Tagged camping

Tone Setting Camping Trip Vignettes

As we drove up highway 85 towards Hanging Rock State Park, I racked my brain for items I may have forgotten to pack. Sunscreen, check. Bathing suit, check. Hiking boots, check. Coffee…uh oh. No check. Hmmmm…oh well. Tomis roasts coffee at home and we have become quite the coffee snobs lately. We wanted to bring our own special coffee with us to enjoy during this trip. I was surprised at how this realization didn’t bother me at all. The thought of being in the woods for the next three nights was exciting and only brought the feeling the joy, not having coffee wouldn’t ruin the experience. Either I’ll go without or another one of the adults would have some to share, I thought. Hoping Tomis would feel the same way, I picked up my phone to let him know.

“Hey babe, I’ve got some bad news.” I said.

“Um, okay, what’s that?” he replied through the hazy sounds of the bluetooth car connection.

“I forgot to pack the coffee beans. I packed the filters, pour-over mug, and the grinder, but I forgot to put in the jar of beans.”

“Oh, I did that this morning,” he tells me.

And so it was, we had coffee for the trip! After I hung up the phone, I reflected happily on the fact that during the few minutes I thought we wouldn’t have coffee, I didn’t waste any energy being mad at myself for forgetting to pack it. I decided to keep that mentality going for the rest of the trip. There are many things in life that just aren’t worth the time being upset over!

On our second night, a child lost their toothbrush.

“Alright, well I know we’ll find it somewhere. I’m happy to help you look! Let’s imagine what it’ll feel like when we find it,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not worried at all. I know I’ll find it. If I have to go a night without it, it really isn’t the end of the world,” he replied.

We looked a little, didn’t find it, and released finding it for the night. Neither of us was upset. About 30-45 minutes later, before going to tent for the night, there it was in plain sight on tree stump nearby. Off the child went to joyfully brush their teeth!

 


 

On the second morning at camp, I woke up in the morning to the sound of quiet clapping.

“Ayan.” Clap. “Ayan.” Clap. “Are you awake, Ayan?” Clap. In my head I’m laughing hysterically. Tomis looks over at me with a huge smile on his face, also holding back gales of laughter.

“Well, he’s certainly going to be awake after that,” I whisper, trying to keep quiet so we could listen to what would happen next.

The conversation of the boys tenting right next to us kept us going to bed and waking up with huge smiles on our faces.

Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!
Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!

“What are your top five favorite animals? Do you know all their top speeds?”

“What do you mean you don’t know how fast a peregrine falcon can go? This is your favorite animal, you need to know this!”

“My dad’s a graphic designer and a broker, do you know what that means?”

“Um, well a graphic designer is different than a designer right?”

“Yeah, and it means he gets samples. Do you know what a sample is?”

“Yeah I do, samples are like a smaller thing of a bigger thing. Like a little model of what the bigger thing is that you want to make.”

“No! It’s like if my dad designs 6 shirts, he’ll get one shirt before those 6 shirts are made. Like it’s another whole shirt outside of those 6 shirts. It’s the same size as the actual shirts. He gets one so he can see what it looks like first. We get hats too.”

“Oh! Okay. What’s a broker?”

“Oh well, he’s a graphic designer. So he can design things and not leave the house. He’s also a broker so people send him things and he sends them to other people, and he gets more money that way.”

Tomis and I look at each other. During this trip I tell him, “I now know that if we have a baby, I will be totally happy if it’s a boy or a girl. The boys are so fun to be around!” Previously, I thought I would only want a little girl. This is no longer the case for me! (By the way, Tomis is my husband).

 


 

Huffing and puffing I climb the stairs up to Balanced Rock and Moore’s Knob, the highest peak of Hanging Rock State Park. It’s straight up. The map said this hike would be strenuous, and it certainly was! As I approached each curve, I thought, Please let this be the last set of stairs. For many of those bends it wasn’t. Behind me, I could hear Caleb and Tomis talking, Tomis patiently supporting Caleb up the many stairs. Caleb was already down one water bottle in the first 30 minutes of the trip and, having not had much breakfast, asking to turn back.

I look back at Alona, whose face was as red as mine, and smiled. She smiled back and said, “I don’t know if I would’ve signed up for this hike if I knew this is how it started!”

“Well, if there is one thing I know about mountains, it’s that if you get to the highest peak, the only way off is to go down. So after we get to the top, it’s got to get easier!” We laugh at my response.

“That’s totally true,” she responds, still determined to go up.

I glance up at the backs of Andrew, Gabe & Tessa. “How do they do that?” I ask aloud. The boys are far ahead, talking to each other as they quickly and efficiently climb the stairs. Tessa is right behind them, determined to catch up. I think to myself, she’s so low to the ground at her height, that’s how she’s making it look so easy.

“I don’t know!” Alona exclaims, “It’s like they are robots!”

