Monday, October 20, 2008
This was our first expedition and we had no experience with the conditions we faced. It was an adventure, filled with unexpected events and amusing moments to remember.
I watched through the window of the bus as we drew up to the curb. All nine of us walked around to the back of the bus, grabbing our backpacks from the back door and strapping them on our backs. I felt a little bit nervous when I hoisted on my pack. “We are going to be out here for six days,” I thought, as we started to line up. I was second in line, one girl in front of me, two behind, followed by the boys. Before I even took the first step, I was ready to get the hiking done for the day, and to set up camp.
On the trail, trees of varying shades of green filtered the sunlight. I walked down the hill, trying to keep my breathing steady. I was beginning to wonder why I was getting tired from merely walking on a trail. Then, my backpack swayed against my back, and I felt the weight press deeper into my hips. This is going to be a long trip.
The first night was the hardest. Our tents were piled on top of ivy, and all the girls were commenting on the weather. I was on my knees, rain pouring down the back of my neck, blowing on our fire, willing it to start. My eyes streamed from the smoke blowing in my face, and the world started to tilt. This was not the camping trip I had in mind.
On the second day of expedition, we reached Meadow Camp, where we would stay for two days. As I stomped my way uphill for several hours, my shoulders throbbing, my hips aching, it hit that this expedition was not meant to be comfortable.
That afternoon, we had classes outdoors in the meadow on compass reading, first aid, and stretcher building. That night we had visitors.
I was lying in the tent, watching the firelight sketching weird shadows against the walls, and dozing, but when the bear’s shadow appeared, I jolted wide awake. My heart started pounding. He was no more than a foot away from me. There was food stashed in our tent, and I figured he was after it, and I didn’t want to share, so I started growling at him. After a few minutes of listening to me growl, he got confused and walked off to ransack someone else’s tent. He ended up with part of a food bag, a billy cup and a pair of boxers.
The next day, at Saddle Camp, we learned how to make a wrench knot and a bowline. Then we made a stretcher, and carried our instructor Mr. Mike around the campsite. I looked around at my fellow students, and realized that even with rain and bears and aching muscles, I would rather be experiencing this than staying at home. I would rather be here learning with Paul (NC), Jessie (CA), Jacob (UT), Valarie (GA), Mr. Garret (MD), David (FL), and Kelsey (FL.)
It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and while everyone else at FMA slept, Jessie Huber woke up early to cook us all pancakes, eggs and sausage. She ended up cooking a little more than that.
At 7:30 a.m., Jessie greeted Mr. Garrett in the kitchen, and they began the process of starting the fire in the huge iron wood stove. As the fire began to burn, Mr. Garrett told Jessie to hold up the small fan to the fire to make it burn hotter and keep it from smoking, and then he left.
Every few minutes he looked into the kitchen, and saw Jessie with a big smile on her face, looking very proud of herself, holding the fan in front of her blazing fire.
About a minute later, a nervous voice drifted out of the kitchen.
“Uh, Mr. Garrett…?”
Turning the corner into the kitchen, Mr. Garrett found Jessie no longer blowing on the fire with the fan, but instead blowing on the fan, which was on fire.
“It’s on fire,” she explained, kind of needlessly.
“Throw it in the sink,” Mr. Garrett yelled as he headed down the stairs to get Ms. Sarah.
Ms. Sarah, who was sleeping in that Sunday awoke to the words, “Get upstairs, the kitchen’s on fire,” being shouted through her window. Following Mr. Garrett up the stairs, they both rushed into the kitchen to find the fan blazing away in the sink. Taking after her fireman Dad, Ms. Sarah grabbed the fire extinguisher and doused the flames.
Once the fire was out, Jessie reached into the sink and pulled out the remains of the fan. “I can’t believe it’s not butter,” she said, looking at it.
She now plans to hang the remains in her room as a piece of conceptual art. She also left her mark in the kitchen. Years of future FMA students will wonder about the strange black markings on the floor.
But it all ended okay, because Jessie made a great breakfast, and we all laughed about it. Some wonder if she didn’t do it on purpose, as an attempt at sculpture. She denies it, but at the very least we all learned not to leave Jessie alone with fire and electrical equipment.
It was the beginning of Ms. Margaret’s class, and she was writing something lightly on the board, while the people around me whispered quietly to one another.
When she stepped away from the board, I could see what she had written; a quote by Horace:
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
This resonated through me.
“Is this why I’m here?” I thought to myself. “To learn about myself?”
My parents had told me that they were sending me here to be “taught lessons” they were incapable of teaching. Why did it have to be adversity? Why can’t we learn from simple brain power? Because that would be too easy?
Since I’ve been here, I’ve faced adversity, but until now I thought all it was teaching me was about pain. But I want to know myself. Maybe I can learn more from this adversity. Maybe I can learn about my strength. My durability. My charisma.
If adversity introduces a man to himself, I’m ready to meet me.
