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Well Versed in Outdoor Pursuits

6 January 2016
Mr. Dan Norman, Math Teacher and Head of ODP
I love my job, especially the outdoor educator part, but Tuesday December 15 was an eleven for me. In Outdoor Pursuits, the plan was a day hike on the gold mine trail in Goldstream Park. Early darkness and cold were on my mind as I planned this hike for 12 teenagers from the Outdoor Pursuits class I co-teach with Josie Olszewski. This group had been together eight times in the past few weeks. So far, we have worked on kayak safety in the pool, had an introduction to indoor rock climbing, had three very exciting days paddling in heavy winds and waves on Mill Bay and spent one day demonstrating survival skills by constructing a tarp shelter and lighting a fire given only two matches. The gold mine hike was our last activity before a much anticipated December holiday. In past years on this trail, I had turned the hike into a plant identification exercise, where the person at the front of the group walked until they could name a plant and tell the group about it. Then they would go to the back of the group, and the next person would have their turn, with no student allowed to repeat a plant. Today, I was concerned we would run out of daylight, so I thought about something different. #1 the airy-fairy outdoor educator pitch - “As you walk along the trail, keep your mind and senses open so you notice the forest around you. If you wait for it, something in the forest will speak to you. When it does, notice the object – it might be a tree or a rock or … and as you walk compose a rhyme using the object.” I offered my lame-o example: “I heard the call of a tree; it filled me with glee; I felt really free.” I shared an experience I had a few years ago when an esteemed herbalist sent me into the woods for 45 minutes of solitude where I was to talk to, and listen to an Oregon grape plant. When I returned to that group, I was shocked to realize that I was the only group member who did not have an animated conversation with a plant. I continue to wonder if one day I might be less cynical and let my guard down enough to experience something like that. So I offered my students a cynical take on the task I was setting them: “Norman says choose some object in the woods and make up a rhyme and he expects you to share it with the group.” And so we hiked on through the wet, dark forests of Goldstream. The first victim offered: “ I fell in some mud, I made a thud, it made me feel like a dud.” And then “As I walked and dreaded my turn, I was accosted by a fern, who screamed at me ‘My name is Vern.’ You should listen and you might learn.” And then as we bunched around the gold mine after which the trail is named, Hannah R dropped a bomb and the dial turned up to eleven.( Just to clarify, she composed the first stanza in her head while we hiked and then recited it to the group. The rest of the poem was completed and emailed to me within an hour of our return to campus). This may be the reason I teach outdoor education.  Whisper in the Woods by Hannah R ‘18 The airborne arc of Nursing Tree, A bridge above a stream, With emerald ferns, their roots dug deep In moss soft as a dream. A gentle voice it does possess To ease another’s pain, And in the cool damp of the wood It whispers like the rain.  A bird alights and tilts its head The quiet voice to hear, And in a glade beside the creek Two ears perk up – a deer.  The very trees and plants appear To hear the quiet sounds, Which even under stones are heard By beetles in the ground.  The forest pauses patiently, All movement cease to be, To hear a sound as soft as rain: Song of the Nursing Tree.  Mr. Dan Norman, Math Teacher and Head of ODP

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