Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Outdoor School Harvests

Full Harvest Moon

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I'm falling behind again in my posting but this time because I am busy and working hard, not because I am off gallivanting. As my summer job came to a close I was lamenting my lack of employment for the fall and a friend suggested I apply for outdoor school. "You'd love it, and they'd hire you in a minute," she said. I sighed and agreed. "You're right, you're right... I know you're right."

Smith Lake, my office
For those of you who did not grow up in northwestern Oregon, a little background. Outdoor School is a residential environmental education program that started by the school districts in the counties around Portland in the late 1960s. It has grown into a beloved tradition for 6th graders to go to camp with their science classes and generations of high schoolers have come to outdoor school as counselor-teachers. Even with the budget cuts in recent years, the Outdoor School programs in the Portland area have survived and continue to give teenagers these really important and empowering experiences.

I went to Outdoor School as a middle schooler and counted the days until I could go back as a counselor, which I did 6 times before I graduated from high school and another time the fall after I graduated. I joke that I went to college to become a camp counselor and got my dream job working for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's science camp and outdoor school. I worked at camp for a summer and a fall before I decided that I wanted a kitchen, a dog, and a home in town rather than camp life.

Sunset from Camp
Seven years later, after a circuitousness route of work and school, I'm back at outdoor school. It's all the magic I expected and more. Within two minutes of meeting my co-workers I knew we were going to hit it off great and have a really fun fall. The work these last two weeks has been physically exhausting, emotionally draining and absolutely mind blowingly awesomely fun. The high schoolers rise to our extraordinary high expectations and the sixth graders bring energy like you wouldn't believe to our camp community. We adults pull together to support each other while making each other laugh until we cry almost every day. I can not discount the awesomeness of spending all day every day in the woods by the ocean surrounded by squirrels, racoons, chickadees and gulls.

The Harvest Moon

A touch of cold in the Autumn night
It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
  Of Nature have their image in the mind,
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer's close,
  Only the empty nests are left behind,
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Coastal Huckleberries, the best part of camp.
Coming back to Outdoor School reminds me of the harvests I have reaped from my own past experiences and the harvests I hope I am sowing now. I come back to camp because being a part of a community that really works feels so warm and loving. A good camp community is one where every person is working to make sure that every other person is succeeding and growing. Camp is a community pressure cooker, where we go from strangers to bosom buddies in the matter of a few days and where life long relationships begin. As a teenager, I met caring adults at camp who were able to identify strengths I didn't know I had and grow towards a wholeness I wasn't sure I could achieve. As I looked back over the evaluations my supervisors wrote and felt both intense gratitude and awe at how insightful they were. 

As I complete this week's round of counselor evals I hope that I can be even half as helpful to the teenagers I am working with as my staff supervisors were. I hope that these teen counselors can see a vision of themselves as confident leaders and knowledgeable teachers. I want everyone at camp, the staff, the counselors, the students, the kitchen staff and the teachers to see what a functional community looks like and maybe be able to take that experience into their futures. I want the students and counselors to have good emotional experiences in the woods and beach so they can begin to build a conservationist ethic. I hope that my actions here, and my part of this community, can do what Mother Teresa's words (which are posted in every bathroom at my camp) ask of us:

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."

My camp name and red vest of power
The full Harvest moon found me and my camp co-workers out on the beach for a bonfire. We played tackle catch with a glow in the dark ball, talked about the week and laughed a lot. The tide was exceptionally high (it was a spring tide) and we ended up having to move our active camp fire with our bare hands. The Harvest Moon asks us questions about the fruits of our labors in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. Coming back to Outdoor School has left me thinking about my harvests this fall, and my hopes for future harvests. I really feel like I am working to make the world a better place when I work at camp. Even when we are at our silliest... or maybe mostly when we are at our silliest.

What are your harvests this autumn? What future harvests are you sowing for? Did you get to go to Outdoor School or other camps as a kid or young adult? How is autumn shaping up where you live?

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Harvest Moon 2011: C.S. Lewis on Praise and An Ill Harvest

Harvest Moon 2010: Harvest Moon 

Harvest Moon 2009: The Harvest Moon is New and The Moon When Squirrels Throw Acorns at You (Inexplicably, my most viewed post. Ir has been viewed over 500 times, more than two hundred times more than my second most viewed post. Curiouser and curiouser.)

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