Outdoor Education

The Campfire

By Tom Holland January 20, 2021

I am fond of saying that everyone would benefit from one very specific aspect of a Wilderness Adventures trip. It’s not the beauty they need, nor the mountains, the whitewater, or the good food, although I suspect they would enjoy all these things.

It is the campfire that they need most.

There is something mesmerizing about a campfire. Its warmth, its crackle, its ability to draw us in. It allows for sharing and listening like no other place. Around a perfect circle, with nothing to do except watch the flicker of light, listen, and share. Around the campfire, on Wilderness Adventures programs, a respect for the opinions of others is built along with an appreciation for the unique life stories of each person.

My career began as a high school social studies teacher. The courses I taught were US History and Civics. As a Civics teacher, I loved sparking a debate and hearing the students argue their side. Importantly, I viewed my role not as someone who would influence towards a certain side (be it right or left), but rather to help students appreciate people with differing thoughts. We worked diligently to not only have fun but show our respect for all.

Once, following a parent teacher conference, I was approached by a dad who said his son really loved my class and especially the lively debates we had. However, the dad said his son was confused because he could not figure out if I was a Democrat or a Republican. This frustrated both the father and the son. The father implored me to share who I voted for in the last election (this was during the heightened discourse around the election between George W Bush and Al Gore). I smiled at the father and said that I did not think that was my role. As a voter, my vote was important; as a teacher, it was not. As a teacher, my role was to teach how to listen and appreciate the ideas of others.

I think it is safe to say that we are all shaking our collective heads, wondering, “How did we get here?” People have taken sides and there seems to be no room left for listening or compromise. Unfortunately, in some corners, effective debate is being replaced by words of hate. We make no apology: words of hate have never had a place in our programs and they never will.

Instead of looking back, the spirit of WA reminds us that the hills to overcome are always in front of us. So, with an appreciation of where we have been, we like to look to where we are going and where we can still do right.

For me, the easiest place to look first is to our children. They are the solution and our hope. And I have found no better place to instill the leadership abilities they need to ensure a brighter future than around the campfire.

Imagine a place where different ideas are shared and recognized. Imagine a place where thoughts are openly shared and all our encouraged to voice their opinions. Imagine a place where laughter is frequent and differences of opinion are explored and celebrated. Imagine a place where mutual respect is assumed and lively debates end with high fives and hugs.

You may think that this place could not exist in America today.

But it does, and I have seen it, and it is our future.

Here is to the road ahead and to campfires that unite us all.