Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Before I begin this article, I need to let you know that when it comes to this expedition there are no words to adequately describe what I felt and saw. My attempt to provide an accurate description is just that, an attempt.
By the time I reached Laurel Fork, our destination on day one, my feet felt as though they had been pummeled by stones. Despite warm temperatures and clear skies, the steep three-and-a-half mile downhill trek that comprised the second half of the hike (after the steep three and half miles uphill) was rough on the toes. The shelter at Laurel Fork was warm and inviting despite the massive rat I saw making a run from beneath it. As the day progressed the temperature began to slowly fall, and a fine layer of mist settled in. It wasn’t unpleasant, and, in fact, made for excellent conditions for our day hike up Laurel Creek. The Laurel Fork Falls were magnificent. Water cascaded down thick rock like clothes on a mannequin. It was strange really, almost mysterious, this downfall of water. What lies beneath? That night was the first time I had ever slept in an AT shelter, and, despite the rat, I slept like a baby.
The next morning, I crawled out of my sleeping bag and lit a fire. It was my day to lead our group, and I was excited to get going. The weather did not appear to be as pretty as the day before, and, in fact, within the first five minutes of hiking, rain was falling so heavily I called, “Hold up,” so we could all put on our rain gear. The first mile of our 9.8-mile hike that day led us to Dennis Cove. Now you may not be familiar with Appalachian Trail legend Bob Peoples, but Dennis Cove is where his Kincora Hostel is located, and Liam, Jordan, and I desperately wanted to meet him and shake his hand. Sadly, we did not have the chance, because when we reached Kincora, the mystical man was said to be “running errands.” After this slight detour we continued south along the AT until we reached the trail to Coon Den Falls. While not as large as Laurel Fork, these falls, rushing in a thin powerful flow down the hillside, seemed to invite me to rip off my clothes and leap in. But it’s always better to think twice because the water was so cold. After hiking back up to the trail, we shouldered our backpacks for the long, steep switchback up to Moreland Gap. After another torrential downpour, and many miles we arrived at our camp extremely tired and fell into bed quickly and easily.
The third day took us to Elk River, and, despite the pleasures of lunch in the sun at Mountaineer Shelter and the beauty of Mountaineer Falls, I am going to skip ahead to our destination. This was my absolute favorite camp, Elk River. The river makes a bend in the middle of a large green meadow, which was bathed in sunlight and wild flowers. I had been looking forward to arriving here because of the “daffodil pictures” from last year, but this year, to my disappointment, none were in bloom. So I did the next best thing, and dug up a few bulbs to carry with me to plant later in order to remember it. As I lay in the sun in the meadow that afternoon, I came to the conclusion that this is where I want to get married. I felt so at peace that anything less would be wrong. After rally that evening, I lay in my tent, in my favorite camp, filled with serenity and appreciation of beauty, drifting off to sleep to the gentle patter of rain on my tent fly.
The next morning we left my beautiful Elk River for Doll Flats. If I recall correctly, this was a particularly brutal day of hiking, over ten miles of steep uphill climbs and steep downhill descents capped off by a relentless three-and-a-half-mile ascent to Doll Flats. I say, “If I recall…” because the discomfort is not what I remember. Almost to the top of the last hill, we arrived at a “window” through the trees overlooking a valley. Have you ever dangled your feet off a precipice and gazed into something beautiful? It’s wonderful. My camp that night was something you might see in a magazine, tucked against the edge of a large meadow with sweeping views into the valley below. That evening, however, something rather strange occurred. At around 8:00 p.m. I was awakened by the loud sound of a dirt bike right outside my tent. I poked my head out to see bike and rider heading for the far side of the meadow before stopping. Later, Mr. Dan and I came to the conclusion that he had ridden up from the valley below to watch the sunset, but it was still odd.
I was leading our group again the next day for our mere 7.9-mile hike to Stan Murray. We were just a few miles into the hike when we encountered the first of the balds, Hump Mountain. I am going to have difficulty explaining what it was like. You see, the morning had been cold, rainy, and thick with a gloomy fog. The sky was overcast, and as we climbed higher, the deeper into the clouds we went. As we came out of the woods onto the expanse of open grassland of the balds, we were completely encased in cold, wet fog. But as I arrived at the top of Hump Mountain, the clouds parted. I suppose I should say they lifted, but really they just whipped away on all sides like a curtain, and I could see everything. The beauty was overwhelming, with mountain range upon mountain range stretching in all directions as far as I could see, with beams of sunlight streaking through the clouds and illuminating the entire panorama. It literally made me gasp, and, you may think this sounds cheesy, but I actually began to cry. In that moment, I had a little glimpse of God that I will never forget.
