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MAR. 22, 2018

Buffalo Cove

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One of the most unique and transformative experiences during an Outdoor Academy semester is a three-day work trade at Buffalo Cove Outdoor Education Center.  It’s an especially powerful event because it is a trade of skills and services.  For half of their time, OA students break into work crews to help maintain and improve the Buffalo Cove campus.  For the other half, members of the Buffalo Cove faculty introduce OA students to primitive camping skills and a most memorable meal. 

It’s amazing how much work 30 committed people can accomplish in a short period! During Semester 46’s excursion to Buffalo Cove, one of the work crews hauled logs out of the woods and used draw knives to strip the bark. Soon these logs will become the rafters on a barn that’s under construction. Another work crew worked along the road and trails, cleaning out drainage ditches and clearing blow-downs. The third crew hauled HUGE logs out of the woods, which were then turned into a game called Jedi X, an epic game involving balance and hitting a swinging ball. 


Following work crews, our students gathered for a conversation with Nathan, the owner of Buffalo Cove, whose association with OA dates back to Semester 1 and whose daughter is an OA alum (Semester 44).  The topic of our conversation was something we think about a great deal at OA: where does our food, especially our meat in this case, come from? After the discussion, Nathan demonstrated how to humanely slaughter some rabbits and then taught the students how to skin and field dress them. The rabbits then stewed all afternoon while students chose if they wanted to learn about primitive shelter building or how to blend in and move stealthily through the woods. Afterwards, we shared a meal of rabbit stew, reflecting on the intense experience of watching where our meat came from and giving thanks for the animals that were nourishing us.


On our final morning at Buffalo Cove, students chose from classes on how to build wet-wood fires, make primitive traps, and create fire by friction. All the students came back feeling excited and empowered about the skills they learned.

Another successful trip in the woods! 

-Brian Quarrier, Outdoor Education Manager

FEB. 12, 2018

There’s Always Something Stirring Around Here

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Although it is seemingly quiet these days in the woods around campus and we often think of winter as a dead time, the natural world in our southern mountains never really goes quiet. Few mammals actually hibernate here, really just some bats, since their extremely high metabolism forces them to shut down when their insect prey is unavailable. Bears, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, mice, and even groundhogs may sleep through a cold snap, but they are up and about again during any warm spell. True hibernation in the endotherms (warm-blooded mammals) requires a drastic lowering of the heart rate, respiration, and metabolism and our winters are just too mild and short to call for such measures.

Life is definitely different for the ectotherms whose internal temperature reflect the ambient conditions. These reptile and amphibian species must have some adaptations to cope with those sub-zero days. Snakes are barely functional below 50° F and seek out deep dens (or the barn) to find stable temperatures. The Eagle’s Nest frogs and snapping turtles have burrowed into the mud at the bottom of the pond. One of our few terrestrial frogs, the wood frog, can be frozen solid for months due to antifreeze compounds like propylene glycol and glycerol in their systems. In this torpid state, its breathing and heartbeat actually stop, defying the definition of the word “alive”. Normally, the formation of ice crystals means death for cells, but these frogs have sidestepped that particular fate, with as much as 65% of the water in their bodies crystallized into ice. When warmed, they immediately go about the business of finding mates, none the worse for wear. Not surprisingly, scientists are interested in borrowing this adaptation for the cryopreservation of living human organs for transplant.

Certainly, not all of our summer Appalachian birds leave during the winter. Our feeders are full of chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and finches. Some of these birds are northern migrants, but many have only migrated down the mountain into our protected Little River valley. They have a short trip back to their breeding territories in the spring. And some birds, like the kestrel, a tiny falcon, come from colder northern habitats to spend their winters hunting here. Even most of the insects aren’t really gone or dead. Many species overwinter as larvae or even as adults and can occasionally be found out and about. Every rock you turn over in the Davidson River in February will be crawling with mayfly, damselfly, stonefly and alderfly larvae. Our yellow jackets colonies, so numerous and feared in the summer, are represented by young queens, the only survivors of the swarms we run from in panic in August. They have been fertilized by males in the late fall and will spend the winter in barn attics or under the bark of a dying tree, ready to start new underground colonies in the spring.

