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SEP. 18, 2014

Standing Down the Coyotes

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“Hoooooooowl!”  we called into the foggy air.

“Hoooooooowl!” came the immediate answer several feet above us.

“I see one,” Katie M. whispered.

Over the edge of the hill, a furry gray face appeared: coyote. I turned and looked down the trail at the long string of Semester 39 students, silent and very still.

Long bodies, thick gray tails, unmistakably wild, these coyotes were among some of the healthiest I’ve ever seen. It is unusual to hear a pack during the daytime on our campus ridgelines, but as the students and I sat around a fire in discussion, we were interrupted by the sound of the wild. We greeted them in like kind and were rewarded for our efforts in hearing their calls back to us, seeing them run up and down the ridgeline, before disappearing into the rhododendron.

This was during our first Cornerstone Day—an academic interdisciplinary experience each Friday that honors our four cornerstones of Intellect, Environment, Craft, and Community. In our efforts to explore what it means to live well, these cornerstones are at the heart of what we do. And Cornerstone Day is at the heart of what classes at OA are all about—experiential education, connectivity, collaboration, community.

On this day, we took our cue from Thoreau’s famous passage that begins with the words, “I went to the woods because…” We went on a silent hike, pondering why humans go into the wilderness. We encountered several authors and scientists wandering the forest, also struggling with this very question (cameo appearances by our own staff dressed in character as Abbey, Dillard, Darwin, Thoreau, Colinvaux, and Walker). After these surreal meetings, we spent time in discussion, staff and students alike, about what draws us to nature, time and time again. But the most powerful part of the day for me was the most unexpected—a visit from the pack.

As we discussed this question of why we go into the woods, I was reminded by the coyotes that no matter our expectations and plans for personal ventures into the woods, nature will have the unexpected to offer us, moments beautiful and glorious, disturbing or scary, but always moments that lift us outside of ourselves for a moment — and into an awareness of the wider world around us, largely unknown. It is a gift to greet that world, or stand it down, with your own pack.

Katie Harris
English, Dean of Academics