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The Leader
 

Defining a New Home for the Summer

By John Gans
Reprinted from The Leader, Summer 2002, Vol. 17, No. 3

  John Grunsfeld
  © Stephanie Kessler
As I write this Leader introduction, I am a day away from departing on a two-and-a-half-month sabbatical with my family. The theme of our time is not grandiose, we’ve loaded up our camping gear and are generally headed west and northwest. We are wandering aimlessly, but not without purpose.

There are several purposes for our time, many of which seem to parallel NOLS course outcomes. This summer provides an opportunity to build a further relationship between wild places and our children. We want to build that relationship in both their hearts and minds. We want them to develop their love of wild places, but also better understand the plants, animals and natural history of those places. We want them to understand and know the birds around them, as well as they know the alphabet or their multiplication tables.

We want our children to define a new home for summer. It will be a home where we don’t mow the lawn, but instead try to live without modifying the environment around us. We want them to understand where their water comes from and that their own body is their own furnace and air conditioner. And for them to understand that life without a roof has its merit.

Certainly another purpose of the summer is to have extensive family time together. Many of the best relationships in my life have been built in the wilderness. I want to build our family ties this summer and learn more about each other.

I’m also looking forward to experiencing new places and new ideas. Our trip offers us the opportunity to look outward more than we look inward. To revel in the unknown and to experience different places, different people and different environments; to develop an appreciation for diversity, change and for surprise. I’m also looking forward to different ways of measuring time and priorities, a connection to daylight that drives us more than a clock.

I can’t wait to watch my children’s eyes when the first sunny day hits the mountains after a week of rain. To see them understand a whole new definition to a clear sky. I want them to understand the weather by being in it, instead of watching The Weather Channel.

It possibly comes as no surprise that after twenty years of working at NOLS, my wife (also once a NOLS instructor) and I would spend my sabbatical in the wilderness. After all, I have twenty years of watching tens of thousands of students gain some of these same important lessons. I’ve watched them grow and change with lessons taught by their instructors, fellow students and the wilderness. I have seen how powerful wilderness education can be. Most of our teachers and schools aren’t that comfortable in the outdoors, and thus we receive little experiential education on our natural environment. But NOLS instructors understand the outdoors with both their hearts and their heads. In sharing those connections, they build an impactful education whose lessons last a lifetime. Hopefully my wife and I will be able to do the same with our children this summer.

I’m sure you will enjoy this edition of the Leader. The cover story on NOLS graduate John Grunsfeld provides perspectives on our program with NASA and also John’s work. John has been an inspiration to me since I first met him seven years ago. I’ve followed his work on the Hubble repair missions and have always been taken with his humble approach to his important work. And speaking of inspiration, you must read the article on Marco Johnson and Steve Goryl and the summit position they hold for weeks in the field as NOLS instructors. These two have touched a phenomenal number of students and staff during their time with NOLS.

So it’s time for me to turn off this computer and hit the trails. I hope you all have a wonderful summer and that you take the time to get out and absorb your own lessons from the wilderness.


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