Before I get to the last day, I have one last rodent story to tell. At Stan Murray Shelter, there are mice. How do I know this? Because one ran across my face while I was sleeping. I woke up with a shout, and Mr. Dan woke up and turned on his headlamp, saw nothing, and went back to sleep. I guess you could say I was a bit paranoid, because I kept my head out of my bag looking around, and then I saw it. It was less than a foot from my face and running right at me. This time I yelled even louder, and Mr. Dan, who was now laughing hysterically, again turned on his headlamp and saw nothing. The morning was spent wrapped in clouds, fog, and moisture all around, encasing us in a blanket of wetness and smoke that refused to rise upward from the fire. I suppose it would only have been moisture if we had not banded together to make a fire, which, in the middle of a cloud, is a lot harder than you might imagine, but being well trained we had beautiful flames in no time. The hike on this last day was once again glorious, up and onto the next set of balds at Roan Highlands. We reached our highest point of the hike (approx. 6300 feet) and were once again treated to a spectacular view, although somewhat muted by the heavy clouds, so tears were restrained. We hiked along the ridge toward our pick-up point, until only Mr. Dan and I remained on top of the very last bald. We talked about how the fields we were on would soon be covered with wildflowers and about the Rhododendron Festival, which would be taking place in the town of Roan Mountain. As we hiked the last tiny fraction down to the parking lot, I wondered, “Did I do enough?” “Had I cared enough?” I really don’t know, but if it is any indicator, I promise I’ll be back someday.
Day One started with the expedition breakfast. After morning chores, the FMA team split with the upper level students going with Mr. Dan, and the rest of us departing with Mr. Mike for Star Gap Road. After a short hike we arrived at our first camp, under a sky that looked as though a storm might be on the way.
We awoke to rain on the morning of Day Two, and Mr. Mike let us stay in our tents until 9:30 a.m. After eating, we rallied for a day hike to the top of Winnie Knob, where visibility was supposed to be better, but, because of the clouds, was actually zilch. As we headed back down, the top began to clear. Just our luck!
On Day Three we had to cross Gentry Creek more than nine times on the way to our next camp. After camp setup we took a day hike to Gentry Falls, which was wonderful all around. I even got a picture of everyone doing “The Ralph.” That evening, the rain returned.
It was raining in the morning, so move-out was delayed until 10:00 a.m. Our hike that day consisted of exploring and clearing trails for about forty-five minutes to an hour.
Day Five also began with a rainy morning, and since our total hike that day was only twenty minutes, we didn’t move out until 9:30 a.m. I was fool enough to get out at the required time, only to be told to return to the tent. That day we took a day hike to a site where an airplane had crashed many years ago.
Day Six was a day of relaxation and we did not leave Bus Camp until noon. After a short bus ride, we arrived at the lodge where a hot meal was waiting for us.
While reading a seed thought book, on a beautiful March night, I came across a quote that leaped out at me. It described what I must do in order to progress to my full capabilities.
Henry Ford said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
I stopped and read it again, and a spark flared in my brain. I thought about all the times I would have improved my character and not regressed if I had known and believed this.
In the future, when I meet with failure, I will think of what Henry Ford stated here, and I will attempt the task again with a more willing attitude. Since I will already have learned what not to do, I will also have gained knowledge of what I should do the next time. This seed thought is the idea of the month to me because of the intelligent advice it provides. When I use this idea in the future, it will help me grow to become the person I want to be.
I must use detachment to achieve what I want in life. Although I use detachment daily, the more often I use it, the better off I am. How detachment affects my life is directly proportional to how much and how often I let emotions translate into physical action or speech. As James Allen states, “We each have the sole jurisdiction over our actions and circumstances.” He who is most skilled at using detachment, even if only in the moment between emotion and action, has the greatest control of his life.
As detachment goes, this guy is a pro.
At separating emotion from action, everyone else is below.
Some things tickle his nerves.
He just steps back and observes.
Under pressure, unreasoned action is the vice to beat.
Impulse must never be put in the driver’s seat.
I’m trying to write a poem,
But Liam is talking to Zippy.
If it weren’t for detachment,
Things could get messy quickly.
I was relishing the excellence of the food I had prepared earlier in the day when I was struck by an epiphany. In that moment, I realized that without Kitchen Crew, FMA would close down completely. This crew, which consists of me (and some other people), is the force that keeps the school going. We are, in fact, responsible for the survival of the entire group.