Well, I guess what I’m getting at is that there is always something stirring around here, even in the depths of winter. I’ve heard spring peepers call during every month of the year; Great Horned owls calling for mates in December, fox tracks in the snow, spotted salamanders eggs in March, copperheads sunning in February; groundhogs eating greens in a frosty pasture; and springtails—tiny, hopping insects—leaping on snowy rocks in a frozen river. The natural world doesn’t ever really stop, so don’t let the cold slow you down either – get out there with your binoculars and magnifying glass.

-Ted Wesemann

JAN. 31, 2018

What is Integrity?

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What Is Integrity?

Roger Herbert, Outdoor Academy Director

A scheduling error during Semester 45 presented us with an opportunity to add an eighth meeting of our Ethics Seminar, which typically consists of seven gatherings.  How would we use this “extra” time, a rare and precious commodity at The Outdoor Academy?  We decided to grapple with a word that is so central to ethical discourse that its meaning has become imprecise, its usage sloppy.  Integrity.

What is integrity?  What does it mean to be a “person of integrity”?  What constitutes a “failure of integrity.” The discussion proceeding from these questions was so rich, so provocative, that we have added this topic permanently to the OA Ethics syllabus.

Our discussion focused almost entirely on defining this important but fuzzy term.  We started with etymology.  Our English word “integrity” comes from the Latin integritas, meaning wholeness or unity.  This prompted more questions.  Since unity implies the possibility of disunity, what are the parts that together constitute integrity (or apart constitute a lack of integrity)?

Semester 45 offered an intriguing answer.  Integrity, they hypothesized, entails a unity between our actions and our values.   A person of integrity acts in accordance with what she values.  She fails to act with integrity when her actions contradict her values.

Social psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman agree.  In their seminal work, Character Strengths and Virtues (2004), the authors define integrity as “A regular pattern of behavior that is consistent with espoused values.”

But Semester 45 challenged their own (and Peterson & Seligman’s) definition.  “What if a person values power over others or racial supremacy or violence for its own sake?”  Does acting in accordance with those values constitute integrity?  Certainly not.  Clearly our definition must account for the quality of values embraced. Peterson & Seligman contend that a person of integrity acts in accordance values that are “sensitive to the needs of others.”  Semester 45 improved on this.  A person of integrity, they argued, embraces values that do not interfere with the capacity of others to act in accordance with their values.

Still, Semester 45 concluded that their definition was incomplete.  They cited the “Ring of Gyges,” Plato’s allegory in which a shepherd (Gyges) finds a magical ring that gives him the power of invisibility.  Rather than using the ring for good, Gyges leverages his new powers to kill the king, steal his treasures, and seduce the queen.  Without the possibility of being caught and punished, Gyges saw no reason to act with integrity.

Drawing on Plato, Semester 45 concluded, that our definition of integrity had to include an element of motivation.  Persons of integrity act in accordance with their values not because they fear punishment, not because they fear public censure, but because they embrace their values as ends unto themselves.  A person of integrity’s motivation to act morally, in other words, is intrinsic, not extrinsic.

To conclude, I will summarize Semester 45’s conclusions regarding integrity:

Persons of integrity 1) act in accordance with their values, 2) embrace values that do not interfere with the capacity of others to act in accordance with their values, and 3) do so regardless of public acclaim or reproach.

Pretty cool what can be accomplished at OA with an “extra” hour.

NOV. 30, 2017

An Outdoor Academy Trek: The Before and After

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Step 1: The Gathering

1 a. Clothes

  • Hiking clothes (most often shorts and an active T, but sometimes hiking pants and a long-sleeve active T)
  • Long underwear top and bottom- wool is my favorite for anything longer than a day or two (synthetic gets a little smellier)
  • Fleece pants and top
  • Another insulating layer (or 2, I get cold really easily so I don’t skimp here)
  • Rain gear (not just for staying dry- also great for sitting on wet ground at camp, keeping bugs off, and that incredible feeling and sound of walking with swishy pants)
  • Hat, gloves, buff, undergarments
  • Camp shoes and hiking boots
  • SOCKS (I maybe go overboard here, but I like socks for hiking, socks for camp, and a pair of socks that lives in my sleeping bag for guaranteed dry feet while I sleep)

1b. Sleeping

  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag (having more than one, the biggest thing I think about is temperature, but because one is down I also consider sleeping situation and weather)

1c. All the other stuff

  • Toiletries (toothbrush and paste, glasses/contact care, some extra Dr. Bronners)
  • Water bottles
  • Headlamp & whistle
  • Journal and pens
  • Knife
  • Compass & map
  • Book
  • Dice for FARKLE (the best dice game EVER)
  • Mug, bowl, spoon (my personal success rate of remembering this is about 50%)

1d. At this point I usually do a lap around my room and rummage through my outdoor gear and usually find one or two things I forgot or think might be fun.

