stobrod relaxed in the cart as it bounced over tree roots and rocks, trying to get in a few minutes of sleep.

I remember the day as being odd for a North Carolina winter. Clouds hung low over the mountaintops. The sun hid behind them, so an eerie darkness remained in Black Cove through the morning. Fog seeped in everywhere, enveloping the land. Its thickness was such that I would catch only glimpses of crows as they flew overhead. On this day they seemed unclear of direction and flew slowly as if their wings were weighed down.

The heaviness of the air muffled all noise. As Ada hacked at the trees in the distance, the sound was so faint it could have been my own heart beating. But unlike my pulse, her chopping was not in sync with me. All morning I would try to match my rhythm of slicing the wood with hers, but I could never figure out just what beat she was going for.

It had been this way ever since I had met her in the woods on that cold, snowy day. We would be doing something together, but it often felt like we were miles away, struggling to keep the same tempo. I loved her, but adjusting to her new self had proved harder than I had thought. She had amazed me on the day I tried to go north. As I lay in the snow drawing shuttering breaths that I had thought would be my last, I watched the young outlier falling slowly to the ground, staring at the gun in Ada’s hand with a look of shock on his face. Regret was etched in it, too, for sneaking back to grab his pistol. That moment had lodged itself into my mind and I remembered it with surprising clarity. The rest of the next few days, as Ada and Ruby scrambled to patch me up, were a blur.

I fingered the spot on my ribs where it had made contact. Half of an inch up or down, and the bullet would have gone straight through my heart. All that remained now were an ugly scar and a tender ribcage.

In recalling my memories, I had stopped chopping wood. I fingered the axe and counted the vultures in the air. Those are the cheating birds, I said to myself. They are the birds that come as the epilogue to the epilogue, after the prey has already died and its story has ended.

The only sound in the heavy air was that of Ada chopping up at the ridge. Suddenly, the air was pierced with a shriek from her direction. I dropped my axe and sprinted towards the sound. My ribs burned from the violent breathing, but I kept running until I saw Ada.

She was kneeling on the ground, examining her finger as if it were a painting for her to gaze at, still unsure of her opinion of it.

-Oh, hello Inman, she said.

-Are you alright?

-Yes. I’ve decided that I didn’t need that finger much anyway.

She grabbed my hand with her good one and we walked back down in silence. A trail of blood dripped from her hand. It was as if we were dropping old memories at each footstep and leaving them behind to sink into the earth. As we walked, our breaths came short in the frigid air, but soon I could not tell them apart. In and out, we breathed at a steady tempo. Our strides matched up, and the thumping of our feet simultaneously hitting the ground joined in to the rhythm. We strode together out of the forest onto one of our fields. The sun shone down through a gap in the clouds. I noticed that the moon was also visible up ahead. The fog was lifting, and in the gradually clearing sky, two crows flew together side by side, their wings flapping in unison. They flew as with purpose, now confident of where they were and where they wanted to go.

-Papa! Can’t I play with this stick?

I was jolted back to the present. I looked at my beautiful daughter standing in the firelight. I shook my head no. She shrugged and leapt away. Ada and I smiled at each other as she twirled around and around under the light of the moon.

MAR. 21, 2013

Day at DuPont!

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Tuesday was an amazing day for students and faculty at the Outdoor Academy!

We spent the whole day in beautiful DuPont State Forest. Known for its spellbinding waterfalls and beautiful trails, DuPont is also a bit of a Hollywood Star- if you’ve seen the movies “The Hunger Games” or “The Last of the Mohicans,” then you’ve seen the beauty of DuPont. Setting out just after breakfast and morning chores, we made a base around Lake Imaging. Students had their regular morning classes outside; Math with Laura, French with Polly and Spanish with Rodrigo. During their free periods, they had time to explore around the area, write in their journals, and work on their crafts like knitting and whittling. After classes, we all shared a picnic lunch overlooking the serene Lake Imaging.


Yoga and stretching with Hannah!

After lunch we jumped back in the busses and headed a ways down the road to explore a different part of the forest. We hiked up Cedar Mountain to enjoy the rugged, more exposed rocky part of the park. We split up for our social studies classes, with Katie Harris joining History class to discuss literary perspectives on the Romantic Period, while Kate Howell led a discussion for Environmental Seminar about the rise of consumerism, materialism and our national addiction to shopping. Both conversations were especially interesting in the setting, as many Romantic writers wrote often of natural scenes with flowing, flowering language, and the stark, simple beauty of our surroundings offered a contrast to industrial consumerism. In English, students did an exercise in Flash Fiction, writing stories inspired by TS Elliot’s Objective Correlative in which they portrayed feeling and emotion by describing the natural world around them. Science class took advantage of our setting on the rock to discuss the geology of plutons, as well as the ecology of the exposed rocky environment. Then Hannah took all of the students for a session of partner yoga, followed by an all-school earth art activity where students created works of art from natural materials (in the style of Andy Goldsworthy) and then returned them to the earth.


Jumping for joy at DuPont!

These sort of days are so thrilling, informative and fun for both students and educators.

Give Thanks for the chance to learn outside on a beautiful day!


FEB. 14, 2013

Living in Harmony: Group Singing at the Outdoor Academy

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We have a wonderful culture of group and community singing here at the Outdoor Academy. It’s one of my favorite things that we do here. Group singing is something I believe people don’t get enough of in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. Research has shown that regular group singing improves the mental health of a community. Singing brings us together in such a sweet, honest, and real way. We sing all day here, starting with the Good Morning Watch song. We sing this before our daily hike up to Copperhead Ridge, getting our voices, bodies, and minds a stretching before chores, breakfast and classes.

Good Morning Song:

Lift your heads the to rising sun, Children of Appalachia

Fresh new day has just begun, Give Thanks Appalachia

Draw the water, stoke the fire, stamp the (rain/frost/dew) right off your boots

Lift your heads to the rising sun, Children of Appalachia.


Before each meal we circle as a community, and following the introduction of the meal and any important announcements, our student leader of the day (which we call the Adasahede, a Cherokee term loosely defined as “spirit guide”) leads a song to bless the meal. Some of our favorites are “Down in My Heart,” “Happiness Runs,” “Peace Like a River,” “The Garden Song,” and “Simple Gifts.” Finally, our days at the OA end in the same musical way they begin- with the Good Night Circle Song:

May the peace of this valley around us,

The warmth of the fire within,

The shelter of the stars, above us,

The strength of the rivers nearby

Guide us safely through this nigh

Till morning lights the sky

Students regularly sing throughout the day outside of these formal occasions- music can be heard all over campus, be it folks in their free singing songs from the Eagle’s Nest Songbook or Music Students belting our Ballads, Sea Shanties or songs from Africa. Here is our Appalachian Sage Music Class sharing their favorite shanty “John Kanaka.” The role of song-leader or “shantyman”is played wonderfully by Charles, a student from Greensboro.


Give Thanks and Keep Singing!!