On Kitchen Crew we very generously supply all of the much-needed food to the staff and students alike. We do this, expecting nothing in return, because we are very kind-hearted people. But what people may not realize is the basic necessity of the work we accomplish.
Dr. D. Baumann, a doctor with both an M.D. and a PhD., currently teaching at Cambridge University, had this to say. “Contrary to what some believe, humans need food in order to maintain their survival, and without it we would, in fact, perish.” So it is a scientific fact, as you can clearly see, that the work we do in the kitchen is absolutely essential for the survival of everyone at FMA.
It is not that I’m in any way, shape, or form arrogant about my role here at FMA, it’s just that I now have a clearer understanding of what I do, and what the other crews don’t do. We stabilize and nurse the spirit and sustain life at FMA, while the other guys help clean up dirt and whatnot. While it is important to recognize them for their “work,” we must always remember where the real legwork is done and where it really counts: Kitchen Crew.
Just before spring break, I started an article about the bridge we were building at the back of the FMA property. At that point, it was not quite finished. We had the basic skeleton formed, but had yet to lay the cross pieces and the deck boards, along with some other finishing touches.
In the last few days before the break, we drilled holes in the girders and log halves to fasten with rebar. After attaching the halves, we added flat boards so the truck could drive over a smooth surface. We added guardrails and are now in the process of drying up some of the mud. By adding dry sand over the mud, we hope to create a surface conducive to driving. Building the bridge was a difficult job that was well worth the effort.
When we were planning this issue of Mountain Musings, I found myself at a loss for a topic, so Mr. Dan was gracious enough to allow the class to select my topic. As a result I was given the topic of The Geology of the River Stream.
Because there were no river streams near the FMA campus I was allowed to wait until I was out on expedition number eight, because one of our camp spots would be where a river met a stream, hence a river stream.
As soon as I arrived in camp, and had my tent set up I went to visit the river stream. The first thing I noticed was the abundance of animal life, particularly snakes and frogs. Then I noted that all the rocks in the stream built up at the location where the stream meets the river. The rocks were covered with a thin layer of moss, with rings of sediment circling out from the center. My fellow student, Ralph Russ, from whom the idea for this article originated, informed me that this means the rocks were thirteen years old. He also informed me that a calculation of the layers of sediment surrounding the rocks would come out to be 14.35164, and would indicate that the rocks were sturdy and strong.
I haven’t yet put Ralph’s thesis to the test, and although he came up with this information in the absence of any scientific equipment, he delivered it with great confidence. Because I have learned that the geology of the river stream is a more important topic than I might have originally thought, I plan to investigate it in depth with the proper equipment. While Ralph’s figures, and his interpretation of them might seem suspect to some, it is a topic for which he has expressed great interest, and I’m sure that despite a significant body of evidence to the contrary, with more in depth study, we will indeed discover that rocks are formed in thirteen years.
“Remember, remember, the 5th of November,” a voice intones as on the screen a quick introduction shows Guy Fawkes attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Then the movie shifts to a dystopian future England, where in response to an act of terrorism, an ultra-rightwing dictatorship has supplanted democracy, and the citizens live in a “safe,” but bleak world of propaganda, curfews, and brutal police. When a masked man calling himself V, rescues a young woman named Evie from a sadistic police officer, their fates are joined together. As V reveals the truth about the past, he inspires Evie with a vision for a future in which the people are free. A daring, subversive plot to overthrow the “high commissioner,” is hatched, and V rallies the people to rise up against their corrupt government, with his ringing cry, “The people should not fear the government, the government should fear the people.”
Friday, March 23, 2012
Throughout the year, the students of FMA are exposed to heroic and inspiring ideas from around the world. As part of the curriculum each student analyzes and interprets the idea in his own words. Following are each student’s selection of the ideas he found most powerful, and why he intends to incorporate these ideas into his own life.
“At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees it boils, and boiling water become steam, and steam can power a locomotive, and it’s that extra one degree that makes all the difference.” —Mac Anderson.
I have to work harder to achieve that extra degree that makes great things happen. When this one extra little degree is achieved I can do more than I have even dreamed. It’s that one degree that makes the difference.
With my one degree I can do many things. If the difference of a degree can make a locomotive run and keep a factory running, imagine what I can do in my own life with this one degree.
Compassion is comforting those who are hurt. It is caring for others, and feeling their pain. When I am compassionate I understand others and am trusted more by friends. The Bhagavad-Gita states that by being compassionate I can stay strong in my heart. I shall be compassionate and have strong relationships.