Step 2: The Separating

The challenge: to bring exactly the right amount of stuff so you are prepared but not carrying everything you own. This is also a good time to separate out into a separate pile the things you will be putting on your body the morning of the Trek.

Step 3: The Waiting

At this point I usually pack the first layer of my pack (sleeping bag and some clothes) and then just throw everything else on top of it. On the morning of the trek I know I will get together with my expedition mates and divide up food and group gear, so it’s not worth packing well before I have all of that.

Step 4: The Shoving

Anyone who has been on a Trek with me has heard me say “if you are not working up a sweat while you’re packing your pack, you’re probably not doing it right.” There are acronyms to help you remember good rules of thumb, but good pack packing is all about filling all of the space your pack has to offer by getting things in EVERY nook and cranny. Keep all of your stuff inside the pack, and it probably shouldn’t be super unevenly weighted.

Remember- the first rule of any outdoor pursuit is “look good feel good,” and there is no better way to feel good than to have a good looking pack.


Some questions I like to ask myself before heading out include:

  • Am I ready for my classes when I return?
  • Is my living space something I will be happy to return to?
  • Have I talked to my family to let them know I’ll be gone for a few days/weeks/months/forever? (I really like being in the woods)
  • How am I feeling about this trek?
    • What is making me nervous?
    • What am I excited about?
  • What’s my plan for the morning? Is there anything else I can’t pack until then?

3/5/7/400 days pass full of laughter, tears, mountains, rivers, stars, rain, and mac & cheese


Clean Up:

Before a trek can really wrap up there are a few things that need to be taken care of.

The Scrubbing:

This is the most exciting part of clean up when you get to pull out the bag of leftover rice and beans from dinner on your first night and the avocado that you found at the bottom of your pack when you were emptying it out. It’s when you get to really get in there and scrape out the peanut butter that got into every nook and cranny of the Nalgene container lid. The best part about kitchen duty is that you get first dibs on a shower because Mark keeps his kitchen too clean for your stanky, grimy, trek bodies to be in there.

The Drying:

A key component of taking care of our gear is hanging all gear made of cloth up to dry all the way before we pack it up again and shove it in the gear room. Luckily we have a very complex system in the New Lodge: a bunch of ropes as drying lines. All the ground cloths get sprayed down and hung up with the tarps and rain flies, while tents get set up so air can flow through them and really dry every bit.

The lugging:

Since we leave our packs and sleeping bags in the New Lodge to save dorm space, every makes the final trek from the New Lodge back to their living spaces with their “happy sack” (aka trash bag) full of personal stuff back to their living spaces so it can be put IMMEDIATELY in laundry bags to be washed ASAP.


The moment everyone has been waiting for: the warm shower, the apple and tea, the unique comfort of clean dry clothes. There’s an excitement of being reunited with your friends from other groups to hear their stories and share your own (knowing that even though it’s not a competition and everyone’s experience is awesome, yours was obviously the best). Returning from a journey that was challenging provides an opportunity to really appreciate the simple pleasures of a front country life.

– Marisa Melnick, Math teacher, Medical Coordinator & Wilderness Instructor

NOV. 28, 2017

“I am grateful for … “

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I wrote this as the students of Semester 45 gathered on the Salt Mines porch waiting to get picked up for Thanksgiving break. They held so many emotions—excitement to see their families, sadness to part (even for a week) from their OA friends, and trepidation to navigate a familiar environment with new ideas, clarified values, and a stronger sense of self.  As their numbers dwindled that day, I was reminded how much they are the heart and soul of our school, and I feel grateful for the opportunity to learn, live, and lead alongside them.

At our community meeting prior to Thanksgiving, I asked the students and faculty to participate in a reflection on their gratitude for the joys and challenges of life at the Outdoor Academy. Their words communicate the richness of the experience we create here:

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to walk in as strangers and leave as family.”

