THROWBACK THURSDAY: MEMBERS IN MOTION (Scott Schneider)
Protecting the Places We Learn to Love
A Canoe Trip Leads to a Small, but Radical Action of Service
One reason I love outdoor education is its ability to transform. Transform the way we see and take care of ourselves. Transform the way we care for our different communities. And transform and inspire us to take responsible actions to care for places we know and love. It’s just that simple. However this lesson emerged (again) from students in my Basic Canoeing course.
Today's paddle started off no different than the ones we do all semester long. Three of the students and I were enjoying an exploratory paddle on the campus' Lake Raleigh. This beautiful 75-acre lake was our training location. Every Wednesday morning we'd meet for two hours and learn paddling strokes, river rescues, paddling equipment, and more. The previous weekend we ran a section of a local river and put our skills to the test. Upon the completion of the trip and the course, three of my students ask if we could continue paddling every week on Lake Raleigh until it was too cold to paddle. How could one refuse such a request?
This transformative paddle occurred in early November. Over the course of the fall semester we get to see the fall colors appear. The lake becomes the backdrop to watch the seasons change. As the seasons changed, so did the students. They developed into more confident and competent paddlers. They acquired knowledge about local lakes and rivers, and for some, fostered a deep connection to place.
It was during this end of the semester paddle when we discovered some garbage in a far corner of the lake. The students felt the need to remove it. We didn't know how much of a job we had taken on until an hour later when all four of us had finally pulled, pushed, and lifted a 200 plus pound 4-foot construction tire onto one of the canoe's gunwales. Soaked and muddy up to our chests, we now had to actually get the tire completely out of the lake.
The trip was just as challenging as our work to excavate the tire. The wind picked up as we paddled. The limited freeboard small waves and minimal stability only made it more adventurous as we struggled to paddle back to the boat launch. Cautiously and powerfully we employed forward strokes and J strokes. Laughing helped our anxiety as we progressed because we hoped after all the hard work we would make it back to the boat ramp without capsizing and leaving the tire behind in deeper water.
As our skid plates flagged onto the ramp we all cheered and embraced with high fives. Hugs and laughter spilled forth as we all took time to revisit our struggles and triumphs on our trip that day.
Driving away from the lake, I turned to the students to ask questions. “Why did you want to get the tire out?”
They replied that it was the right thing to do. “This is such a great spot we have on campus and we need to take care of it."
It wasn't until further reflection that I realized how powerful this act of service was for the students and for myself. It wasn't something the students had to do because of a grade requirement or something the program forced them to do. They chose to care for the lake through a simple act of service because they had gotten to know and love "their" special place through the countless paddling experiences we’d shared together. This story serves as a constant reminder of the sometimes immeasurable impact outdoor programs provide to students as they form their beliefs
* Article Authored By: Scott Schneider, AORE Member and a PhD student in Adult Education and a Senior Lecturer for the Outdoor Leadership Minor Program in the Department of Health and Exercise Studies at North Carolina State University.