I chose this virtue because it is something that I wish to possess. Compassion is a very important trait in strong relationships, and it is especially important to me because I wish to have strong healthy relationships throughout my life. By showing compassion to others I will gain trust and respect and will earn the relationships I seek.
Detachment is learning to act upon my emotions in a constructive way. It is the process by which I force myself to hold fast the dish I was about to fragment. When I exercise detachment, I am able to step back from what I want to do and reflect on whether or not it would be worthy in His eyes. The Bhagavad-Gita states that I should perform all actions as if for the Divine. It is of vital importance to take a breath, to breathe slowly, and to reach a true understanding of my self.
I chose this virtue because detachment is a trait with which I find myself struggling. When I have been in the grip of emotions, I have often acted on them in ways that have been detrimental to my psyche. Detachment requires a high degree of self-discipline. I must first recognize my emotional impulses, think carefully, and then only act on what I decide is the best choice. Detachment is a virtue that, while simple to understand, can be difficult to practice. Look. Choose. Act. These three short commands can change my life.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” —Helen Keller
Something of strength and depth cannot be derived from something of frailty and shallowness. Similarly, an inner character of great strength and solitude can only come from experiences of the like nature. How I lead my life, the challenges I choose to face and overcome, or wither under, is what dictates the proud fortitude or weary timidity of my soul and character. The vast importance of maintaining determination and courage through the hardest of times in order to reach top potential is supported when Helen Keller says “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened…and success achieved.” Gold cannot be, and never has been, created of lead, and this is precisely why an enduringly strong character and soul must not be sought at the end of an easy road.
The topic of character is important to me. My own character is an aspect of my self in which I find a dissatisfying weakness. My character encompasses my attitudes, morals, ethics, and intrinsically, my thoughts. Pondering the lifelong struggles of Helen Keller, especially during her early years, automatically makes me more appreciative and thoughtful of the many things and abilities in my life, which I have habitually taken for granted. More than this, however, I find invaluable wisdom in her explanation that a strong character only truly comes from a victory over the toughest experiential opposition in life. As dwindling confidence and inner drive are weaknesses from which I suffer, I hope to build my character through perseverance in tough times so it will have the strength I will need to draw upon in the future.
If a problem presents itself, do something instead of complaining about it. It can always be solved if I will get to work on it. When a problem seems impossible, the solution is usually something so terribly obvious that I have overlooked it. This quote, attributed to a number of authors, says that it is always better to find a light source in the darkness than to whine about how I can’t see. So I will not go overlooking obvious answers.
I chose this quote because my problem-solving skills still leave something to be desired. It illuminates my usual approach to problems: find the most complicated solution, attempt to pull it off, fail, and then complain. When I am shown the obvious answer that I completely disregarded, I usually try to justify my lack of effort. To incorporate this idea into my life, I will try every reasonable and profitable solution, and if I can only think of one, I will ask for help in thinking of other viable ways around my problem. In this way I will be much more likely to be able to solve my own problems.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius
The happiness of my life depends on the quality of my thoughts and whether I choose to be happy or not. It is important for me to protect my happiness and not let it be affected by other people’s input. When others are unkind or disrespectful toward me, I must not allow myself to be affected by their behavior. Marcus Aurelius states here that being happy in life depends upon my choices and the quality of my thoughts. This quote reminds me that my happiness is in my hands, and, no matter what may happen around me, I can still choose to be happy and grateful.
The extremely valuable idea that I am in control of the happiness in my life is of great importance to me. It helps me make choices that will lead me to succeed in what I do and to excel to be a better person. When I put in the time, intelligence, and energy to make my thoughts of high quality, I am happy doing whatever I am doing. This Marcus Aurelius quote stands out to me because it instructs me to prioritize what I want in life and helps me recognize what true happiness is. When my thoughts are focused on what is right for me, I will be happy and will not need to wear a “mask.”
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.” – Horace
Hard times force me to truly get to know myself. They show me my strengths as well as my weaknesses. When faced with difficult times, I fall back on the character traits I have been practicing. Horace states that only when circumstances are challenging do I actually see what is within me. How important it is to practice developing the strength I seek.
This quote is important to me because it reveals a greater truth. It is an idea that applies to every human being. When I have faced adversity, I have realized my potential and what I truly need to work on. I will seize the moments of adversity in my life to become stronger and wiser.
