Alternative, Conventional, and Wilderness Education
The perils of conventional education, and the importance of alternative or wilderness education with such wilderness schools as Outward Bound, Tom Brown, and NOLS.
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
"I can say now, with absolute honesty, that I did not learn a single worthwhile thing about life and living until I left school. Not one. Not unless you include the brief course I took in typing, and the one-week canoe trip I went on in a highschool outdoor-ed class, which was a singularly life-altering episode because it showed me that what I had been experiencing as a youth and young man, and calling life, had nothing to do with life at all- not compared to the beauty and silence I experienced on that trip into the austere comfort of the northern Ontario lakes, with the lonely call of the loon, and the feel of the breeze on my face as I was falling asleep outside.
I consider it an insult to my existence that I don't even recall seeing a single moon-shadow until I was twenty-two years old- and I know the exact time I saw it because I remember being shocked that I had a shadow at night, and I could not believe the moon was its cause. Not that I hadn't seen shadows at night. Oh no, every porch and every street corner in my neighborhood had a blaring light on it, making certain old Luna never got to sing her song.
That canoe trip was the beginning of the end for me, for it was then that I had begun my romance with the wilds. I had fallen in love with the earth, and it would not be long before I gave myself to that love, left humanity behind, learned to own nothing but what fit into a backpack, to care for nothing but to sit on a remote cliff and stare out to sea, and to wish for nothing but that a few other kindred souls were there beside me.
I set out to the wild lands, to the forests, and the sea, and found myself looking for a way to forget all I had been helplessly bequeathed, and to remember instead all that had been left out.
I had no real understanding of what the word 'ugly' meant until the first time I spent a couple of months in the towering forests of the west coast wilds, and then returned quickly to the land of pavement, square structures, signs, lights, idiotic haircuts, automobiles, cosmetics, and functionless clothing. Never have I forgotten the shock which these unsightly creations betrayed to my virginal sight. How my eye became so weary and sore all of the sudden, just standing on a city street, or sitting in a house, no matter how superlatively decorated. What a wound it became to my very soul to spend day after day immersed in such visual and psychic excrement.
I realized then that the natural glories and miracles which the earth has brought forth cannot help but make mankind's constructions appear like the finger paintings of blind, insecure brats. I wonder if this is why we have been so eager to rid ourselves of the earth's great treasures- the forests and the beasts- because these make us feel so little, so unimpressive, so dumb.
That trip to the true west-coast wilderness had put a black mark on my mind, for I now had a vision of what had existed before electricity, metal, and internal combustion engines. My prize city, Vancouver, had suddenly become a sewer, and I was now swimming in shit and quickly losing the strength to tread water, though tread it I did for many years to come as I slowly learned how to live as a free person in an imprisoned world.
My life on the coast would become a series of comings and goings- a migration of sorts, from the cancerous cosmopolitan clime, to the verdant lands full of sustenance and hope. I went out, time and again, to sift away the ore and try to find the living gold scattered thinly within the limitless dross. My peregrinations most often sprang from the hub of my movements, Vancouver, and widened out, covering from Northern California, up along the west coast of Vancouver Island, to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and into the Alaskan panhandle. It was in these places, where the mighty trees meet the pounding surf, that I held communion with the land and spirits therein, with the unique individuals who willfully populate these remote and untamed places, with God, and, most importantly ...with myself.
Were it not for these stretches of awe-inspiring, deserted, primordial wilderness, untainted nor scarred by the likes of men, I would surely have passed from this earth long ago. Were it not for the sweeping cedars, the awkward croon of the ravens, the peace of the eagle, the untamable spirit of the bear, and the freedom and abundance which is a gift of the sea, I would have gone crazy amongst a society for which I had grown sour early in life, and for which I held little need, little respect, and little expectation.
To wander amongst the great forests of the Pacific Northwest- or what little is left of them- is to live and grow under the glorious canopies of ancient hemlocks, towering Sitka spruces, and gigantic redwoods; it is to have the existences of these titanic organisms implanted within your very being, so that you become like a grafted branch, no longer yourself only, but a part of the land as well. And so to return to civilization is to be like a voyager from a forgotten world, containing the old vision and the new curse for mankind. To blend in and become one with the majesty of nature, is not only to know the peace and beauty of these colossal wonders, but also to become that very peace and beauty itself, and therefore to recognize from a different perspective the horrors of mankind's rapacity. It is to be sucked into the belly of a wonderful whale and then be spat out in Nineveh with no desire to do what you cannot avoid doing.
Which is to say, I had come, over time, to certain essential, troubling realizations, and I could no longer hide the pain from myself, and my pain was the world's pain, and so I could no longer hide the world from itself. And when that happens, let me tell you, the world will take up arms against you, because you did not, or could not, lie its lie, and you now cannot help but expose its worst repressions to itself, and that means you are a monster, or worse …a man."
(excerpted from In and Of: memoirs of a mystic journey, by Jack Haas)