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FEB. 24, 2017

To Walk with Intention and Awareness: A Glimpse of a Weekend at Buffalo Cove

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“…. At one period of the earth’s history there was a kind of ‘earthly paradise,’ in the sense that there was a perfectly harmonious and perfectly natural life: the manifestation of Mind was in accord – was still in complete accord – and in total harmony with the ascending march of Nature, without perversion or deformation. This was the first stage of Mind’s manifestation in material forms.” (The Mother’s “Agenda”, Vol 2)

This past weekend, Outdoor Academy Semester 44 students had the privilege of experiencing the power of connectedness to the Earth, and learn a lot about themselves as well, during their recent trip to Buffalo Cove Outdoor Education Center, outside of Boone, North Carolina.

Nathan Rourke, director of Buffalo Cove, has deep roots within Eagle’s Nest Foundation dating back to developing the Paleo Man adventures for summer camp and being on faculty during the initial years of OA and the Birch Tree program.  His daughter, Maddie, is a current student at OA and they have practiced and refined their skills of living sustainably and harmoniously with the Earth, dating back to Nathan’s teenage years.


OA and Buffalo Cove have forged this partnership throughout the years, instilling virtues and values within each organization with a three-day trip for each semester.  In exchange for his staff teaching earth skills lessons (stalking, bowl burning, fire by friction, shelter-building, etc.), OA students practice their work ethic principle through work crews, building trails, setting beams for structures, lopping, and helping in permaculture gardens.

Upon their return, students write reflection papers for Outdoor Education class.  Here are a few excerpts:

“Nathan does a great job of giving an explanation of WHY we are doing every work crew, so it feels more meaningful and powerful.”

“It felt good to dance around the fire on Saturday evening, not bound by judgement, and it allowed our community to begin the process of breaking down our walls to allow us to flourish.”

“Awareness was a constant theme of the weekend.  Awareness of yourself, your mind, the full moon, the cool breeze in the valley and others, is such a powerful piece.  The world is much larger than ourselves, and yet we get bound to this at times.”


Each semester I reach out to Nathan and his wonderful staff before each trip to Buffalo Cove, and speak to the community needs of each OA semester and what I hope for them to come away with.  He does an amazing job of framing each activity.  His program intentional and grounded, and students always come away with a powerful transformative experience.  Whether it be howling at the moon, drumming around a fire, dressing a rabbit, learning how animals stalk prey, or cooking over an open fire, Buffalo Cove is always exactly what each semester needs at exactly the right time.

Lucas Newton, Outdoor Education Manager

NOV. 18, 2016

The Spark of Our Thriving Community

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Smoke is in the air at The Outdoor Academy. For the past week, we have breathed the exhaust of external fires, questioned the effect of drought on our temperate rainforest, and caught echoes of political turmoil swirling through the U.S. Yet, it seems turbulence in the larger world has little power to negatively influence our small community. We continue to chug along despite the harsh climate, singing a mantra of ‘I think I can, I think I can.’ Or perhaps, ‘Inch by inch, row by row’ may be more accurate for readers familiar with our Eagle’s Nest repertoire.

At the beginning of the week the students took pleasure in the smoky red super-moon, curling howls into the cold, fall air. Some of my peers on the faculty undoubtedly joined them from the top of Looking Glass rock, after completing a night-climb of the classic North Carolina Route ‘The Nose.”  In the world of intellect, my students in Algebra II powered through our last week of class before break. The entire class of Environmental Seminar wrote letters to their respective senators outlining steps we may take as a country regarding environmental policy, putting to use the knowledge they’ve earned. And, as always, our faculty meeting last night resounded with reports of this or that student stepping up in Crafts, English, or Science.

I see now I misspoke earlier; our community is not just chugging along, we are thriving. The smoke of external fires does nothing to slow our progress ever forward. At the core, we at the OA try never to see problems, only challenges. A step on the crumbling edge of the trail with a heavy pack, a fall to a twisted ankle; these are elements to a recipe for a painful and challenging trek. However, there also lies the chance to find new strength, to learn reliance on your peers, to find further limits to your endurance, to ice your swollen ankle in the freezing skinny-dip falls, and to feel the wonderful warmth return when you can bear the water no longer. These are the lessons our students will remember the longest, when things were dang hard, and they kept moving anyway. In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, I am most thankful for the inevitable proof our students give that there is no hill too big to climb together (I think I can, I think I can).

Robbie deBurlo

Math Teacher, Medical Coordinator, and Wilderness Instructor 

OCT. 24, 2016

One Hundred and Forty Three Acres Protected #ForeverOurNest #ENF4evergreen

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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

APR. 6, 2016

Bravery at OA

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Johan Taljaard, Social Media and Marketing Coordinator

I have a fortunate view of Semesters as they come and go. As the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Eagle’s Nest and OA, I get to watch a lot of the action of a semester through a camera lens. I strive to capture the candid moments that reflect the spirit of specific activities.

Because of my role I get to be on outdoor trips while not being in a leadership position, allowing my view to be that of a participant, which I think is an important element to showing the world out there what we get up to here on campus and in the wild places.

Because of my position I’ve witnessed numerous feats of personal bravery from our students. I’ve watched students that have had but a picnic under the belt go out for 10 Day Treks through consistent downpour (we’re in Transylvania County remember). I’ve watched students with varying degrees of acrophobia (fear of heights) muster up the courage to take on the slab and get the awesome view from the top.  I saw Semester 42 take on their Orientaion Trek (Day 1-3 of their time here) in the snow. Yes, the first 3 days of OA, out in the wild, in the snow, with a bunch of new faces.


