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JAN. 26, 2015

The Homing Sentiment

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Katie Harris, Dean of Academics, English Teacher, Wilderness Leader

This past week in English class, I opened with a challenge to the students: define home. The decision is timely; twenty-seven young adults have left their homes to join The Outdoor Academy for a semester, and many of them will be away from home for the longest amount of time they have ever experienced. Home takes on a new meaning.

It is no easy task, once we all agree that home is more than the physical dwelling we return to on a regular basis, we agree that home is some sort of abstract concept inherent in the human psyche. We’ve also been reading what Edward Abbey, Rick Bass, Mary Oliver, and Daniel Wallace have had to say about the topic. I appreciate the following words by the outspoken Edward Abbey:

“Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome—there’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of interstellar space.”

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Of course, The Outdoor Academy often becomes included in (not a substitute for) the word “home” by the end of the semester for many students, and it is one of the reasons a semester away from home can prove so valuable. The members of Semester 40 are growing their definition of home into something larger. They are learning how to put down roots in a new place and how to try new and uncomfortable things that eventually become familiar and comfortable. Our Admissions Director Lindsay Martin put it best when she shared with our Semester 40 parents on Opening Day that it is our goal to grow students’ comfort zone while also giving them the confidence and empowerment to venture beyond that zone.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas from Semester 40 that have emerged in discussion, presented in the form of a list poem:

Home is the scratches and dents that are memories,
the one solid thing we have.
It’s being on your own, however you want, controlling your space;
It’s being around friends and family, a sense of belonging.
Home is where I grew up,
what shaped me,
where I feel safe,
where I get my energy,
where I belong no matter what,
when I am in new places, when I am in familiar places,
where I can be myself and what I want to be.
It’s being free—to do whatever I want.
It’s being at peace, the balance between comfort and discomfort, safety and danger,
a connection that can’t be lost. 
The more at home I am with myself, the more strength I have.

Katie Harris, Dean of Academics, English Teacher, Wilderness Leader