As I write this Leader introduction, I am days away from departing on a sabbatical with my family. After more than a decade of leading NOLS, my wife and I are embarking on an experiential education journey with our own children. You might say we are walking the talk of what NOLS offers on a daily basis.
There are several purposes for our time, many of which seem to parallel NOLS course outcomes. This time provides an opportunity to further build the 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 and their multiplication tables.
We want our children to define a new home during this time. 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 furnace and air conditioner. And for them to understand that life without a roof has its merit.
Certainly another purpose of our journey is to have extensive family time together. Many of the best relationships in my life have been built in the outdoors. I look forward to building our family bonds this summer. I also look forward to meeting people from other countries and cultures. This will be an opportunity for our children to redefine the communities of people in their lives as well as refine their definition of the world.
We are looking forward to experiencing new places and new ideas. Our trip offers us the opportunity to look outward as we also 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 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’m looking forward to watching my children’s eyes when the first sunny day hits the mountains after a week of rain. To see them learn the constellations of the southern sky to go with their knowledge of their home skies. 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 25 years of working at NOLS, my wife Steff Kessler (also once a NOLS instructor) and I would spend a significant portion of our sabbatical in the outdoors. After all, I have 25 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 with lessons that last a lifetime. Hopefully my wife and I will be able to do the same with our children.
While family time is a focus, our journey will also bring me back to a few NOLS locations that I visit less frequently. We will have a firsthand opportunity to join a NOLS course or two as we work our way around our planet.
Enough words, it’s now 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.
NOLS Executive Director