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SEP. 19, 2013

The Importance of Students

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Homemade fried chicken is a labor of love. I was reminded of this adage as I frantically dusted chicken and chopped kale, glancing at the clock and wishing I had started cooking dinner an hour earlier. Even though I had been sweating in the Sun Lodge kitchen for two hours, I was barely going to get the food on the table in time.

Thankfully, as I was sweating and stressing over the steaming kale and bubbling chicken, I was joined by our student John, who took my mind off the pressures at hand with stories of his family hunting lodge. John kept me company, telling me about his experience growing up in Atlanta, but spending every spare hour roaming his woods in Alabama, learning to track and hunt. With humble satisfaction, he described how he earned the respect of his country neighbors by hunting down invasive hogs, and how he worked to cull the white-tail deer population of weaker members, keeping the herd healthy. I asked him how he learned to hunt, and he told me about listening to his uncle and other veteran hunters, and that he learned most everything by wandering through the woods by himself and paying attention. I thought of the boy in Faulkner’s “The Bear.”

John observed that during our paddling and climbing trips, he was again the student of a new trade and that our wilderness staff were the master-teachers. He told me that if I ever found my way down to his neck of the woods, he could take me on as a student, and he would be the master-teacher. I was struck not only by the sincerity and generosity of John’s words but also by his insight into how traditional crafts are learned and transmitted. The student must find a masterful teacher, pay attention, and practice. Simple as that.

For John, his uncle and the woods were his master teachers. Similarly, in my climbing, I had a few great mentors and Looking Glass Rock. Most importantly, John and I have had the chance to get in some serious “dirt time”—being out in the elements, and learning to notice the small things. This semester, we will take the time to focus on the small things that transform us from being good enough to truly great. Those little labors of love keep us invested in what we do, and remind us that it is important to do what we love.

Felix Dowsley
Head Resident