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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

APR. 13, 2017

Reflections from the River

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Clara Ruth Logan, one of our semester 44 studetns, wants to share her experiences during the last paddling trip.

“There are many moments at The Outdoor Academy when I feel my body and my mind getting stronger, and our 3-day paddling trip last weekend was one of them. With the sun on my arms and the postcard view of the Appalachian Mountains over the French Broad River, it seemed impossible to feel unhappy.

On the first day, nervousness and excitement bubbled up inside of me as our instructors, Lucas, Eric and Ryan, told us the plan. As soon as we got on the river, we would have to ferry across against the current to avoid a strainer on the left of the river. I hopped in the bow and my partner Margo got in the stern of the boat. I was so scared but we did it and I felt so strong! Margo and I continued down the river and enjoyed the sunshine, the beautiful view, and the occasional splash of water on our skin.

On the second day of our trip we had some crazy rapids! I loved the wave trains because our boat would gallop down the river while tons of water splashed over us. We learned that if we paddled hard and really focused on our boat control, we could let go of the fear, and our excitement and happiness would take over. I felt strong and capable on the river, and most importantly, I felt truly happy.”

Thank you Clara Ruth for sharing.

Rodrigo Vargas, Spanish Teacher

APR. 6, 2017

From Trash to Statement Piece

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“We live in a world where we thrive off of materials. We need to decrease our consumption, repair and recycle the goods we do consume, and over all CONSERVE!” – Tess, Carmel, IN
Art Piece: glass bottles, cans, acrylic paint, paper cut-outs

Last Friday the 24th, Semester 44 took part in our third OA Cornerstone Day. Named Legacy Day, this particular Cornerstone Day is a brain child of Katie Harris, Dean of Academics and English teacher, and Brian Quarrier, our Crafts and Environmental Seminar teacher. Cornerstone days are best described as an interdisciplinary exploration of a broader topic; for example the ‘Legacy’ we leave behind for future generations.

Cedar Ann ceramic pot, glass, flowers. Brevard, NC In every piece of trash there is a life. this piece represents the beauty and life that can come out of something someone else thinks is trash.

Cedar Ann
ceramic pot, glass, flowers.
Brevard, NC
“In every piece of trash there is a life. this piece represents the beauty and life that can come out of something someone else thinks is trash.”

The students spent the day studying an integral part of our culture’s lasting physical residue: trash. As part of the week building up to the Cornerstone, Brian and Katie required the students to carry their waste in their own personal trash bags. When Friday rolled around, the students began the day with a morning tour of the Transylvania County Landfill, which was the first time many of the students had ever been to a major dump. The culmination of the trash-carrying activity came when the students were able to deliver their bulging bags of trash for the week directly to the landfill and experience first-hand the monumental amount of garbage we amass on Earth every day.

Davi cigarettes, gloves, cans, plastic bags, other trash Atlanta, GA This is a picture of a beach but made of trash. This represents how the oceans and beaches are being filled with trash. I want the viewer to feel sadness about the pollution from us ruining nature. I’m specifically raising awareness about our trash getting carried out into the oceans, beaches, and islands.

Davi
cigarettes, gloves, cans, plastic bags, other trash
Atlanta, GA
“This is a picture of a beach but made of trash. This represents how the oceans and beaches are being filled with trash. I want the viewer to feel sadness about the pollution from us ruining nature. I’m specifically raising awareness about our trash getting carried out into the oceans, beaches, and islands.”

In the afternoon, the students moved on to create some positive change in reaction to their morning at the dump by picking up a densely-littered public area. The students of Semester 44 ended the day creating art with materials from their afternoon cleanup. The photos here document some of the pieces created by our talented students. We have also shared and some of the thoughtful statements from the artist in which they reflect upon confronting the mountains of garbage we leave for future generations.

Robbie deBurlo, Math Teacher, Medical Coordinator, Wilderness Leader

MAR. 31, 2017

Gigantic Hellbender Found in Swimming Lake

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An astonishing discovery at Eagle’s Nest this spring has set the herpetological community afire. “We drain the swim lake every winter, and I’ve never seen anything to suggest we had a monster living here” stated Taylor Mackay, livelong Transylvania County resident and Eagle’s Nest Staffer, adding an understated “yikes!”

