Friday, April 19, 2013

Resourcefulness at Spruce Knob

“Well how the heck did they build this place, anyways?”

It was mid-April, and the Ulan Bator yurt was still decked in white. The spring Wilderness First Aid class, led by Beth Boehme, waded through snow drifts to complete their scenarios. NOVAC star gazers roller-coastered through slush in their vehicles on the way to the high plains. And, at the moment, I was alternating my time between shoveling snow, pumping white gas camp stoves, and running in circles around the Ulan first floor in an attempt to unravel the architectural visions of Bill Coperthwaite.

A Wilderness First Aid scenario - no one was hurt!

This excitement had started a half an hour earlier, when the oil man had arrived in the driveway, throwing open his ice and mud-caked truck door to exclaim, “There is no way I am going to be able to get back out of here.” He was at the mountain to check out the gas tank, which was sending off suspicious odors. As he began to investigate the problem, he concluded that there was a leak in the gas line somewhere near Ulan and asked us to turn off the oil and trace the line from its end back to the tank. He stated this request as if it was a simple matter, but the widening eyes of those present foreshadowed the reality that life is seldom straightforward at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center.

Soon, Mike’s lunch-cooking was transferred from the propane stove to a series of camping stoves set up outside of the kitchen. Mel, James, and Jason took temporary leave of their WFA class to hunt for access to the underside of Ulan's upper level deck. Beth assembled GORP to appease her class’ hunger in light of their delayed meal. The oil man scratched his head: “I don’t understand. They couldn’t have built this place without easy access to the gas line. It’s not possible.” With a resounding CRACK, Jason pried open another panel in the Ulan wall.


Rebecca Saunders models a cast!
“Nope, not yet, but we’re just going to keep trying ‘til we get it!”

In the end, we did get it all sorted out. It wasn’t in much more than an hour that a crowd of staff and WFA course members sat laughing in the outer ring, warm with Whisperlite-stewed soup and toaster-browned bread. A new, bright yellow gas line coiled its way from Ulan, where the leak had indeed been discovered. Fridges and crates that had been pried away from walls were pulled neatly back in to place, and the oil man made his way slowly down the mountain in steady first gear. As I watched his red truck disappear over the edge of the high plains, my gaze turned to the ancient Appalachians stretching across my view, their hills and valleys forming a circuitous horizon. These mountains, I reflected, certainly do not make for an easy path from one place to the next.

However, I have noticed that it is precisely for this reason that Spruce Knob and its surrounding hills are also, ultimately, some of the greatest teachers. On field courses, groups orienteer straight up through the mountain’s vertical brambles, a challenge that is often enough to prompt cross-eyed upward glares: “It’s impossible!” Reaching the boulder field atop Spruce requires resourceful thinking, determined leadership, relentless teamwork, and grit resolve to reach a goal. But, despite these formidable requirements, every group to which I have presented this challenge has stood on top of the mountain and gazed down on Appalachia, which smiles back at them, as if to say, “Impossible?” After some time walking in the woods, or – in the case of the gas line – some digging around under floorboards and snow, those who have lived under the watch of Spruce Knob Mountain begin to realize that, with resourcefulness, there’s not much that is impossible around here.

Post-Script: Precisely two days later, I walked the high plains under a high sun and blue sky, broadcasting clover seed. Sweat ran down my forehead and through my tee shirt; snowmelt coursed down the hillside and over my boots. As I looked up to see two robins tweet happily by to settle on a nearby hawthorne, it dawned on me: suddenly, unexpectedly, and in her own fittingly roundabout way, Spruce Knob has brought us springtime after all. Happy Spring! -Andy Notopoulos

Photos for this post provided by Bob Traube, WFA participant and NOVAC astronomer.

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