Roughing it at Outdoor Education
Patty woke in the deep night, hearing muffled voices in the next tent.”How do you get out?” (Whimper.)”Where’s the zipper?” (Rustling.)By the time Patty even understood what was happening, it was too late. One little girl, an occupant in the tent for which Patty was leader, “hurled” dinner. What she did not do was make it out of the tent, which was full of other little girls who joined the wailing.As a tent leader myself on this Outdoor Education trip, hearing the tale the next morning, I could only utter silent thanks that the event had not happened in my jurisdiction.”Patty,” I said feelingly, “that must have been awful for you.””Not really,” she said. “I just said, ‘Kathy, what tent is your mother in?!'”Kathy’s mother packed her daughter off home, and another mom arrived with paper towels and heroic willingness.My sons, now 8 and 11, have been going on school camping trips since kindergarten; parents are asked to come until third grade. My husband, Mike, and I have usually attended on successive nights, and he’s traded extra camping for many an hour at bake sales or Chipwich booths.Among the lessons the students learn, even at 6, is, when they grow cold, to go put on a wool hat – themselves. They learn about trees, wetlands, beaver dams and, in the case of my older son, Teddy, and fellow fifth-grade boys, not brushing their teeth for three days.Our kids at this point can pack for camping by themselves, and do so, very officially, using the school checklists.The recent morning that Roy, the younger, embarked on the latest outing, he had opened his eyes with the words, “Today rocks!”The trips, of course, have had their awful moments. On Teddy’s first, in kindergarten, temperatures dropped to 17 degrees. Another year, near Grand Junction, a ring of parents at the campfire watched a thunderstorm advance. One father, Brian, hustled over to a tent full of boys.”Let’s go,” he said. “Into the bathroom.””Wha-at?””Let’s go.””What should we bring?””Nothing. Go.””Shouldn’t we tie our shoelaces?”Marble-sized balls of hail hit the ground by Brian’s feet. “No!”He and his charges ran into the concrete latrine buildings. On the women’s side, a mother crouched on the cold cement with her tent group.She later told me she longed to call her husband just to tell him, “Do you know what I’m doing? It’s midnight and I’m on a bathroom floor in a lightning storm!”When I asked Teddy afterwards why the groups located themselves by gender, he looked shocked. “We weren’t going into the women’s room!”This year Roy’s group went to Marble, where their teacher, named Ted, spun a whole tale about the nearby Crystal River. Long ago, he intoned, survivors of a shipwreck in Beaver Lake rode a raft made of debris to reach these shores. Teacher Ted produced a map, drawn in pen and ink, wrinkled and crepey, with the edges artfully burned. This, he said, the survivors left to show the location of their nearby buried treasure.Auden, 8, raised his hand. “That’s sad,” he said.”What’s sad, Auden?” said Teacher Ted, sympathetically.”It’s really sad if anyone believes that,” Auden said, to uproarious peer approval for this incredible show of sophistication. (The boys adopted the mantra “That’s sad” for the rest of the trip.) It was Teacher Ted who told me the story later, laughing.Home again, Roy said with relish, “Ben and I had so many fights in our tent.””You – what?””We were throwing each other across the tent.”I looked at Mike. “It’s not really a chick thing,” he said, almost apologetically.When I tucked Roy in that night, I asked if he was glad to be home, and clean, and in his own bed.He stared; he blinked. He said, “No.”Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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