A Love Letter for My Students for the Wilderness
I am taking a momentary step-away from my classroom for several weeks this fall as I do a southbound traverse of the Appalachian Trail. Although this journey is one for me, I do not want it to be my own. As an educator of urban youth, I need them, you, and all to inherit the wilds with a will to defend them and the action to enjoy them.
I love the wilderness and you all know it. I teach it in class, I tell stories around it, and as many of you have experienced, I have been a victim of its fury when I don’t stay aware of it. Even when it’s harsh, I return to it day after day, running and cycling deep into the night after school. Some of you even join me. You’ve come to South Mountain. You’ve run up the rocks, pumping calves and quads all the way. You’ve been brave and attended camping trips. You’ve even taken personal advice from me to go and be alone in nature when filled with the emotion that bares you open and raw to the universe.
As a teacher, I am responsible for making sure that you achieve academically – that your grades line up the right way and that colleges offer you the best in scholarships for your work. We work hard in class, writing the right things and learning the ways of the world. It’s messy, it’s orderly, and it’s in a building. Yet, I have other goals for you too.
“I love the wilderness.” That is what I want you to say. Someday. Maybe you can even say it now.
Shout it loud in cries on jagged edge in those desert mountains after school. Whisper it to yourself so that it crawls across your face to your ear to hear for you alone. Maybe not now. Maybe, you care to look at picture spreads and catch yourself sucking air as greens, oranges, aquas, purples, blacks, rouges, and other colors rip from the pages. Yet, you think, “That’s elsewhere and pretty but not common to me. I have not known such a place so intimately as to dream on it. It’s nice that it’s there but it’s niceness ends when the page turns.”
I think many in the world stare the same way as you.
If you sit in my class and do well on all the assessments, the labs, the projects, the circles, and the squares, I’ll be proud of you. If you dig in and struggle on everything that mixes anxiety in the veins, I’ll be proud of you. But if you leave here and only stare at wilderness in book pages and light-up ads, if you only raise up a single care when color reaches the eyes, if you only feel something and do nothing after that something breathes away in the second breath, then I have not done what I needed to do as your teacher.
The wilderness needs you to love and act. This trail I’ll hike on, as all trails of all lengths (city blocks to continent walks) pits you directly into life as experience. It leaves no room for excuses. You breathe because trees near you photosynthesize, but so do the phytoplankton in the heart of the ocean hundreds of miles away. You feel hot and cold because of where you stand. Too close to the shade and you find relief or chills, too exposed and you find warmth or strain. That’s the wonderful thing about being away from walls: you become raw like emotion to the world around you. You live a little more in those moments because there are places that allow you to do so. Yet, those places are getting boxed up. People need wilderness to be tamed for things they need: we need resources to drive society. So we take them. We build up to the very inch.
The wilderness has my love already. It knows I act on my sentiments. I converse, I write, and I vote. But does it have your love? When I’m on this trail, I want you to be outside too. I want you to go out and love a new or familiar place by merely being in it. Be outside yourself. When you visit a place, it becomes unique to you. Its faces and wrinkles become personal to you. You grow to expect it. And you find yourself surprised when something changes. And then you become more likely to do something: leave it protected for yourself, for others, for others not even born. For animals. Sometimes, even for nothing at all – just the knowledge of knowing it’s there. That’s when you love the wilderness. When you are willing to protect it. It’s a simple equation: Be outside –> Protect the outside.
I challenge you to be in the wilderness.
To do so, as I hike along the AT, I will do shout outs on the blog I’m writing. The shout outs will highlight the specific name of a student. If you receive a shout out, you have one week to travel to a new or familiar natural area, take a photo of yourself there, and then post a response on my blog. I also expect you to post your image on a social media site of your choice (think Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). You get outside, others see you outside, and the outdoors gets attention; this attention will hopefully translate to advocacy and protection. I’m calling this process: “Shoutside” (shout-outs to get outside).
Ultimately, the wilderness needs your love. So love, cherish, visit, immerse, respect, and protect it into perpetuity.
To All of You,
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.