I slow down to chat with Tomis. “Hey babe, I think we should give the boys a map and tell us to meet us at the tower. Let’s let them go. I think they can do it. As long as they stay on the trail with the red circles, they can’t get lost. I can show them where everything is on the map. How does that feel to you?”

“I have no issue with that. Is that what you really want to do?”

“Yeah. I mean, people let their kids loose in New York City with a subway map. This is way easier than that. The worse case scenario is that they get hurt and sit for a bit while we catch up. But obviously, I would only have them do this if they actually feel comfortable going up ahead.”

“Sounds good to me,” he responds.

I catch up to the boys. “Hey, do you want a map? You can just go up ahead and meet us at the tower.”

Andrew quizzically looks at me. “Like just go ahead and meet you there?”

“Yeah, if you want to. Here, look at the map.” I show him the trail, and remind him that the Moores Knob Loop is marked by red circles. I point out Balanced Rock and the Fire Tower that are coming up ahead. “This is where we are going. There will be signs, so stop at one of these and we’ll find you for lunch. We’ve got to be halfway there already.”

“Awesome! C’mon Gabe, let’s go!” They take off up the mountain, as the rest of us prepare for a water and snack break.

“Can I go to?” Tessa asks, already climbing up after them.

“Well, I’d love to have you stay with us, but I’m totally cool with you deciding what you prefer,” I respond.

“I’m going!” she yells down to me, her back already a flash of red, disappearing up the mountain.

I look at Alona and shrug. “Well, let’s see how this goes!” I think she’s a little shocked that I let them go up alone. I was confident the signage was clear, and knew that with the freedom, they would be even more careful than if they were with us. I know these kids. If they felt unsafe, they would turn around and come back or stop and wait. I had not one shred of fear about them getting lost. Okay, well maybe one shred, but I knew that was my “panic-how-I-was-raised” mind, not my grounded, centered mind.

We keep climbing, and about 15 minutes later (it really wasn’t that far off that I let them go ahead), we reach the signs for the fire tower and balanced rock. “Andrew? Gabe? Tessa?” I call out. No signs of life. “Hmmmm….” I wonder aloud. I had run up a little ahead of Tomis, Caleb and Alona, wanting to find the other kids. There were no kids here.

Well, I think to myself, somehow they have missed all these signs and walked past it. Knowing that we actually weren’t that far behind them, I guess that if I yelled pretty loud, they’d hear me.

“ANDREW!” Why I chose his name to yell, I don’t know. It just came out that way.

Faintly I hear, “Yeah.” Sighing, I melt into relaxation. It felt good to hear his voice, confirmation that everything I was sensing was on point.

“YOU MISSED THE SIGN! TURN AROUND,” I yell. I hear faint yelling in response. A couple minutes later, the three of them come tromping back.

“We were already on our way back when we heard you yell!” Tessa says excitedly. “We felt like we must have gone to far.”

I smile, totally happy to know that the kids did exactly what I knew they would do: turn back if they felt uncomfortable so they could find us again.

We eat lunch together on balanced rock, laughing and joking with each other. Caleb has totally bounced back after having food, water, and a break. He’s eating his sandwich, and we are all laughing hysterically at the breadcrumbs falling off his sandwich. We bought gluten free bread, and unfortunately for all of us who are GF…it was more terrible than usual. It literally crumbled apart when you touched it. The rest of us opted to not eat the bread today, (we suffered through it already for lunch the day before), choosing to make sandwiches out of tortillas instead. Caleb was dedicated to sticking to his GF diet this trip, and didn’t want us to waste the money we spent on this bread. In the morning, he proudly made his sandwich, and was now determined to eat it.

The breadcrumbs dotted his face like grains of sand, and he was laugh-crying as he ate. “It’s like eating cardboard with meat inside,” he wails, smiling though, knowing he is providing entertainment for the rest of us. The foil he has wrapped his sandwich in is the only thing keeping his bread from falling completely apart.

“Caleb, it’s okay, just don’t eat the bread. It’s so terrible! Why not just eat the meat out of the sandwich?” I didn’t want him to feel like I was going to force him to eat this mess of a sandwich.

“What?” He says, still laugh-crying, “I’m NOT gonna waste this sandwich. I’m eating this whole thing. I don’t care how bad it tastes!”

“Oh boy, I’ve guess I’ve told my story about my mom eating raw potatoes and raw fish one to many times. Now you all will never complain about food!” On our last roadtrip, after the kids complained about how much PB & J we ate, I told them how my mom survived her escape from Vietnam on a small boat with only raw potatoes and raw fish to eat for 30 days (I don’t actually know how many days they survived this, perhaps I should clarify this with my mom, but 30 days feels like a nice dramatic touch to the story). I told them they had no idea what starving was, that the most they’ve experienced is hunger and being uncomfortable and that eating PB & J wasn’t the end of the world. We were trapped in a food desert in Kentucky when I first told my mom’s story, in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store option to shop from. I remember walking in the grocery store and realizing that I didn’t see much that I would consider actual “food” inside. We did the best we could to feed the kids edible items for those two days…And from that point on I would hear, “I’m starv- I mean, I’m hungry.”

