Temperatures will plummet overnight as we bid farewell to a mild first half of December and anxiously await what Winter Storm Gail will bring Wednesday evening into Thursday. As the winter winds shift, we each have a choice to make: retreat indoors and curse the cold, snowy winter ahead or embrace the amazing outdoor recreation opportunities available to us in rural New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. At Proctor, we choose the latter.
Scandinavians use the word friluftsliv to describe their approach to the long winter months. It literally translates as “fresh-air life” and is a cultural understanding that regardless of the weather there is value (physical, emotional, and psychological) in being active and spending time in nature. Read more about the philosophy and lifestyle in THIS article from the BBC.
Nestled at the base of Ragged Mountain in the Blackwater River valley, Proctor’s 2,500 acres of woodlands as a campus have encouraged a culture of friluftsliv at the school since its earliest years. In 1891, Head of School James Francis Morton built an extensive trail network behind his home (the old Morton House), and in 1936 Roland Burbank started the campus improvement squad that would conduct gardening, forestry, and maintenance projects on campus and throughout the woodlands. Burbank would also start a Cabin Club in 1937 and a Forest Fire Fighters team in 1947. An official Outing Club would be launched in the 1950s, and as Proctor’s land holdings grew throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the intersection of hands-on learning in the outdoors and Proctor’s mission grew inextricably woven together.
Generations of faculty have seen the value in weaving their academic and afternoon program curriculum into time spent outdoors. This winter, more than 150 students will spend their afternoons engaged in snow sport activities and wildlife ecology classes will regular strap on snowshoes and tromp into Proctor’s woodlands observing native wildlife, identifying trees, and understanding the intrinsic joy found on a cold winter days jaunt through the woods.
Every Friday during a normal school year, Environmental Coordinator, science faculty, and Polar Swim extraordinaire takes a bus of students to Proctor’s Elbow Pond in the early hours of the morning to start their day with a dip in the icy waters. This week we issued a Polar Swim challenge to our students (and faculty) on social media. We’ll see who submits Polar Swim videos, but what is reassuring is that students will not find this challenge outlandish since so many have already taken the plunge on campus.
Living through COVID-19, and resultant shift to an almost entirely digital world, has amplified our need to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with nature. So as temperatures drop, snowflakes start to fall, and you hear a stiff north wind rattling your window panes, layer up and embrace the fresh-air life. It's what we will be doing at Proctor all winter.