NOV. 1, 2017
Earlier this semester at The Outdoor Academy on the morning of September 15, the Cassini mission to Saturn ended as the probe vaporized upon entering the planet’s atmosphere. There was something anthropomorphically “wall.e” -like about this tough little spacecraft that said so much about the human race even though it was a machine, albeit a sophisticated one. Some scientists had been working for 30 years on this mission, even as they raised their kids and celebrated holidays and voted for presidents and endured personal triumphs and tragedies. It was so clear as NASA streamed the final day of Cassini that this was a very emotional event for this team. Footage of them from the 1990s with their antiquated computers and hairstyles and clothing alternated with the live feed, accentuating the passage of time. Whole careers had passed. One group of specialists were still using the original computers and software in order to talk to the spacecraft – 20 years of technology stuck in time.
The mission brought the cliched “treasure trove” of new knowledge about Saturn, certainly, but maybe more importantly about the moons, especially Europa and Enceladus. Finding liquid water jetting into space on Enceladus, a 300 mile-diameter snowball, was beyond unexpected – it shifted our foundations. It was the first thing I’ve ever heard that made me truly think, seriously consider and not just imagine, that we may not be alone in our universe – maybe not even in our own solar system. Just the good news of water. So simple and universal. Flowing, cycling, shimmering, hydrating, saturating, refreshing, light-scattering, nourishing, life-giving, life-saving water. Not every other body orbiting around our star is a scorched wasteland or frozen gaseous giant. At least two have oceans of good old plain water. I have a glass of it in front of me with a few chunks of the solid form cooling it. It’s streaming luxuriantly out of the hose into the fishpond outside right now. I am mostly water. So is my cat and the goldfinch at the birdbath that she is eyeing. I just poured a little on my orchid. And by the way, there is lots more only about a billion kilometers away. “To be found on Enceladus” said our little robot, our little friend – Cassini.
OCT. 20, 2017
In September, the students of Semester 45 enjoyed their first three-day paddling and climbing trips. We are always trying to push our students out of their comfort zones, in a safe and controlled setting. This helps them grow and become more confident. Instead of rambling on about the weekend, I thought it would be nice to have two different students talk about their experiences on these trips.
Thoughts on climbing by Ava C., Semester 45 student
“Why do you climb?” Huddled around the campfire after and exciting day, this was the question my group attempted to answer. We had spent the past few days perfecting our figure-8 nots, learning climbing commands, and finally, making our way up the face of the rock. Most importantly, somewhere along the way, we had learned to trust each other.
It was the second day of our climbing trip that significantly stuck out to me. As I belayed everyone and watched them, I realized that we had all become more confident. It was incredible to watch everyone’s reaction when they first glimpsed the view from the top, and to hear everyone encouraging them from down below. It was also incredible to lower someone off the rock and feel their weight descending in the rope resting in my hands.
I felt strong when I started climbing, knowing that the rope would catch me if I lost my grip. I learned to trust my own self; strategically placing my feet in places that would hold me. When I got to the top, I sat and stared at the rolling mountains. “How’s the view?” someone shouted from below. “It’s beautiful!” I called back.
So I think I climb for a lot of reasons. I think I climb because I feel a connection when I trust people and they can trust me. I think I climb because it teaches me to trust myself, and it shows me beauty. And finally climbing helps me face my fears.
Even if I’m back on campus or paddling on the river, I’ll remember the feeling of my hands against the rock, the mountains below me, and the people I trust the most cheering me on.
Thoughts on paddling by Joe V., Semester 45 student
As I walked down to the lake to get my PFD and paddle, I ran through thoughts in my head about my upcoming trip. I was walking with someone who was not very excited about paddling, though by the end, he still had a good time. This affected me a little, I became a bit more nervous and more thoughts raced through my mind. What if it rains for 72 hours? What if my boat flips and someone’s beloved personal gear floats downstream? Even as those thoughts carried on, I was able to channel them, and was all in all excited. After some loading of personal gear, we hit the road. We had a long drive ahead of us, but it went very quickly. By the time we got there, we were all a little tired, but we unloaded gear quickly and waited for some of the instructors to come back after taking our van to the takeout. As we sat along the river eating humus and cheese tortillas I realized something, I was with thirteen of my closest friends from the past month, and no matter what happened, I would have fun. From there we rigged some boats, learned some things, and then, after the long wait, got on the river!