As Caleb struggled to finish his cardboard/styrofoam/sand sandwich, we noticed birds beginning to circle above.

“What are those?” I ask, squinting my eyes up to the sky. Three of the kids tell me they are turkey vultures.

“How do you know this?”

“We just know. Look at their wings. Those are turkey vultures,” Alona responds.

Andrew backing her up firmly says, “Those are definitely turkey vultures. I know it.”

I’m impressed. I have been to the raptor center several times and have also taught bird units to kids during my time conventionally teaching, and I still can’t seem to tell the birds of prey apart when they are flying way up above me. I have this memory problem that school taught me, the one where you remember something good enough to pass the test on Friday, and then the information just melts away into oblivion. The kids are describing to me how to tell raptors apart, and I’m glad to see they do not suffer from the same affliction.

Caleb begins laugh-crying louder now. “They are coming after my sandwich because it’s falling apart everywhere!”

Now we are all laugh-crying.

Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.
Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.

After lunch, we climbed to the top of the old fire tower, now simply a lookout for tourists to visit. Being a weekday, it was completely empty and we had the 360 degree views to enjoy to ourselves.

Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture...
Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture…

The highest point was about a third of the way into the 4.3 mile loop we were doing. As I predicted, this mountain was, in fact, like all other mountains I’ve climbed up: after getting to the highest peak, the only way back is down. We very quickly descended the mountain, Caleb, fully recovered now that he had eaten (albeit, a terrible sandwich), was at the head of the pack with Andrew and Gabe. Had Tessa been just a few inches taller, she would have been right up there with them. She wasn’t too far behind them, though. I felt like we were practically running down the mountain, and was carefully watching each one of my steps so I didn’t twist an ankle. Alona kept pace with me, trying to playfully place her steps where my step was just a moment before.

“They are robots,” I grunted back repeatedly to Alona. She was just as incredulous as I was at the speed they could maintain. Tomis was quiet at the very back of the group, I guessed just keeping up the best he could. We all made it back in one piece to camp, very proud of ourselves for completing this strenuous hike!

 


 

You can see more photos with captions of our trip here!

Tone-Setting Camping Trip

One huge benefit of adding @jesslm to our ALF team here at Mosaic is all of her camping experience she brings from leading boyscout groups. Once she made the decision to quit her job and focus on developing a career with us, one of the things she jumped right into planning was camping trips. We did a mini-trip last spring and then decided we wanted to offer a bigger camping trip at the beginning of the school year to build connection and deeper bonds between us right away.

We took 11 of our students (about half of the school) to Morrow Mountain State Park, about an hour away, from Wednesday – Friday last week. It was a pretty amazing trip, and we can’t wait to do another!

Before the Trip

We set guidelines for attending the camping trip that we made clear with the kids. In order to attend, you needed to agree to:

  • Play one group game each day
  • Participate in a team building exercise each day
  • Sign up for a duty on the duty roster
  • Participate in a community meeting about developing the tone for our school year
  • No electronics, except for cameras on phones (put on airplane mode – but this ended up not being an issue as we got no cell service there!)

The kids interested in attending met during the first week of school and those wanting to camp and able to agree to those terms were put on the list to go!

The Tuesday before we left, we had another meeting where the kids decided on tent assignments, picked out duties for the duty roster, and helped us plan the meals. Jess took a few kids out to shop as well that day for the food we needed to bring.

 

During the Trip

We were all so excited to go! We met Wednesday morning at school and piled into cars. We got to Morrow Mountain for lunch and then set up camp. After setting up camp, we had a first group activity – playing “Yes, Let’s!”

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Explaining the game “Yes, Let’s!”

This is a game/team building exercise where someone suggests we do something (like jump on one leg) and then everyone yells “Yes! Let’s!” and does it. I was reading @drew’s blog about facilitating at the Communities Conference and how he played this game with participants, and I thought it was a great activity to do with kids too. I told the kids that as a community, sometimes we can just dive in and try out something new or different and just join in with joy! We did things like act like a bear, hop on one foot while rubbing our belly & patting our heads, pick up litter, give high fives…and then someone suggested “bite Jess” and that led to a fun game of chasing Jess around! (Don’t worry, no one actually wanted to bite her, it was just for fun).

We reminded the kids of the agreements and then we all walked down to a really neat shore area that ended up being a really special spot for the kids the entire trip. On the way there we found a hawk feather. We left it where we found it because we know it’s illegal to take and possess them. The kids built a fairy village there that first day, skipped rocks, and made mudballs. We visited the spot again every day to check on our village & add to it, and to build our skipping rocks skills and even try out fishing!

