I got to go camping with 8 junior high boys and a wonderful leadership team from Great Outdoors University over Fall Break. We went to Hickory Creek Farm in Campbell County, north of Knoxville. We stayed in a bunk house without running water or electricity surrounded by beautifully colored hills of hickory. Great Outdoors does an amazing job making the outdoors accessible for all and building avenues for youth from inner-city settings to grow in confidence. Here are a few of the lessons I learned (and relearned) from this last trip:
- Junior high boys have a lot in common with elk. We had an incredible opportunity to hear a class about elk (recently reintroduced to Tennessee) and their characteristics and mating habits. To make this class really stick we drove to the top of a nearby mountain to an elk overlook hoping to catch a glimpse of one of these majestic creatures. We were treated to almost two hours of observing an entire herd of elk. Playing to this audience, the bull elk performed their “wooing” ritual just like we were taught in a previous class. They bugled to gain the attention and admiration of the cow elks—as well as to challenge the other bull elks. They perfumed themselves with their own urine. They decorated their antlers with hay and mud. And they pranced around begging others to take notice. Our boys were mesmerized by this process. We secretly (and not so secretly) wished for an all-out fight between bulls, but settled to see one bull take away the cows from another. Though a little more sophisticated, our boys did name a few parallels with their own approach to courtship.
- Sunsets are a treasure. While observing the elk on the top of a mountain looking out past a beautiful meadow, the sun set. Its farewell to the day brought wonderful colors and a calming peace to its audience. One of our students remarked, “I don’t think I have ever watched an entire sunset”. It’s one of those miracles that we take for granted, but would do well to recognize for what they are—treasures.
- Silence speaks loudly. There were no sirens. No gunshots. No strangers coming in and out throughout the night. No yelling. The stars were the brightest our youth had ever seen. No wonder more than one of our boys dreamed,” I want to live here.”
- Everything tastes better around a campfire. Maybe we were just hungrier, but the food we ate was spectacular—broccoli, chicken, steak, squash, tomatoes in a hobo stew; chili; apple crisp, s ’mores, pancakes, bacon, and eggs. Eating together gave great occasion for bonds that feel a little stronger. The GOU staff knows their way around campfire cooking—and our youth noticed.
- It is good to share stories. Having so much campfire time over two days created space for great story time. Our boys took turns sharing jokes, scary stories, and talking about themselves.
I am thankful for GOU’s commitment to making these life lessons more available to our students (and to me). For more information about GOU, click here.