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OCT. 11, 2016

Living Large at The Outdoor Academy

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Last weekend our students were on campus and planned a Fall Fun Day, reenacting a few of their favorite childhood activities from autumn and Halloween. We had just returned from an idyllic ten days in the field – five on the Appalachian Trail and five at our base camp at Cataloochee in the Smokies. Clear fall weather, the most stunning views in the Blue Ridge, true friends that are evolving into a solid and meaningful community, the Andromeda Galaxy wheeling overhead at night, bear cubs frolicking at a mountain cabin, solo hikes under the huge trees of the Caldwell Fork, and songs and stories in a hillside graveyard under the Milky Way. Life just doesn’t get better; this group knows that and made the most of our time away.

Around the campfire our last evening at Cataloochee, I overheard an intense conversation between Andrew Steed, a student, and Roger, our Director. Roger had led a discussion on ethics that day at an abandoned farmstead deep in the woods and with the fire flickering on their faces, they were now deep into Aristotelian virtue vs. deontology vs. utilitarianism. Yes, take a second to read that again. And this was on the heels of a conversation I had that morning over the campstove about genetic engineering and another some days before about Russia’s militarization in Syria. This fall – outside of the classroom – I have been part of conversations about the feminists of the 1970’s, the Balkan War, Woodstock, Angela Merkel’s refugee policy in Germany, the feasibility of an Islamic State in the Mideast, climate change, NASA’s Mars program, artificial intelligence, the electoral system, capitalism, slavery vs. state’s rights and the Civil War, Brexit, FDR and our entry into WWII, Black Lives Matter, NC’s HB 2, government regulation of Wall Street, and those are just the ones I recall now.

So yes, those six bear cubs were cute, and bobbing for apples is fun, and backpacking is a blast, and s’mores are delicious; but don’t think for a second that American teens are vacuous and self-centered and glued to their phones. Not these kids anyway. I am always, always pleased and proud to know that these are my colleagues and friends. They surprise me everyday with their curiosity and enthusiasm and empathy and, without any overstatement, I think the future is in good hands.

Ted Wesemann 

Natural Science, World History, Appalachian Craft