The first day was filled with laughter, good moments, and good memories. We got to camp after a short day filled with consistent small rapids. We ate food, talked, and ended the night with some beautiful stargazing. We all went to sleep dreaming of the big day ahead of us. We got up the next morning ready to go. We got on the river ready and able for the thirteen mile day ahead of us. Someone in our group flipped their canoe relatively early on in the day. It was a blessing in disguise though, as everybody, included me, realized that flipping wasn’t terrible at all, and actually really fun. We kept going downriver and finally got to camp. We quickly set up tents and ate food so we could have plenty of sleep. The next day was by far the hardest day, while not the longest; it was something we were prepared for. Our fist obstacle came in the form of a class III rapid. It went by the name of Dynamite Ledge, very intimidating. We scouted out the rapid and went one at a time, cheering each other on as went down. Only 3 boats out of 10 flipped and we all made it past the ledge. One of the best moments on the trip was when a boat flipped and everyone jumped in the water to rescue the boat.
It was great to see how far we had come since just 48 hours before. We all got into our boats and headed downriver, but not before peeking on how the Outward Bound group behind was doing on that rapid. Almost all of them flipped, which gave us a huge jolt of confidence. We kept going as we went through wave trains and crazy rapids. Some even decided to go down these backwards. Could hear shouts of “shred the GNAR!” and “That was AWESOME!” that were completely absent the first two days. In the end, it was a great experience, and one that I will remember for a long time.
SEP. 14, 2017
As any Outdoor Academy alum will attest, OA students practice a sometimes-dizzying profusion of customs and traditions. Among the most time-honored of these is the ceremonial passing of the mantle of leadership from one student to another. Every evening from Opening Day to Final Circle, from 1995 to yesterday, the leader for that day announces her or his successor.
Yet despite these deep roots, our school has been uneasy with the idea that the OA is a school of leadership. This apprehension is warranted. Leadership, as it is too often practiced and taught in the Western intellectual tradition, is understood as the exercise of power over others practiced by Napoleons on their white stallions or corporate leaders engineering hostile takeovers.
In response to this conventional understanding of leadership, OA’s founding generation chose to adopt an unconventional title for its student leaders. Rather than selecting a “Leader of the Day,” we designate an “Adasahede,” a Cherokee word that translates roughly as “guide.” Serving as Adasahede is not a celebration of ego. Leadership as practiced at the OA is a selfless act of community service.
The impulse that prompted the choice of “Adasahede” over “Leader of the Day” also prompted some concern among our faculty over our decision last year to introduce a Leadership and Ethics Seminar to the OA curriculum. Indeed, one faculty member asked, “what if our students don’t want to be leaders?”
My response to this excellent question was that the OA’s Leadership and Ethics Seminar, piloted during Semester 43 and instituted last semester, embraces a nuanced view that understands leadership as an indispensable element of community life. Rejecting leadership, according to this understanding, is indistinguishable from rejecting community…not an option at the OA.
Drawing primarily on Robert Greenleaf’s conceptualization of the ancient idea of “servant leadership” (see Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership, 2002), on curricula developed by NOLS and Outward Bound, and on two decades of experience teaching and learning leadership here at the OA, our seminar examines four leadership roles, each of which is essential for building and maintaining a flourishing community. We introduce our students to the leadership skills that make an effective “designated leader” (Adasahede, in OA parlance). Our students also learn and practice the skills associated with effective “active followership,” “peer leadership,” and “self-leadership” (see John Gookin & Shari Leach, NOLS Leadership Educator Notebook, 2004). Significantly, our approach to leadership insists that none of these roles is more important than any of the others for community health. Finally, through classroom meetings and practicing leadership in our “lab” (community living on campus and in the field), our students begin their inquiry into which leadership roles feel most natural to them.
I have characterized our Leadership and Ethics Seminar as “new.” In some ways, this is a fair characterization. We have introduced new classes into our Community Living and Outdoor Education curricula. Mostly, however, our seminar would be recognizable to every OA grad from Semester 1 forward. This is because, whether we embrace the “L-word” or not, the OA is, and has always been, a premier school of leadership.
Roger Herbert, Outdoor Academy Director
MAY. 11, 2017
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
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
“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.
ceramic pot, glass, flowers.
“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.
cigarettes, gloves, cans, plastic bags, other trash
“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