It starts with the COMMUNITY
When I graduated from college with a degree in Graphic Design and Photography, I took an internship with a design company that would likely set me up for a career in that field... However, I found that didn’t feel fulfilled sitting by a computer every day.
Seeking real connection, I was drawn back to the community I had loved at my small
mountain town college. It was a group of “outdoorsy” folks who taught me that nature is
so much more than bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the queen of torment, Poison Ivy.
I went out on a limb, and started working for a Wilderness Therapy Program in the Blue
Ridge Mountains. I was attracted to the incredible bond between people who spend days and weeks and months in the woods together. This can be found in any shared
experience, but Wilderness does a fantastic job of providing the space. It dulls the
distractions from the “Real BIG World” and offers a microcosm that is much easier to tap into. Relationships become face-to-face by a fireside. Conversations roll comfortably as you walk along a trail. Connection happens when you share in the experience of a torrential downpour or a brilliant sunset. Gratitude occurs when a meal is shared at the end of a long day.
You learn about VULNERABILITY
Wilderness humbles you. No matter how much or little experience you have, there will be a point at which you are challenged by its unbiased entity. Sure, there is an element of “fake it ‘til you make it,” but if you’re trying to stake out your shelter in inclement
weather and you don’t know how to tie a knot, you’re gonna have a bad time. Or perhaps you do know the knot, but the elements are making it “impossible.” Moments like this prompt you to ask for help, which leads to growth. I have learned that vulnerability is strength. As my sense of belonging grew in the Therapeutic Wilderness community, I began to trust more. I HAD to trust more. “Trust the process,” they say. Wilderness provides a platform for some of the rawest relationships you will find anywhere! And that connection promotes real vulnerability. Lean into fear, and you discover that you are stronger. There is beauty in the breakdown when you’ve had enough of the often relentless challenges of “woods life.” Learning to cope can be incredibly frustrating and ultimately… Empowering.
Over time, COMPETENCY is developed.
Challenges promote growth and change in that they encourage us to strive for something we had not previously thought we could achieve. Many of my students come to the woods believing that they are incapable of surviving out of doors. Heh, sounds like me not too long ago… When they have learned that they are capable not only of surviving, but of thriving, we present them with a new challenge. We put our students on SOLO and they spend some time alone in the Wilderness. This is an opportunity for them to demonstrate self-sufficiency and encourages some major introspection. Self-esteem through vulnerability. Sometimes this is the toughest nut to crack. After several years in the field, I started to feel my own need for SOLO. I had grown in competency, comfort and confidence and was encouraged to do more. I had discovered that “Wilderness Works” and I was willing to work it. That was when I set out to hike the Appalachian Trail.
COMMUNITY. VULNERABILITY. COMPETENCY.
These are the catalysts to CHANGE.Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail expanded my beliefs in what I was capable of. I sought community. I struggled. I dug deeper. I camped solo. Afterwards, I started steering my life more and more in the direction of these “wild pursuits,” making choices that continue to challenge and change me. My experience with the Wilderness has attuned me to my Great Self; she is wild, she is vulnerable and she is out in the woods!
“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.” Excerpted from “The Wolfs Eyelash," original prose poem by C. P. Estés, copyright @ 1970, from Rowing Songs for the Night Sea Journey, Contemporary Chants
Jennifer Gift is a Mentor Field Instructor for Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness in
North East Georgia. She enjoys long walks on the earth and real raw conversations.
Raised and residing in North Carolina, she is a B.A. Brevard College Graduate. In her
spare time she likes creating, dancing, traveling, climbing mountains and training for
triathlons. This year, she walked the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. She is
currently planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail!
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