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Reflections on our camping journey
October 3rd, 2017
by Ed Thorney
Day 1: Hike Lion's Head – 2.75 mile round trip hike
The initial briefing session explained the need for understanding group need from personal need. Hiking always brings out the distinction as the faster hikers typically want to split into two groups – fast and slow. This, of course, is not what we choose to do for several reasons (safety and supervision etc.) but mostly to allow this learning experience to unfold. Slower hikers are asked to be the lead, as they set the pace. While this may frustrate the faster hikers they learn to walk at the pace the suits the group. We always have a lead and a sweep. The lead sets the pace and the sweep allows no one to fall behind and lets the group know when to stop or slow down if a hiker needs to tie their shoe. The lead also is instructed to stop at every intersection along the trail until the entire group gathers – to ensure we don't get separated.
The beginning of the trail was ablaze with wildflowers, seed pods and smells of early fall. The trail then entered the woods and climbed through mixed hardwoods, hemlock and pine, past 300 year old stone walls from former sheep farming, and past 250 year old charcoal pits from the colonial era iron industry.
Shortly after the blued blazed Lion's Head Trail merged with the white blazed Appalachian Trail children discovered the rocks were chock full of garnets. This immediately set off a genuine Garnet Fest. Rocks speckled with dark reddish semi-precious stones began to bulge pockets and several good size garnets were found mixed in the gravel, apparently kicked loose by thousands of hiking boots and natural forces of erosion.
Closer to the rocky summit we heard the call of a raven. The summit of Lion's Head has a gorgeous view of Northwestern CT and Southwestern MA. We ate lunch and relaxed in the sun and the view. We then hiked north for a quarter mile to the northern summit of Lion's Head where we created our geo-cache and also enjoyed a view looking north all the way to southern Vermont.
The hike down provided an opportunity for a group meeting to do some problem solving over a social dilemma. Our policy to manage these situations is to stop the activity and hold a “group” with ground rules of - anyone who wishes to speak is encouraged and everyone is expected to listen. One person speaks at a time and we don't leave until we feel the problem has been solved or at very least, the relevant data is understood by all and we need time to allow those perspectives to sink in as emotions balance with fact. This concept of group problem solving – sharing our truth and listening - is a vital part of what we call “Expedition Behavior” and is the foundation of teaching children to take responsibility for our actions, thoughts and feelings.
After the hike we went to our base-camp where we set up tents, explored Burton Brook and prepared dinner. Cooking groups and clean-up groups soon learned to do their share of group need. While cooking may be a novelty for some it is usually enjoyable. However, the clean up of greasy pots and utensils is often encountered with “are you kidding me – I need to touch that stuff?” What they soon learn is the old aged method of using gravel from the stream bed to scour nasty pots works quite well – once they get past using their hands in the cold water to create the scouring action. Grease is another story altogether and what emerged was the knowledge that leaves and soil have the amazing ability to absorb oils. This concept always raises an eyebrow and and a fair amount of “uuggh! Just the same, after a while, even the most reticent cleaners soon learn to possibly even enjoy the method. After the initial rustic cleaning is done as described they then actually use soap and rinse water before air drying everything – upside down.
By the way dinner consisted of some very tasty burritos with an assortment of choices for ingredients followed by a peach/pear cobbler cooked in a Dutch Oven. After dinner was story time around the fire and some students and staff embarked on a night hike with flashlights turned off so as to adjust our night vision. We did our best to remain silent for much of the night hike and soon were treated to the sound of owls and the beautiful moon light filtering through the trees. At bed time, we heard what we believe is a territorial argument between a Bard Owl or two and a Great Horned Owl. The Great Horned Owl seems to have a repertoire of some pretty scary sounds.
Ed's dog, Dakota, has become the four legged hero of our base-camp experiences as he kept vigil all night long – sleeping just outside the collection of tents. Dakota would occasionally bark to inform any intruders of his perception (and ours as well) – that he was night watchman and trail boss. At 5:15 some coyotes began their chorus and by then campers started to stir and gradually greet the day. Camping standard is to earn your way to breakfast by first packing your personal gear followed by packing your small group's tent. When all personal and group gear was organized a breakfast of oatmeal, sausage and hot cocoa fueled the crew for the day's adventure to come.
Friday was the canoe expedition down the Housatonic River – putting in at Bartholemew's Cobble in Sheffield, MA and paddling down river to North Canaan, CT., a three mile trip. Many students have already experienced paddling on Northfield Pond behind LMS and also the Bantam River on prior expeditions. Nevertheless, managing a canoe is always a learning curve and for some a major learning curve that presents challenges of strength and technique. The canoeing experience began as a scenic and somewhat leisurely paddle through the flood plain, past Bartholemew's Cobble, a five hundred million year old mass of marble and quartzite left over from an ancient sea. The river winds through fertile farm land with pretty views of some of the mountains we have climbed on earlier adventures.
What we did not anticipate, however, was the epic adventure that lay ahead of us as we soon learned that the meandering Housatonic has re-arranged critical portages and take-outs. The “re-arrangement” can best be described as what was formerly a mellow sandy landing with minimal rise in elevation to a nearly vertical 20 foot bank of sand where toothy face-plants were more easily accomplished than actually getting the canoes and soggy gear up the bank!
It literally took at least 6 students and three adults to drag each canoe up the bank and even then it was only accomplished with intense team work that sounded exactly like – “1,2,3 PULL!” while about a foot or two of hard-earned headway was gained in each grunt laden, foot slipping effort. Witnessing the scene I was reminded of artists' renditions of colonial soldiers dragging cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, by hand, over the Berkshires in winter. It was a massive effort and to the credit of each student and staff member - we rose to the occasion! In fact, we are all impressed with the sincere and genuine attitude that “This job will get done, there is no turning back, and discomfort is secondary!” To cap off the epoch adventure, a few bee stings at the take out reminded two of us that sometimes the fun just never stops. These folks continued to tough it out in spite of that too.
Well that about wraps it up. We are proud of the effort put in, the can do attitude and deep appreciation of each other for the camaraderie needed to complete the expedition!