At last month's Spruce Knob Mountain Center staff alumni reunion, we were treated to slideshows of pictures of the Spruce Knob Mountain Center from years past. Featured prominently in several slides from the '80s were familiar-looking aluminum frame backpacks. A close inspection revealed several of them still live in our backpack storage, twenty years later. Our stoves, water filters, and some of our topographical maps have changed since then, but our staff's knowledge of, and love for, our backyard wilderness remains the same. Of all the courses that we run, backpacking courses are a stalwart favorite among the staff.
|East Harlem School at the Exodus House|
|Geology school at the top of Spruce Knob|
Simple camp craft lessons on the trail often led to engaged science discussions. One night, I showed the kids how to hold a match at a sloping angle, rather than vertically up and down. Our chaperone asked our kids to think about why hot air rises and why cold air is denser than hot air. An avid discussion followed about convection, conduction and radiation, all sparked by a match and a piece of birch bark.
|Getting ready to head out from Spruce Knob|
In New York City, a mile is twenty blocks, but a mile in New York City does not have downed trees, stinging nettle, water crossings, or elevation gains of 800 feet. The romance of the mountains competed for our students' attention with worries about bears and bugs. Not long after a butterfly inspired terror in our group, we stopped at the top of the Judy Springs trails, in an open patch of meadow with a view of the Allegheny Front. One of the kids exclaimed “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. My mother would cry tears of joy if she could see this.”
I was constantly impressed by the students' wonder and inquiry about the world around them, and by their care and attention for each other. Tears shed in the middle of the night were met by sympathetic backrubs and hugs from all group members. As the kids reflected at the end of the week on their experience, they all commented on the care that they had felt from each other in the unfamiliar world of the wilderness. One kid summed up the experience; “There were times I didn’t think I could do it, and it felt like the hardest thing in the world. Now I’m so glad I’ve gone on this trip.”