Apparently this year was different. A small hole, about the size of one of, Eagle’s Nest Chef, Mark Walker’s meatloaves appeared under the diving board as the waters receded. When prodded with a broken canoe paddle, the waterlogged soil gave way, exposing a gaping entryway into an unknown underworld. When a headlamp’s beam revealed the glow of two eyes in the slimy abyss, amphibian expert Posey Lester-Niles was called in to investigate. “Step back – I want everyone out of the lake!” she commanded in a surprisingly authoritative voice, (because, you know, we all think she’s still eight. Ah, they grow up so fast . . .) Then, to everyone’s shock, she disappeared headfirst into the black void, trailing a old yellow canoe painter that should have been replaced years ago. Those things were always too thick to actually tie. An unseen but obviously violent struggle ensued. A stomach-churning moment of silence, then a cheer as Posey backed out into the sunlight, straining at the rope. First, tantalizingly, a tiny tailtip, then a growing and seemingly endless wall of amphibian flesh was dragged into the light of day, ending in a flailing head the size of . . . well, you know that sun medallion thing hanging on the back wall of the Sun Lodge? It seemed that big, but probably was a little smaller, given most Eagle Nester’s tendency to exaggerate. Still – really big. OA student, Cedar Ann Skeen, at the scene, said it best. “No, so wait, it was like, LITERALLY, huuuuuuge. And this time I’m using literally correctly! No, really! Why are you laughing at me?”

Accurate depiction of a Hellbender. (trees added for scale)

Accurate rendering of a Hellbender (trees added for scale)

So, the great beast was finally subdued and carried by six OA students to the little plastic swimming pool that Camp uses for basketmaking class – the one we keep under the dining room porch, you know? The Leviathon finally stopped thrashing and was stuffed into the pool and only fit after its tail was wrapped around a few times. It was accurately keyed out as an abnormally large hellbender with Peterson’s second edition of A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern/Central North America – the slightly dog-eared copy that lives on the little white shelves next to the computers in the Sikwayi library – not the regular built-in shelves that look like solid wood but are actually that weird flakeboard. OA students added Feeding the Beast to their daily chore list and it has thrived on stale cho-chos and day-old mac and cheese.

Although Smithsonian officials have requested that the gigantic creature come to live at the National Zoo, the all-wise and powerful Eagle’s Nest Executive Council has decided to return the creature to our pond. “Given the fact that we already have Big Lex in the Fishing Pond, it only seemed right to have a gigantic Cryptobranchus alleganiensis to terrify the kiddies in the Swim Pond” stated OA Director Roger Herbert, who knows a thing or two about being amphibious.

T. Wesemann, OA Faculty 

(You know – that gray-bearded guy you always think must be somebody’s grandfather, not a teacher. I mean, how old is he?!)

MAR. 24, 2017

Ninety Years…What is Next for ENF?

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Environment is one of the four Cornerstones here at The Outdoor Academy.  It is a main focus of our students’ education during each semester.  We discuss the status of the environment in our Environmental Seminar, we explore our local environment on outdoor trips, and we become intimate with different aspects of the environment during discussions and readings in science and English.  As a whole, the environment is pretty important to us at The Outdoor Academy.

This love and importance goes beyond the school and into the entire Eagles Nest Foundation.  With our centennial firmly on our heels (2027) the foundation has taken huge strides to honor our environment.  Just recently 76% of our land went into a conservation easement in order to ensure the longevity of the magic of these woods.  Other measures that are in place are our strategic initiatives.  This is where our OA students are working.

ENF has identified three main strategic initiatives.  Our math and Environmental Seminar students have been asked, as an honors project, to research and propose ideas to fulfill the second strategic initiative, Define and implement our commitment toward 21st century environmental ethics and practices.  Students are working in pairs to create presentations about LED lighting, solar power, rain gardens, more efficient machinery on campus, and other sustainable ideas such as adjusting our food sources to lessen our carbon footprint.  They have been discussing various methods and case studies in Environmental Seminar and calculating the actual cost of a new, sustainable system in comparison to our current model in math.  At the end of the semester the students will present their ideas to each other, undergo a question and answer period from faculty and students, and ultimately vote on the best ideas to move forward to our Executive Director and Head of School.

This is an incredible opportunity for students to connect the theories and ideas to their lives.  Past presentations have impacted the faculty and staff enough that students have been looked at as local experts long after their assignment has been given a grade; often being asked questions at lunch or between classes.  Students at The Outdoor Academy look to make the world a better place in an intelligent and sustainable manner.  Ask your nearest student about their ideas, they are pretty good!

Racheal Duffy, Math Teacher and Wilderness Leader