“Excellence is caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.” —Winston Churchill
Following my own ideas of what is best for me and not trying to impress others, will lead me to exceed expectations. It will benefit me to soar above the rest. When I let what others think of me get to me, I choosing my own downfall. Churchill says that I should be different and be proud of it. Be yourself and don’t let others’ expectations hold you back.
For this issue, and the event of this year’s final group expedition, each student took one day of the expedition to write about, with a final note on the experience of sharing seven expeditions thus far.
Day One: Joshua B.
On day one of this expedition I got up at 5:30 a.m. for 6:15 class, then had the normal expedition breakfast, chores, and room inspection. At 8:30 we left on the bus for a two-mile drive to the base of Academy Trail. After getting separated from the front half of the group for about 30 minutes, we hiked up the Academy Trail for what seemed like miles. At the top we reached the Iron Mountain Trail, and hiked about three miles on that before arriving at camp at approximately 1:30 p.m. Mitch and I got our tent set up and our fire started, gathered some wood, and then went to rally, after which we had supper and went to bed.
On the second day of expedition I awoke to a cool windy morning. After Carlisle and I had packed up our camp, put out our fire, and eaten a wonderful breakfast, we started hiking toward rally. It was then that I remembered it was my birthday. This made me feel kind of annoyed because I wished I were home with my family having a regular birthday; however, once we started hiking, my mood improved for I was able to let my mind wander and enjoy the beautiful scenery. It was a five-mile hike, and about halfway through a light snow began to fall, but it wasn’t bad. Once we arrived in camp it started coming down harder. This was probably the most amazing campsite I have ever been in. It has a view of Doe Valley below and is truly spectacular. We were allowed to relax in camp for the remainder of the afternoon, and at 5:00 p.m. we went to rally. At rally I was granted a pleasant surprise when Mr. Dan came toward me singing Happy Birthday and carrying Snickers bars for everyone. All in all, it was a great day. At about 8:00 p.m. it really started to blizzard, and although the night was cold, my sleeping bag kept me toasty.
Day Two: Jordan B.
This morning my tent partner Aiden and I awoke to a serene, snow-covered stillness. For ten minutes. Then the winds started. Maybe “started” isn’t quite strong enough; rather it began howling madly like those large brown monkeys in Costa Rica. This was only the beginning; as we hiked along the IMT we were pelted with a massive barrage of icy snow, which continued until we reached our next camp. Our SMEAC said we’d be headed to “camp onion,” but due to the weather conditions we stopped a bit short – at a camp, which has yet to be named. And now I sit by my fire, wind still blowing, with a hot drink in my hand. Today brought rough weather, but it was good for my mind, because I persevered and can still smile at how beautiful everything is out here.
In typical fashion, Jacob and I awoke well before the designated “out of tent” time to painstakingly apply our outer layers of clothing and boots. The entirely clear sky (in stark contrast to yesterday morning’s blizzard-like whiteout) allowed for a bitingly chilly welcome to the outside world – outside the tent that is – as we tossed all our belongings out in front of us in order to get packed up quickly and to ensure we wouldn’t succumb to the temptation of re-entering the tent. The dreamlike weather outside and the lack of any significant terrain obstacles made the 4.8 mile journey from camp “no name” to Abingdon Gap pass quickly, allowing me to enjoy the lustrous views of Holston Valley and two large lakes which gleamed with an almost green tinge below our ridgeline. After erecting our tent and starting a modest fire, I was able to enjoy a delicious meal of salami and Mr. Mike’s mozzarella cheese, while making slow progress on a new interest, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. By 2:00 p.m. all the groups were assembled for class where we participated in some field first-aid Jeopardy! Getting back to my book, and now reading aloud for Jacob’s entertainment, the 5:00 p.m. rally came in the blink of an eye. I am currently sitting in my tent, of course, in the comfort of a bag of sleep. Day five beckons so toward dreams I shall creep.
