The following post was written by Global Studies teacher Nick Martino and originally appeared on his blog Defenders of Ma’at.
Last month members of the TGS staff organized an adventure into the wild to provide a leadership and character building activity for our students. Each student was given the choice between ocean kayaking or hiking during the four day trip with the amazing Chewonki Foundation, who have been leading the charge in leave-no-trace camping and environmental education in Maine for years.
I got to join TGS’ Bear Claw Squadron on an ocean kayaking trip through Hockomock Bay. Now, this would have been quite the pleasure cruise had we not encountered the constant barrage of wind, rain and low temperatures. A Small Craft Advisory by the National Weather Service changed our plan, and we had to quickly improvise and set up our camp on nearby Castle Island.
While thoroughly soaked, cold, and uncomfortable, the Bear Claw Squadron was able to undergo personal reflection time in the woods, have some (wet) rest and relaxation time and learn about maritime practices. Our knowledgeable and inspiring Chewonki staff taught us how to adhere by the rules of leave-no-trace (LNT) camping, which was not what we were expecting. Despite the weather and our own expectations, island camping using LNT practices meant NO FIRES! There was a rational reason for the absence of fire on this cold weekend: Castle Island is on the small-side geographically with a limited amount of trees. If everyone who camped there had a fire, the natural environment would be virtually non-existent. So we continued to be cold, wet, and uncomfortable, but let our attitude and optimism carry us through the weekend. The experience taught us a lot, and we all grew to be more resilient and optimistic people.
If the lack of fire didn’t bring home the point of how humans can change the natural environment, the bathroom situation certainly did. While on Castle Island we learned how to WAG. WAGGING, which became a tagline in our island conversations, is the act of defecating in a space-like bag that contains gel to break down the fecal matter. It comes equipped with all you need to do your business in the bush and conveniently seals airtight, keeping smells and debris inside. This certainly took leave-no-trace camping to a new level, but also gave us a new appreciation for porcelain. Our optimism never faded, and we made the most of our situation!
Our resilience was evident while we were learning how to read and use nautical charts (not called maps). Andy, our Chewonki guide, taught us a wealth of useful skills including chart reading, shooting bearings, triangulating our position, and the Rule of Twelve’s regarding tidal shift. I reminded the group that if they can pay attention and retain knowledge within their current emotional and physical state they would be able to do it anywhere. I think this point made all of us understand that we are able to do much more than we might give ourselves credit for. While we all love the comforts of our own home, it was important for us to learn that we are capable of hacking it out in the wild.