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We came back for dinner, smores & a story time. It was a beautiful and fun first day!!! Then…nighttime hit…

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That first night was a huge test for all of us! We had POURING rain and lightening & thunder. Kids I have taken out on trips before became so homesick – but were able to communicate that the massive thunderstorm was what was really pushing them over the edge. I could totally understand! There was a lot of compassionate listening happening – by me and from the other kids. I was amazing to see the boys crying together and talking about their families and just lovingly supporting each other through the homesickness/thunderstorm scariness.

The girls had a whole other issue. Their tent started leaking so they tried to sleep in the van. The van fogged up so bad they thought they were going to suffocate. They all wanted to go home! Finally Jess and I rigged a tarp above their tent to stop the rain from coming in and the girls found towels to dry out the inside. They were able to sleep in it and stayed dry the rest of the night.

The amazing thing for me to see was how happy and positive the kids were in the morning! When I got out of my tent, I saw the kids in a circle outside the bathroom comparing their night horror-stories, but laughing about them. It was a pretty neat bonding experience for all of us to go through. The kids who were wanting to go home the first night now just wanted to have a great day. I just thought to myself, “What incredibly supportive & resilient children!”

After breakfast that morning, the kids organized a game of Capture The Flag – using two other campsites as their field. We were the only group there so the kids had free reign. They loved it and were able to play 4 games.

That afternoon we decided to go on a hike to see the Kron House, what I considered to be our team-building activity as a group. It was hot & humid and a rigorous outing! We walked & sweated until we finally reached the house. You can read about the Kron House here. A bunch of the kids are interested in how people lived in the past, so it was neat to see the old house, doctor’s office, well, and greenhouse. There were even some edible grapes growing on a vine!

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That evening, we planned on having our community meeting and doing s’mores after dinner. However our plans got interrupted by yet another thunderstorm! We were able to eat dinner and play a few games of human knot (which we successfully completed a couple times!), but then it was raining so much everyone was in their tents by 8:30 for bed-time. We decided to have s’mores for breakfast dessert since we couldn’t make a fire that night! The kids (and adults!) were pretty tired from little sleep the previous night, so bed-time was smoother. Smoother meaning, easier than last night, but still not great!

In the morning, the kids were yet again happy and wanting to have a great morning before we went home. We had breakfast together and broke down camp. Jess taught us about how to leave a fire pit safely at a campsite and a few other Leave No Trace principles. Some of those we learned while hiking – like to always travel and camp on durable surfaces. Some kids didn’t know that when you go off the trail you are actually impacting the land. You never want to crush new growth in nature, so it’s important for humans to stay on the trails so we lessen our impact on the land. We also always practiced “leaving nature a little better than we found it” by bringing trash bags with us everywhere we went and picking up litter.

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Then we headed out to the top of Morrow Mountain to eat lunch and have our community meeting.

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At our community meeting, each of us shared a wish we had for the school and an action step we could take to make it happen. I’ll share what I can remember:

  • “I wish to see many amazing fieldtrips happen this year at school. I can make that happen by helping plan them.”
  • “I wish to see more boys and girls playing together rather than separately. I can make that happen by inviting girls to play with me.” This was seconded by another student.
  • “I wish to see children feeling confident in themselves and their decisions. I can support that happening by being confident in myself and my decisions to model that for children.” (This was my wish)
  • “I wish to see everyone in the school being really connected to one another. I can make that happen by being connected to everyone myself.” (This was a student wish, btw!, and seconded by another student)

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I can’t remember all the wishes right now, but we will check back in on our wishes with the whole school when we are back together. Our wishes can become part of our “What Kind of School Are We?” statement list that we use to support our Change Up Meetings. If we are the kind of school that has boys and girls playing together, than this is something we can check in on at our meetings to see if we are actually doing this or not. You can refer to this blog post for the inspiration behind that activity.

 

Final Notes

I am so happy that this trip happened and I can’t wait to go camping with the kids again! I loved being out in nature with them and just BEING. I felt so happy, light, and peaceful the whole time – even during the thunderstorms! The kids seemed to love it too. The kids are able to voice what they want to experience and then have support in creating that. The message they get every day is that they are empowered to create amazing lives for themselves, and that if they are having a challenging moment, there are people around to listen and support you. There are also so many other great pictures to share, and I hope you’ll check those out here!

However, there was one member of the trip that seemed to be pretty unhappy the entire time…Daisy. At almost 14 years old, she was not amused that I took her camping with the school and waited by the car for most of the trip. I could hear her thinking, “Hey mom, I know this car brought me here, and can take me away. I’m ready to go whenever you are. I’ll be right here…waiting to leave.”

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