The sun peeked over the mountains as Ralph and I crawled out of the tent at 6:50 a.m. After we put on our boots, Ralph went over to start the fire using flint, steel, and a good amount of dry twiggies. While he did that, I quickly took down and packed the tent, and, at 7:26 a.m., I was just in time for a delicious breakfast of oatmeal mixed with hot chocolate powder. While Ralph went on a water-run, I took apart the hammock chair we had made the previous day, and then neatly packed my backpack for the day ahead. By 8:00 a.m. our warm fire was smothered, and we were ready to leave. We commuted to the rally point where we were notified that we were early. At 8:35 we met with everyone else, and Mr. Mike talked to us about leading. At 8:49 a.m. we started our 7½-mile hike from Abingdon Gap to midway camp. Throughout the hike we changed leaders at each break. At 1:15 p.m. we arrived at camp, and, while I started the fire, Ralph set up the tent. After collecting wood for an hour we finally sat down to eat and relax. At 3:00 p.m. we had rally where we reviewed out experiences while leading. At 4:00 p.m. I went down to the trickling water source, and, when I returned, I was happy to find that Ralph had made a wonderful meal of lentils, rice, and lots of cheese. After dinner, we headed for rally. After rally we finished the evening by collecting wood and happily “scarfing down” the delicious chocolate donuts we had made. By 6:40 p.m. we were in our tent ready to rest up for the next day.
Day Five: Liam L.
I awoke to a beautiful day at 7:48 a.m., but was, once again, reminded by my stomach of the reality of the situation, and I found myself, yet again, perturbed by the idea of satisfying my hunger by eating my tent partner, Liam Lewis, as he started the fire. These thoughts began to erupt as the already low food rations, drawn from my pockets, had shrunk to mere crumbs and were compounded by the realization that we were ten-thousand, five-hundred, sixty feet from civilization. As it was our last day, it was unlikely that we would seriously resort to eating each other, but no one could have foreseen what was to transpire by 9:00 that morning. It was 9:24 a.m. when we discovered that the disastrous events I had been imagining, due to the loss of our precious food bags, had actually been part of a dreaming fantasy, and now that I had regained consciousness, we both enjoyed delicious oatmeal, and were even able to double our regular amount because we had “saved” some for this final day. We gorged ourselves on the contents of our food bags, which contained even more rations we had been “saving.” By 10:23 a.m., Liam and I had the tent taken down, as well as the fire put out, which was not difficult considering our previous training. At 12:45 pm., we, being the entire team, left camp for Damascus where we would rendezvous with Ike, the bus to be taken home. We arrived in Damascus around 1:50 p.m. where we enjoyed delicious Pepsis. After that we commuted back to the school on Ike, and did our routine check-in. It was official; our expedition vacation had ended and work had begun once again. The remainder of the day included stuffing ourselves with amazing food, catching up on homework, and introspection.
Throughout this year, every three weeks, an event has arrived that I have not always look forward to. Weather conditions have included pouring rain, snow, lightning, and windstorms that seemed nearly hurricane-level, but somehow expeditions have still been a highlight of the year. Each has covered a period of six days during which we have the opportunity to bond with each other and learn first-aid and wilderness survival skills. This last expedition was a bittersweet experience. As it came to a close, we all realized it was the last expedition we would all be going on together, as the next expedition will be divided by level achievement. We have been through tough times, great times, and times full of fun, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that looking back, we enjoyed it 100% of the time, even in the worst conditions. Whether it was a bright sunny day, or a bleak gray wintery storm, we learned to get along well, and I’m sad to see the combined expeditions behind us.
Friday, March 2, 2012
Expedition Six was a sojourn truly worthy of remembrance. Through the good weather and the bad, the struggles and the triumphs, the very short hikes and the very long ones, Expedition Six provided seemingly everything.
Day One began like usual with a hearty breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and bacon, although this time we had to endure a one-hour bus ride to reach our hike-out spot. Getting off the bus, we fell into formation, and, before we knew it, the expedition had begun. We hiked through the mist and into the clouds, a day of shelter building awaiting us. After an uncharacteristically brief trek (I’m not complaining!) each of the four groups was directed to a campsite, and shelter building was underway. Using only the materials afforded us by the surrounding forest, branches, leaves, and other natural matter, each group constructed a survival shelter fitting its creative appetites. Some were cavernous, some were smaller, and some even had multiple rooms. After a few rallies, the day ended with the news that we would stay put for day two, rather than hiking to a new location, in order to further improve our newly-built residences.
On Day Two we were out of our tents by 7:00 a.m. sharp, and morning rally confirmed the day’s purpose: shelter makeovers! Each group was challenged not only to improve its shelters, but also to go above and beyond what our pre-conceived notion of a shelter was. By the time the prize for “best shelter” was revealed, no one was holding back, because this was now officially a contest. By the end of the day, what had previously been shelters were now estates, some even drawing comparisons to the living quarters of “Robinson Crusoe,” and “The Swiss Family Robinson.” Day Two ended with the interesting news that, regardless of where we had decided to sleep the night before, (tent vs. shelter) tonight all of us would be spending the entire night in our own creations.