I, Paul Bell, was attacked by a cow.
Before I tell you about that though, I need to tell you how I ended up in that predicament. I woke up at 5:30 that morning to go to class, and then ate breakfast. Then I put on my black coveralls, and my rain boots and headed out to the farm.
You should know, I’m from a place called Edisto Beach. The beach, you know? Sun. Shorts. Sand. Waves. Surfing. Now I’m on a farm, with big ugly farm animals, so on my first day, I didn’t know what to expect. I went to feed the pigs their bucket of garbage, and I poured it over the fence. They jumped into their trough while I was doing it, and most of it went all over their heads. They jumped and snorted and fought each other over the food.
Next, I went to get eggs with Mr. Mike from the chicken house. He tells me to “reach under their butts and grab the eggs.” I did, but I really didn’t’ want to.
I don’t really like farm animals. I’m a dog person, and I like house pets, but I’m not sure about big fierce cows, pigs and chickens.
So now that you know that I’m not a natural farm hand, you can see why it got worse when I was attacked by a big, black, mangy, mud-caked, walleyed, knock-kneed, man killing cow named Oscar.
We were in the middle of a cattle drive, taking three cows down the road to a new pasture. This was obviously my first cattle drive, and Mr. Mike told me to get a bucket full of grain. I did, but I didn’t know what he was about to ask me to do.
He told me to get in front of the cows with the bucket and lead them down this really narrow road. As soon as I did, they started to come towards me. Not having been around cows before, I walked faster, and they walked faster, so I walked even faster, and then suddenly I felt this bumping at the bucket. I looked over my shoulder, and there is Oscar, slamming his big black head into the bucket. One of his horns poked me in the ribs, and he stepped on my toe.
For almost a mile I had to deal with this cow, and his head in my stomach, and his big cow feet on my feet, and his huge head still trying to get into my bucket. And to this day, that cow stares at me every time I walk by to feed the pigs or take out the garbage. That cow is always there, watching me.
It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to though. Every time I walk out with my black overalls on, and I look over at that cow, and look down the hill at the farm, in some weird way, I’m glad that I’m here.
It gets colder each day and colder each night.
The sky is still dark when we wake up.
Fall and winter freeze us with their fight,
We’re warmed by cocoa in our cup.
The trees will be bare at FMA,
Yesterday, tomorrow which is which?
Changes happening every day.
Acknowledgment of it makes me rich.
Looking around, I’m grateful
For each and every season,
Each has a purpose
A meaning and a reason.
The movie we watched a few nights ago, October Sky, was based on a true story about four courageous boys with a dream of escaping the fate of a coal miner. In the mining village of Coalwood, almost every man worked in the coalmines, and almost every father expected his sons to grow up and follow in his footsteps.
The main character, Homer Hickam Jr.’s life was changed forever the night he watched the first satellite pass through the October sky over his small town. He began to dream of building his own rocket, and from there he took the first step.
This very special boy had high expectations for himself, and for his three friends who chose to help him with his dream. They spent day after day hiking eight miles out of town (so as not to disobey his father who had forbidden the rocket building after the first attempt took out the fence in the front yard) to conduct experiments with their small handmade rockets, all of which were failures.
Why? Was their need to get out of that town so great they would do anything? Or was it the help of their supportive teacher, Miss Reilly, who gave them books so they could learn more, and helped them through their struggles with these flying metal objects?
I know that this movie has shown me just how hard some people can push themselves when they really want something. Those boys taught themselves a very advanced form of math without any books to help them, and that must have taken perseverance. All the teasing and heartbreak and humiliation these boys went through on pursuit of their dream, makes me believe that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.
Man’s Search for Meaning is a provocative autobiography written by Viktor Frankl, a former inmate of a Nazi death camp. First published in 1956, the book is a case study of Logotherapy, an innovative form of psychotherapy, and how it allowed Frankl to maintain his humanity under horrific circumstances.
The main point of the story, which Frankl repeatedly conveys, is that “It is not how you avoid suffering but rather how you cope with it that keeps your spirit intact or shatters it altogether.” This is demonstrated in many cases, most powerfully as Frankl is being transferred from one camp to another. As he rode in a cramped filthy train, he was unaware of where he was going. The only two possibilities were Mauthausen or Dachau. Although Frankl was supposed to have stayed in Auschwitz with his friends, he did not despair when the SS rounded him up. Rather he rejoiced, as the train headed toward Dachau rather than the certain death of Mauthausen.
In addition, he focused not on how bad things were in the camps, or how good things used to be, but rather he set goals for the future, such as becoming a professor of psychology, and completing his book. This gave his life a purpose, and motivated him to keep on living.
Although the book was unpleasant to me, I learned valuable lessons from it. I learned how best to persevere through my sufferings in life without losing my humanity. I also learned how important a person’s state of mind and outlook on life are to achieving a meaningful existence.