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MAY. 11, 2017

Garden Work in the Transition of Seasons

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When I took a walk down to the Eagle’s Nest Garden this week to see how progress was coming for this summer’s growing season, I half expected Bella to thrust a pair of work gloves or a tool into my hands.  For all that she has been doing this semester to prepare for the sunny days of the western North Carolina summer, Bella was just as eager to pause and talk about the work that has already been done and the many projects that lay ahead.

For those of you who have not heard, Bella Smiga joined the Eagle’s Nest community over the winter as our Foundation’s Garden Manager.  After wrapping up an undergraduate degree in Environmental studies at the University of Colorado, Bella worked in the solar energy industry.  During that time she started exploring gardening on her own, found that she enjoyed the simplicity of growing food and the sense of self-reliance it brought her, and began dreaming about a career of feeding people without further damaging the earth.  Last year she completed a Master’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College where her education focused on both the practical application of low-impact farming and using sustainability-minded agriculture systems to build community.

Since her first afternoon at Eagle’s Nest, Bella has been working with the weekly Outdoor Academy garden work crew on projects to prepare the land for spring plantings.  These projects have included trimming back and rebuilding trellises for the raspberries and blackberries and pruning locust trees to let more light onto the growing beds.  As we stepped through the willow fence and out onto the fields, Bella explained her next steps.  The garden is at the transition point between the winter and the summer.  Cover crops, meant to replenish the soil with nutrients and stave off the erosion of rich topsoil, still cover most of the fields.  Seedling plants, including peppers, beets, broccoli, yellow squash, onions, several varieties of tomato, eggplant, zucchini, watermelon, and many herbs are being carefully nurtured in their infant stages as they await planting.

As winter fades and the threat of the last killing frost disappears, Bella is starting to experiment with new growing methods.  “One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more living microorganisms than there are people on the planet,” she reminds me.  Most farmers till the soil every spring to integrate new nutrients and prepare the land for new crops.  Yet, Bella fears the damage tilling can do to the soil life—healthy dirt makes healthy vegetables, after all.  While she explores no-till growing methods, Bella also has plans to refurbish the raised planting beds used to grow crops.  These are great teaching spaces for students and summer campers to relate back to a growing scale they might have seen in a home garden.

Bella will continue to plan planting and harvesting schedules, track growth of the plants, and weed rows of crops.  Throughout the year, different young people experience different parts of the farming process.  During these last two weeks of spring at the Outdoor Academy, Semester 44 will continue to enjoy some of the early plantings that are ready to be harvested, such as lettuce, kale, garlic, and radishes.

Eric McIntyre, Resident Wilderness Educator

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

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

OCT. 30, 2015

The Importance of Struggle

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Arrington McCoy, Dean of Students

We are heading out today for our student-led wilderness trek. Students have planned their routes, their menus and their gear for their upcoming five days in Pisgah Forest. As an instructor, I am responsible for stepping in only in an emergency situation, and most importantly, I am responsible for not getting in my students way otherwise. The second responsibility is surprisingly hard to achieve, but the benefits of such a success are profound.

On my first independent camping trip, my bear bag looked more like a mouse hang, I was lost more than I was sure of my position on the map and my camp stove broke—likely due to operator error. It ranks as one of my most memorable trips. And I find myself hoping that on this trek that my students will face their own brand of hardship and snafus and things gone awry.

Our students have the necessary tools to be successful on this trip. They’ve learned the camp craft skills and the navigation skills, and they are adept at working as a team. However, even if they are well equipped, they are not experts in the art of backpacking, and some struggle will no doubt be part of the equation this week.

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Researcher C.R. Snyder astutely points out: “Hope is the product of struggle.”

We implicitly know that the growth and learning that comes from struggle is profound, but despite this knowledge too often schools and organizations are directed to breed the struggle out of their programs. Thankfully the students and families who choose to come to The Outdoor Academy recognize the value of struggle as both a teacher and a gateway to new perspectives on the world. So if the mac ‘n’ cheese is a little charred or we hike the wrong way for a couple of miles this week, I won’t be upset. In fact, I will view those experiences as hope in the making.