Day Three began with a pang of grief, and, for some, dismay as directions were given to totally dismantle and dismember our homes in the woods. Shoveling down breakfast next to the disfigured remains of our last two days’ efforts was more than difficult. A four-mile hike preceded our arrival at “Meadow Camp,” where a gloriously powerful sun welcomed us. With the air temperature hovering around 65 or 70 degrees (at least that’s what it felt like) I wrote in my journal, “Sun baking our camp slope…hanging around in a t-shirt, and still breaking a sweat.” At 3:00 p.m. Mr. Mike led a compass class, which was a review for some, but brand new for me and necessary for the forthcoming compass hike. Despite the amazing weather throughout the day, when the sun receded behind the mountains at about 5:30 p.m., the temperature dropped about 25 degrees, prompting Jacob to recall a similar situation at Saunders Camp during his first stint at FMA. The weather had been just as serene there, but overnight it mysteriously evolved into an unforgiving snowstorm. We all fell asleep that night hoping and praying that Jacob’s seemingly insignificant recollection would not jinx our current weather.
I think I can confidently speak for everyone when I say we responded with disbelieving shock when we woke up the next morning, and snow was falling. Following morning rally at 8:30 a.m., we engaged in a stretcher building exercise. We were split into two groups, and each group was given the task of constructing a viable stretcher. Building an impromptu stretcher is an important skill to have when hiking through remote mountains as we were. Again, as with the shelters we built on the first two days, we could only us the materials at hand, such as poles and cross pieces made of small trees and padding made of pine boughs. Using our belts, scarves, safety vests, and even shoelaces to fasten everything together, in under an hour both teams constructed functioning stretchers that endured a rigorous stress test. By 12:30, the worst of the snowfall had passed, leaving a few inches on the ground as we readied for the next exercise of the day: a compass hike administered by Mr. Mike and Mr. Dan. Each individual, with his compass as his only tool, set out on his own at fifteen-minute intervals to complete “the maze.” Starting at the same point, each student began by setting his compass azimuth to 310 degrees, which, if followed correctly would lead him to the next “clue” or compass heading. Following all of the clues, we found that our final destination, of course, was our own camp. With an acute chill nipping at our toes, sub-zero rated sleeping bags welcomed us after a full day of action.
Day Five began with the prospect of the longest hike yet, an almost eight-mile journey through the bitter cold and snow. For the first couple of miles, before the freeze of the previous night lifted, the scene was simply breathtaking; on every towering tree, on every shooting branch and twig was a complete and perfect casing of ice. Because of our altitude, the trees had been smothered in a cloud of humidity, which, when combined with the freezing temperatures, caused the entire forest to glisten in what can only be described as a “winter wonderland.” Arrival at camp seemed to take forever, but the emergence of the sun from its terrible home behind the clouds sparked our spirits, and within the next twenty minutes we had arrived. Pulling into camp at around 1:35 p.m., we were already behind our scheduled “class time,” so Mr. Mike let us all take a breather and set up our new campsites. Dry wood was plentiful and, with the close proximity of the water source, this camp became my favorite. At evening rally we concluded the day by sharing our observations, and in the process, we also mysteriously cured Ralph of a sudden breakout of hiccups.
The final day of expedition began, like always, with extremely cold temperatures, but unlike the other days, it also carried the promise of relaxation. With the news that move-out would not be until 1:00 p.m., we took the time to get nice fires going, and sat and calmly soak up the beautiful day, while spending quality time with our tent partners. By 12:30 p.m. we had all packed up our camps and were lined up at the rally point ready to go. As the final leg of our journey back home to the FMA lodge began, there were exactly two things on our minds: Showers and Parmesan Chicken. There is truly no such thing as too much praise for FMA’s famous Parmesan Chicken. Much of the time hiking was spent along paved roads, finally leading up to the pasture on the outskirts of the FMA property. One by one, we tiptoed across our bridge-in-progress in the woods behind the lodge, and Expedition Six came to end, carrying the promise of more to come.
For the past couple of weeks our morning meeting has been dedicated to possibility thinking. We have been going over the eight steps to replacing an attitude of impossibility with one of possibility. Although each and every step has its own significance, for me two of them have really stood out. Step number one tells me “I must remove my disadvantage complex.” A disadvantage complex is the belief that I am at a disadvantage due to a set of circumstances outside of my control. This step is pertinent to me because I must focus on the ways that I can do things, and not on the ways I can’t. Overcoming my disadvantage complexes will help me to achieve the goals I have set for myself and will make me stronger.
