At the end of each course it’s amazing to send students home with their own interpretation of why Outward Bound is valuable and how it will affect their daily lives. What’s even more amazing is when you hear from a parent who, through their child’s energy and actions, learns a lesson themselves. We are so thankful to guest blogger and creative mind John Rieger for this entry. John’s son Schuyler has been on 3 courses over the last 3 summers, and if there is something that John has learned from his son, it’s the value of adventure.
Check back next month for a perspective from Schuyler himself!
Community Partnerships and Admissions Manager Outward Bound Bay Area
For their honeymoon, in the early years of last century, my grandfather and his young bride went bear hunting in Canada. They ventured into the forbidding wilds of the Canadian Rockies with just their guns, their wits, and a 20-mule pack train to carry their essential baggage. Later, says family legend, Grandpa, a horseman and outdoorsman in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt, crossed paths with John Muir, hiking the Sierras in his signature overcoat. “What kind of a damned fool goes into the woods on foot?” my grandfather reportedly remarked. (“With a pocketful of damned raisins!” he might well have added.)
Alas, Grandpa died, after a long and eventful life, in 1962, so I am unable to present him with the answer to his question, in the person of his 17-year-old great-grandson Schuyler, who recently returned from three weeks in the mountains and canyons of the American southwest, bearded, filthy and exulting that he had made fire with two sticks, foraged for edible plants, and passed two nights below freezing without food, companionship, or the superfluous luxury of a sleeping bag. For Grandpa, this appalling adventure would have been a cautionary tale about damned fools and bad packing. For Sky, the scorching days, freezing nights, crushing loads and rudimentary cuisine were an exhilarating climax to three youthful summers with Outward Bound.
How did we get here from there—from bear hunting in the Rockies with a 20-mule baggage train, to zero-impact camping and “alpine salad?”
Grandpa, who became a prominent financier and industrialist, was a sportsman in the classic mold, a man of horses and hunting dogs, fly-fishing and pheasant-hunting, for whom the rigors of the wild added luster to the trophy count—a bracing challenge for a man of active animal spirits. Schuyler, of course, is a teenage male, a class of individuals universally recognized for their restless energy, impulsive risk-taking, and general love of gnarliness in all its forms, be it blindfolded rock climbing, or freezing in the woods (both features of his latest excursion). Grandpa, like Schuyler, relished the challenge of the wilderness. But we who, like my son, have come of age in the last half-century, see something slightly different in that challenge.
We know that this natural world, on this planet where we uniquely came to be, is our special place—that we are its creatures, connected to it in minute and complex ways, from the organic rhythms of our waking and sleeping lives, to our predilection for beauty, and that encountering it, we encounter ourselves. What is beautiful tells us something about who we are and can become. So does what is delicious, even if it’s alpine roots and leaves. So does that thing that inspires awe, that dares us to climb it, to raft it, to survive it, and then to save it and preserve it, precisely because such things are points of connection, deeper than thinking, that show us who we are. We got “here” from “there” by discovering that these connections, and this insight, are more valuable than the trophies—by learning to be just the kind of damned fools that would go into the woods on foot.
At the risk of rambling, another anecdote:
In the fourth grade, Schuyler’s Berkeley elementary school took a field trip to Yosemite. A specially trained group of junior rangers led the kids on a short hike along the valley floor, giving age-appropriate instruction in the local flora and fauna. Sky, all of ten years old, came away fuming. Here he was, surrounded by this tremendous landscape, and they made him sit in a circle learning songs about squirrels.
Sky wanted to dig the big rocks.
I’m with him: dig the big rocks, the steep hills, the hot sun, the cold nights, the swift waters. And I’m glad he found a place to do it, in Outward Bound, just as hard and as gnarly as he wants.
John H. Rieger
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