On May 20-21, Wilderness Kids ventured on our first ever weekend overnight camping trip. Our destination was the gorgeous rolling mountains of West Virginia. Specifically, 16 students, three staff, and one of our wonderful Wilderness Kids volunteers ventured to the 300+ acre Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies near Capon Bridge, WV, for 24 hours of exploration and adventure.
We pulled into the gorgeous Burgundy “Cove” about 1 p.m. and after a brief introduction from our wonderful hosts Julia and David, we set off to a serene pond that graces the property. There in the drizzling rain, one after the other, the students plunged themselves into its brisk 55-degree waters, faces smiling, bodies shivering with delight. Some Wilderness Kids students are strong swimmers and ventured in with confidence. And, as often happens on our outings – whether climbing, paddling, swimming or undertaking some other adventure–there were some students reluctant at first to give it a try but who rose to the moment and got in the water–one student swimming for literally the first time in their life. That student, buoyed by a life vest and a smile, was also one of the last out of the water.
Wilderness Kids students, buoyed by tubes, life vests or their own swimming skills enjoyed a refreshing dip in the pond--some veteran swimmers and others for the first time!
With the rain subsiding, we had a nice lunch and then set off in two groups. One to seek out critters in and around the stream that feeds the pond; and the other to practice our camping skills. The critters did not disappoint as we found salamanders, newts, crawfish, and even a snake!
The rain resumed and we reluctantly made the decision to sleep in the Cove’s dorms: simple fully-screened rooms with bunk beds. Our planned camping spot was a mile’s hike uphill and the rain was just coming down too hard to make that hike a welcoming experience for so many first-time campers.
Students looked for critters in and around the creek; and found some (like this newt); set up and enjoyed time in tents (even if tenting out for the night was not in the cards); and escaped the rain, taking the chance to express themselves through water colors (or play a game of solitaire!)
After a dinner of pasta (yum!), we set off on an evening walk along the Redbud Trail, through oak and beech forest, up and down terrain, hopping over some fallen trees and scooching under others. The hike culminated with the chance for each student to experience nature, at dusk, alone or in pairs through a short solo/pairs hike. Each student or pair of students (the students made that decision) walked off down a clear path, at one minute intervals. The solo/paired hike was just about 4 minutes long per student, at which point they rejoined a Wilderness Kids instructor and their fellow campers. That simple four minutes allowed each student just enough time to experience the sights and sounds of an evening in West Virginia’s nature, and to live that experience on their own or with just one close friend.
Nature is home. And the kitchen is the center of the home. Students help cook up some veggies to go atop a dinner of pasta; setting off for an evening hike students strike a pose and share a laugh.
The day ended with a warm campfire and s’mores! We bypassed ghost stories for the evening, knowing that the experience of being away from home, in the woods, at night, was already a big enough challenge for many. No need to introduce the Legend of Scary Joe, or some such thing!
In the morning, after breakfast, we enjoyed the morning sunshine on a walk to ‘the Bald’–the mountain ridge that had been our original camping destination. Up on the Bald, we had a raucous game of Freeze Tag and a sort of Sharks and Minnows spinoff and then took time to be quiet, each student finding their own space on the Bald and reflecting or sketching in a journal, capturing their thoughts and observations of this place and this time.
Atop the bald: Wilderness Kids friendships span sides of town--from Chirilagua to the West End, and countries of origin from the US to Afghanistan to Central America and more; On the bald, we took time to explore, have fun, reflect quietly, and express ourselves in words and images.
The first founding value of Wilderness Kids is that Nature is Home. This camping trip was a 24 hour direct experience of that value. Our students experienced that they can be at home in the natural world, even one with snakes in it, one that gets dark at night, one that doesn’t always offer sunny skies, and one that challenges us with steep climbs. They felt the joy of being in nature, of a cold plunge, of a grand vista, of a silence punctuated only by chirping crickets and croaking frogs. They found new friendships in nature, students from GW Middle School bonding with students they had never before met from Francis Hammond MS; students whose birthplaces were a half a world apart from one another connecting meaningfully, enjoying one another’s company.
We hiked back down from the Bald and shortly thereafter took the country roads that would lead us each back to our comfortable beds, our families, our homes; but residing in each of our hearts, was this seed of an idea, still to grow, that what we experience in nature–that too is and can always be home.