Families and Troubled Teens: Learning to Fly
August 2, 2011
Where Do We Sleep? Wilderness Therapy at Work
August 9, 2011

After four days of constant rain the temperature dropped and the rain turned to snow at our wilderness therapy camping spot.  We had been hunkered under a rain tarp erected over our fire for days, with a cold wind blowing rain into our backs.  Staff chose the windward side of the fire, taking the brunt of the wind and rain blowing under the shelter. Our knees and shins burned from close proximity to the fire while our backs were cold and wet after our rain gear finally relented to the constant deluge.  The fire required constant attention with our wet wood stacked carefully around the fire to dry while the drier wood burned. Forget to dry the wet wood and the fire would dwindled and create unbearable smoke to gather under the shelter.

Our students were a particularly obstinate group called the Bull Frogs. They couldn’t seem to think even thirty minutes into the future. They would not leave the immediate warmth of the fire to gather wood to assure they remained warm throughout the evening. If left to their own inclinations they would sit under the tarp as the last few twigs burned and the coals dwindled. So staff rotated, one at a time, out of the relative warmth to search for firewood for the evening.

One might expect a gloomy atmosphere under that tarp in those conditions. Not so here. My co-staff chatted easily with the students and talked of happy things. One moment he would dash out of the shelter to shovel snow off the tarp sleeping shelter to keep it from collapsing. The next moment he would be drying his coat next to the fire while he resumed his pleasant conversation. My co-staff was celebrating his birthday so I used an apple I had been saving to make him an apple crisp with honey and an oat and butter topping. A burning stick served as a candle while the group sang “happy birthday” to him. If he ever felt frustrated or discouraged at our situation, he did not let it show. Our attention was first drawn to the safety of the group. Second on our mind was looking for opportunities to teach life lessons from our situation or process the many emotions our students were going through.

Welcome to life as a wilderness guide at RedCliff Ascent. But don’t tell our guides how rough they have it because they are oblivious to what others may consider hardship. They are so comfortable in their wilderness setting that in such times they think not of their own discomfort but can turn their total attention to the safety of those they are in charge of. They recognize that hardship creates an atmosphere of reflection and opportunities for therapeutic break-through. One must be able to be comfortable without thought or self interest in order to recognize that moment when a student may be susceptible to inner reflection. For the best teaching moments are often those that involve the least amount of comfort.

Your child is safe tonight not only because they are free from the dangerous influences of their old surroundings but also because of the competence of our wilderness guides. Men and women who can call a blazing hot desert or a blinding blizzard of snow home.

The old folks might say these people have sand or maybe salt. They carry in their hearts a desire to improve the world around them. Their spirits are indomitable. They are people of resolution, fortitude and courage. The wilderness guides at RedCliff Ascent have grit. – by RedCliff Ascent Backup Driver

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