“I am grateful for the way my thighs burn as I climb to the top of a mountain, for the magical forest surrounding the peak, and for the incredible community of people who support me to keep climbing.”

“I’m grateful for Semester 45’s willingness to push me outside of my comfort zone.”

“I’m grateful for that moment when someone has to say something important in community meeting and their voice shakes and their eyes look like they might fill up with tears, but they speak anyway.”

“I am grateful for the environment OA creates that encourages learning but reminds me to not stress.”

“I am grateful for this beautiful campus and the outdoors becoming a daily part of my life.”

“I am grateful for a community that seeks to understand each of its unique members, love them for who they are, and appreciate what insight and perspective they have to share.”

“I am forever grateful for how OA brings together people who are all genuinely curious and open with each other. There’s no sense of being ‘coo cool’ for here.”

“I am very grateful for dinner clean up—everyone at work—focused, energized, moving intentionally—a dance at times—with the community’s needs at the center.”

“I am grateful for having faculty that really care about your well-being and are very understanding when life issues appear.”

“I feel gratitude at OA for the discussion. No matter if it is about the Ottomans, Cold Mountain, or caffeinated tea, we always have meaningful discussion where everybody contributes.”

“I’m grateful for all of the amazing sunsets and sunrises I’ve shared with OA students and co-instructors in Pisgah, Shining Rock, and Middle Prong.”

“I am so grateful for the faculty at OA. They have made so many accommodations for me throughout the semester. In other places, I would feel like I was such a burden, but everyone here is so understanding and kind.”

“I am grateful for the conflicts and challenges we have here at OA and the willingness we have to discuss and work them out as a community.”

“I am grateful for the passion, love and enthusiasm that this community brings to every activity, class and interaction.”

“I am grateful for all the food and the people who make it: Mark, the residents (and backup residents), student helpers, and the rest of the faculty. I am so thankful for the three banquets we have a day and the fact that I am never hungry.”

“I am grateful for the small random acts of joy and silliness that permeate every day. Tossing a Frisbee, dancing, spontaneous handstands, high-fives, and silly faces.”

“I am overwhelmingly grateful for the community the OA has created and all the love and joy is has brought into my life. I am also grateful for the outdoor programming and the opportunity to be with ourselves in nature and push ourselves towards growth.”

Gratitude is one of the seven principles woven throughout the fabric of the Outdoor Academy. We take time before every meal to give thanks and we share specific expressions of gratitude at our faculty and community meetings. We try to remind ourselves regularly how fortunate we are to be with each other in this place for a semester, and to savor every moment. We cultivate gratitude, not only for the good parts, but for all parts of our experience, knowing that our challenges help us grow into the best versions of ourselves.

-Kaela Frank, OA Resident & Wilderness Educator

NOV. 17, 2017

Be the Spark on #GivingTuesday

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Here at Eagle’s Nest, we are dedicated to creating a space that feels like home. Year after year our campers return and our students reunite to find their place in the Nest community once again. Giving Tuesday is a chance to experience even a piece of that feeling once again.

We love the sense of community that #GivingTuesday has created, not only within Eagle’s Nest but around the world as well. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the general frantic feeling of holiday shopping, it’s easy to lose sight of what is truly important during the Holiday Season. Giving Tuesday is the opportunity to join together with your neighbors near and far and give back to the communities and organizations that mean something to you.

But what if you could prolong that feeling? What if every month you could be reminded of your home on Hart Road?

On November 28th you have the opportunity to join another community and become a Fire Keeper. By turning your once-a-year donation into a monthly, recurring gift, you will reunite with your fellow Nesters who are deeply invested in and committed to the mission of Eagle’s Nest to provide experiential education in the natural world.

A fire takes a lot of work to build, from the smallest tinder and kindling to logs, oxygen, and heat, each part is important to keep the fire alive. It also takes regular tending to keep the fire going.  By making a monthly gift to the Annual Fund you can ensure the fire never dies and provide opportunities for future generations to grow in this community we create each day.


“The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness.”

– Henry David Thoreau


Be the spark that ignites the flame. Make your recurring gift today and start the movement.

#GivingTuesday #ForeverOurNest #IgniteTheFlame

For more information on the benefits of joining the Fire Keepers contact Michelle Miller in the ENF Development Office ( or follow us on social media (@EaglesNestFoundation) during #GivingTuesday on November 28th for updates and stories from donors like YOU!