Most recently I had the fortune of accompanying Semester 42 on a 3-day paddling trip in East Tennessee. Conditions we’re great on day one, but changed drastically on day two. Cool temperatures coupled with strong erratic gusts of wind made getting into the boat seem like a silly idea.

At this point I’ll admit that my boat flipped on day two in a rapid that was about as daunting as Daffy Duck. We had some nervous paddlers before that, and my boat flipping did not help any. However, they all proceeded to run the rapid and emabarrasingly, no else flipped. Bruised ego, much? You bet. Add to that a plumetting body temperature manifested in shivers and feet that seemed purple and somewhat translucent. Yikes.


What impressed was how the students kept hitting every rapid without hesitation, perhaps to their detriment, but nonetheless, courage was on display! I watched some boats hitting the rapid at less than desirable angles,  yet but by commiting to it, make it out unscathed. I watched another boat get sucked in by a side current, forcing them down a different door of the rapid backwards!




We had a boat flip on the biggest rapid of the trip and again to my surprise saw no complaints or motions to give up and bail out. Even when given the chance to skip certain rapids, every boat went down.

Perhaps it’s the community at OA that fosters courage and embraces challenge, or maybe it’s the fact that our students are so committed to their experience that they’re willing to take on anything for the sake of the life skills that can be learnt at a school such as ours. Whatever it is, as a staff member, I am impressed by it and consider it a privilege to capture these moments to show to the world what we’re up to.

Feel free to meander through our Flickr Page and see or perhaps relive some experiences our students get to enjoy during a typical Semester at OA.

Johan Taljaard, Social Media and Marketing Coordinator

MAR. 28, 2016

Spring has Sprung at OA

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Racheal Duffy, Math Teacher

Spring has come to the mountains.  Peepers are peeping, flowers are blooming, and the students are getting anxious to get back to the woods.  The last few weeks, since we came back from spring break, have held so much promise in the air.  Classes frequently use their outdoor spaces around campus, students can be seen running, walking, and enjoying their Choice period once again in the warmth of the sun.  The timing of the beginning of the season couldn’t be better as we head into, arguably, the best part of the semester.  The magic has begun to happen.

Students battled a bit of weather this past weekend and temperatures struggled to reach the mid 60s but nonetheless, our steadfast semester took the opportunity and ran, or should I say climbed and paddled with it?  This weekend marked the first official Paddle Climb weekend where each student spent their days on the rock and in the river learning how to use their body to work with the natural world in order to explore and learn from it.  It is a precursor to the subsequent Paddle Climb weekend we have later this week where students will spend an entire weekend paddling and another climbing.

We aren’t just getting out on the river and rock but will be exploring our nearby communities.  Our crafts weekend kicks off next weekend with a Contra dance and ends with engaging lessons from local artists in their craft.  Then comes Cataloochee, our Classes in the Field trip.  More to come about that later!  Finally, we’ll wrap up the semester with a student led Trek and Solo.

Spring has sprung and our students are ready for it.  They continue to prepare and grow within themselves an opportunity for magic, hope, and belief in the world around them.

Racheal Duffy, Math Teacher

FEB. 4, 2016

Learning is the Thing For You

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Katie Harris, Dean of Academics

The students of Semester 42 finished their first week of official classes at The Outdoor Academy. Though the recent snow had students drying wet gloves and asking what their next class was in a constantly changing “snow day” schedule, not a single class was missed last week save one crafts class. At the beginning of my English class on Thursday, I asked our students what they had learned at school so far, and the responses were as wide-ranging as our students’ geographical homes.

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Patrick shared that he learned how to edit songs; Eva learned how to chop wood with a wedge. Finn learned that high mortality rates in certain species are the consequence of laying high numbers of eggs, while Ade learned how to knit. Another student learned both what a niche is in scientific terms and how to use a washing machine. I had to cut my respondents off because I had run out of space on my paper to take note, but it seemed that quite a lot had taken place in just a few days.

Once asked by a colleague to define “education” in as brief a phrase as possible, I replied, “Change.” It seems simple enough, but to create an environment for the greatest, most effective, and most positive change possible requires an enormous amount of work on the part of both teacher and student. While Eva worked very hard at splitting a log (I can personally attest that this is quite a difficult endeavor) and Finn questioned the various birthing strategies among species, our faculty spent hours behind the scenes creating the space for our students to grow and change. During the run of unusual snow days, faculty came in at odd hours and at a moment’s notice to teach a class. Our math team (Racheal, Robbie, and Susan) spent the week getting to know our new students and shifting the class rosters around to both achieve a community of learners in each class while fully challenging each individual student. Incidentally, the Algebra 2 math curricula of California, New York, and Florida are not identical.

Polly and Rodrigo, our world language teachers, checked in with me often as they sought the perfect balance between challenge and comfort level among students. Ted took his science classes on their first adventure around campus. And I was honored to hear from Mary Claire that the ending to one of our assigned short stories in English class was, in her words, “mind-blowing.” Similar anecdotes could probably be found about the arts, outdoor education, and history courses of the week had I done due diligence.

I am inspired by the heart and dedication of my fellow faculty here at The Outdoor Academy, and it is with them in my mind that I share the words of T.H. White from The Once and Future King:

“[Learning] is the only thing that never fails… That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

Katie Harris, Dean of Academics