Vail Daily column: Finding ourselves, in the rain
August 1, 2010
There’s something special that happens to children in the wilderness, high on a mountain under a stormy sky. Magic sparks fly when they abandon electronics and discover the company of wildflowers and dirt, rain and mountains. What they actually discover is each other – and themselves.
I’m so lucky. Lucky to work for Walking Mountains, and lucky to watch the youth of this valley meet the sights and sounds of their natural world. This week, with 11 10- and 11-year-olds, camping at Vance’s Cabin on Tennessee Pass, I was privy to just that sort of magic.
When Natalie Nighthawk or Evan Eagle described dead, twisted tree trunks, they said they looked like a cat, or a roast turkey, or a ship. When Sal Snail Slug found a Mountain Monkshood, its petals shaped like a man wearing a purple hoody, he pulled up his own hood saying, “He’s just like me!” And when we summited Chicago Ridge in a rainstorm, and the kids were pushed to their physical and emotional limits, their beaming smiles were a true testament of their incredible character.
“The day started out with a little overcast,” Marika Mouse wrote later, “but we weren’t that worried. It had rained the days before in small, short showers. We hiked up to Taylor Hill using only a compass and a map, and continued on to Chicago Ridge. The rain got harder and harder, until people more than 10 feet away became shadowy figures. Suddenly, the cloud burst open and the rain poured down on us.”
We wrapped the kids in two tarps, like a big “kid sandwich,” and inside this shelter they ate their lunches. Suddenly they were laughing, cheering, and repeating the mantra, “We are in a cloud, on a mountain, in a sandwich, eating a sandwich! Eating a sandwich, in a sandwich, on a mountain, in a cloud!” Daniela Deer wrote later that “We were so cold that we almost got sick. But we were so proud of each other.”
They came out of the tarp sandwich singing and inventing rhymes: “We are soaked to the bone, but at least we’re not alone!” they sang.
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Brynn Blue Jay asked to cartwheel down the mountain!
“It was like nothing on Earth,” wrote Sam Snowy Owl, “and then we were silenced by the cries of mother elk talking to their young. It was a sound like no other.”
So why do we walk in the mountains? Why do we subject ourselves to dirt and cold?
“We are all dirty,” said Hana Hummingbird, “but everything around us is so beautiful, that we all feel beautiful.”
And the kids discover that they can do so much more than they thought possible. They can eat wild strawberries and hear the sounds of elk and ravens. They can sit silently by a spring, writing poetry. They can work together to cook, clean and solve problems.
“We hiked off the beaten path,” wrote Max Mountain, “while meeting new friends and having fun!”
Helena Hawk called her time with friends the “funnest week of the summer yet,” and Michaela Moose reflected, “I never wanted to leave but I guess we have to. This was a thrilling experience and a great amount of fun. We had fun in the sun and fun in the rain.”
We walk in the mountains because it makes life simple enough to understand. Sometimes, in life, it rains. But when we work together, and believe in ourselves, we can accomplish great things.
“I was so beautiful out in the woods!” wrote Hana Hummingbird. “It did rain some, but that never stopped us from reaching our goals!”
Roddy Beall is a graduate educator at Walking Mountains (formerly Gore Range Natural Science School). When not pretending to be an animal in the forest, Roddy can be found dancing with his dog and singing in Spanish.