The second most pertinent step for me is step number two: “Develop the habit of recognizing and responding to the smallest trickle of positivism that might leak into my mind.” This step is just as valuable as the first one because without positivity I have a negative attitude that is only going to take away from the experience at hand. Finding positivity in my surroundings will help me be more confident and determined in the face of any challenge placed in front of me.
Using these steps to my advantage will benefit me in the future. Possibility thinking is the mindset I will need to use to help me solve the problems I might face in the world. The best way for me to start using these ideas is to apply them to the smaller issues I am encountering in my life – once I master those I will move on to the bigger, more difficult challenges and overcome them, too.
Recently we decided to build a bridge connecting the six-acre FMA property to the rest of the campus. The bridge we are building is constructed entirely of trees, which we have felled near the bridge site. We cut two of the trees into girders to form the main support for the bridge. Then we dug a hole for the girders to fit into, clearing out all the rocks in the way. All the logs used in the construction had to be peeled down to bare wood prior to using them to ensure they do not rot. I was one of the lucky ones stripping the trees, which was hard but rewarding work. I also harvested boulders from the rock quarry site, transporting them to the bridge and breaking them into smaller pieces used to support the girders. At this point, the girders are in place, and this article will be continued in the next edition.
Chess is a game of intuition, knowledge, sportsmanship, and cunning. Although surprisingly I did not invent chess, it is a game in which I find myself dominating. However, there is one student here whose chess story is even more inspiring than mine: Jordan Brewster, 15, who against all odds continues to play.
We were all astonished when Jordan proved he could do math, but Jordan’s love of chess has revealed an even deeper, more enlightened young man, and that is moving to all of us. While Jordan never wins, he never fails to demonstrate his love for the game when, every Sunday, he shows up to support my playing. Through watching my mastery of the game, Jordan’s whole attitude has changed, and, because of this, I have discovered the true meaning of hope; a lesson I will never forget.
Chess, the game of intelligence and patience, is played almost daily here at FMA. Ralph Russ and I are the champion players, although sometimes we feel sorry for the other students and allow them to win. I am grateful for Ralph, though, because he sometimes provides a challenge. He has an unusual style, is very unpredictable, and often throws me off guard by making moves that make absolutely no sense. As we test our skills against each another, we both have the opportunity to improve.
Many times others gather around us and observe, in the hope that they too will gain the skill we possess, but our techniques are so complicated, that the logic of our moves is something only we can see.
Chess helps relieve the stress of homework and lack of sleep, and it helps me to bond with the other students and learn more about them.
So, chess anyone?
You’re still a dancer on the pier,
With music that doesn’t play,
Solemn in your silence,
Movement without delay.
Euphoria grips the mind,
Hollowing yet loud.
Something about the quiet,
Kept from moving out.
And circles swim before your eyes,
On waves of purple rain,
Tripping on eyelashes formed in black,
Said to swallow fame.
Now don’t ask silly questions,
And I’ll answer without lies,
Black sheep still in the cockpit,
Awaiting time for flight.
You’re still a dancer on the pier,
With music that doesn’t play,
Solemn in your silence,
Movements like slow decay.
C.S. Lewis' magical fable, The Silver Chair, takes readers on an adventure where marsh-wiggles take life seriously, gnomes eat precious stones, and two English school children are transported to Narnia to find and rescue its lost prince, Rilian. It follows the trek of Jill, Eustace, and their marsh-wiggle guide, Puddleglum as they encountered talking beasts, man-eating giants, and many other perils on their journey to restore Narnia's heir. Although they had been given specific guidelines to follow by Aslan, their misadventures began when they allowed themselves to be distracted by the many temptations they encountered. Whether they find Prince Rilian and rescue him or die in their attempt will ultimately depend on following the signs they had been given.
The deeper meaning conveyed throughout The Silver Chair is that if one is on an important mission or sacred quest it is vitally important to stay on track and not allow distraction to lead him or her astray. It was shown in the story as the heroes repeatedly failed to stay on course and thoroughly complicated their mission, nearly losing their lives in the process. After several days of walking through the wild and dangerous “lands of the north,” the travelers met a beautiful woman and heavily armored knight and were encouraged to stop for rest with the "gentle giants" at the castle of Harfang. Although their guide, Puddleglum, was suspicious, the children were completely led astray and nearly paid dearly for their mistake.
Just one of the wonderful offerings in C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, The Silver Chair is an entertaining novel that leaves the reader contemplating its timeless message for a long time to come.