Arrington McCoy, Dean of Students

OCT. 19, 2015

Classes in the Field – Fall 2015

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Racheal Duffy, Math Teacher

As the rain pounded the ground the teaching staff scurried about campus preparing food and gear for our highly coveted Classes in the Field.  Students were out on a five-day trek that was to lead directly into a week of camping in the Smoky Mountain National Park in a special area named Cataloochee.  As to be expected, Mother Nature threw us some curve balls but it was nothing Semester 41 could not handle.  Students spent the majority of their trek in the pouring rain with not a star in sight.  After coming back to campus, wringing out, warming up, and spending some time swapping trek stories (that only got better every time they were told) we all headed back out into the woods.  This time, Mother Nature was extremely kind to us and gave us some of the best fall weather we have seen yet this season.


We wound ourselves deep into the woods, finally settling on a beautiful campsite along a creek.  As we pulled into camp we saw some older buildings and began to learn about who had come before us on this land.  The Cataloochee area is rich with Appalachian history.  Throughout the next week students worked as a community to live simply all the while learning about the people of Cataloochee through song, craft, literature, and discussion.

The students took the OA principle of self-reliance during Day 2 to the letter.  We had spent the first half of the day exploring the area.  Students toured the Hannah cabin where they had the opportunity to build their own miniature log cabin and have it stand the test of the elements.  Later we became archaeologists and tried to map out an area where a town by the name of Ola was by using artifacts and other remains.  After lunch two of our talented students sang some hymns in one of the older churches bringing us right back to the mid 1800s.  After we fueled our bodies and souls with song we continued into the woods.  This is where things got exciting!  Semester 41 chose to find their own way back to camp during our hiking tour of the Cataloochee valley.  Student leaders consulted with each other, compass and map in hand, and led the entire semester through the rhododendrons, down the rocky slopes, and leapt over water right to camp just as the sun was setting.  It was a perfect day with an amazing group of individuals.  I couldn’t have imagined a better Classes in the Field.

Racheal Duffy, Math Teacher

OCT. 7, 2015

On The Changing Weather and Adventure

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Reily Kennedy, OA Resident & Wilderness Leader

With the weather taking a turn for the cooler and some of the trees starting to show their fall color we didn’t need the first day of fall to tell that the seasons are officially on the move. For all the August days of blistering humid heat the cooler temps should be a relief but I can’t help but be a little nostalgic for those summer days and hope for a few more warm ones before fall turns to winter.

Last weekend we definitely had our wishes granted for a beautiful 3 day paddling (or climbing) trip. The paddlers made the best of low water levels and enjoyed refreshing swims in the river, playing in the rapids, and checking out the scenery of the river (massive cliffs, geese passing through on their migration south and interesting locals). The climbers had amazing views into the heart of Pisgah National Forest from the top of Cedar Rock mountain. You can check out the pictures here:

Now that family weekend has come and gone and the beautiful late summer weather with it (we’ve now had almost four days of grey weather varying from pouring rain to mist and with no end in site) we are gearing up for our first five day trek and for classes in the field. Most of the students mentioned that trek and classes in the field as the thing they’re most looking forward to in the coming weeks and I’d have to agree with them. I am really excited to get off campus and to go tromping through the woods.

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I often find myself falling back into old habits of letting rain keep me inside and I try to identify the reasons behind this fear. Is it because of long ago camping trips where rain poured into my tarp all night, or more recent exposure to rain that left me shivering all day, or the denial of a view from the top of a mountain I worked so hard to summit? But really in all these instances it wasn’t the rain that ruined things for me but my inexperience in some of the long ago cases, or my flippant disregard and laziness to take precautions that would keep me dry in even the heaviest down pour. After thinking about the reasons behind this fear I start to think about all the reasons why rain is just the thing to enhance an outdoor trip. It will hopefully mean water sources will be easy to find, that there’ll be tons of fungi to check out, and that the next paddling trip in a few more weeks will have fewer exposed rocks to dodge or get stuck on and more exciting rapids. Even with all these pros for the rain, I sometimes still catch myself (like in this blog itself!) saying  “wasn’t it a beautiful sunny day” or “what dreary bad weather we’ve be having”  and I’m reminded once again of an old Norwegian saying on this topic that, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”. When things don’t go as planned on a trip this is when things become an adventure and isn’t that what I’m here for; what the students are here for?! To get out of the classroom and to do something different that get’s you excited to learn about the world around you! These are the lessons that stay with you the longest and make for the best stories.

Reily Kennedy, OA Resident & Wilderness Leader