Thursday evening I hit the trail to drop in on a Wilderness Orientation group. It was getting dark, but I knew where the group had camped along the Pond Brook Trail in the Sandwich Wilderness. I knew the swimming holes, knew the rerouted section, knew the waterfalls. I jogged up through a tree farm a little after 6:30 pm. The sun had dropped down behind the Sandwich Range, and where the Guinea Pond trail angled left, I hooked a right on the Bennett Street trail to run along Pond Brook in the softening light. The dog stitched back and forth through the pines, and after a mile or two I caught the sound of laughter against the brook. It was Patty Pond and Lori Patriacca’s ‘01 group.
Sometimes we think of Wilderness Orientation as a simple bonding experience for students, a chance for them to get to know a small group of their peers and a couple of faculty members. It’s all of that, and so much more. For some, navigating the network of trails in the Sandwich Range or Pemi Wilderness or the Great Gulf Wilderness opens up a whole new support network of not just people, but the wilderness itself. The first time standing on a summit to sweep up the distant peaks and valleys into a memory can be a moment that contextualizes a sense of being that, quite honestly, no amount of social networking can match. It’s not an easy click to get to the top of a mountain. It’s not a simple post. And I believe, because of that, it can matter a little more and be a whole lot more grounding.
I crossed to the group camped on the other side of Pond Brook in an established site, the tarps stretched between trees, the dinner bowls and cups scattered about, and the energy level high. The dog got a lot of loving, and she may have helped with the dinner clean up by burying her nose into a pot or stray cup.The chocolate bars I pulled from my day pack generated a buzz. We talked about the day’s hike up Sandwich Dome, the rain showers, the heat, the swimming in the Great Falls pool. Lori convinced me that ferrying out the “leftover” gluten-free mashed potatoes from the night before was a good idea, so they went into my pack. The visit wasn’t a long one, and after group pictures in the dimming light it was time to go. I gave the latest weather report (going to get chilly!), and then headed down the trail and back to the truck.
Sometimes when we think of support, we only think of the people who make up our network. They are critical, but I believe there is room to bring in the wilderness and the network of trails that run along valleys and trace ridges. The soft paths that run through the woods matter. The summit views can smooth the jaggedness of the world that seems to press too hard some days. I know that when students return to campus on Sunday there will be general exhilaration about the dining commons, the clean sheets, and the comfort of having a new known group of friends and faculty. But also, for some, there is a dawning awareness of the wilderness and the trails waiting, a different kind of support network. Knowing that some of our students will tap into that network in the years ahead is, well, thrilling.
Hopefully today I can track down Jon Beard and Adam Jones’ group in the Presidentials. I am packing fleece for the high summits and loving it!
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School