The first rays of light glow through the trees; ferns and vine maples dripping with the memory of rain from the night. Silence gives way to birdsong, joyous and free, a celebration that the light again returned. Part of me wants to sing with them, to celebrate as they do. The tree frogs’ croak quieted hours before, when the rain was heavy and the darkness thick. Peaceful. The darkness was peaceful. And so was the first light of dawn.
I began attending Wilderness Awareness School when I was five years old, in the weekly Roots and Wings program. But my journey didn’t truly begin until I returned last year to attend Community School, now known as the Ravens program. I’d chosen to join WAS mainly because I have a deep-founded love for nature and wanted to learn the primitive skills that would help me to live as a more connected part of our world. Going into the program, I knew it would likely be a chance to connect with others and possibly even be a chance to better know myself. What I didn’t know was just how deeply I needed this community, and how thoroughly it would change me.
Immediately I knew I had found my home - from the moment I jumped into the van full of people who would become my friends and mentors.
It was the strangest feeling, a sense of belonging so profound it was as though a part of me had always known this was where I was meant to be.
In the past few years I’d struggled with things from personal loss to mental health to grasping at a vision for my future, for my life. By the time I joined Community School I thought I had a fairly solid handle on all of it, but by the end of the year I realized how untrue that had been; that’s how much the community I’d found had changed me as a person, and still has a profound impact on me even now.
Never before had I had mentors ready and genuinely willing to teach me and accept me as part of their community. I was never pressured into anything, and yet I never felt alone. Looking back, I think that’s one of the most impactful aspects of my experience: I never felt alone. Even when we were allowed space to ourselves during sit spots, I was held by the land, the trees, and life around me.
There’s comfort there, in the knowledge that the forest is safe and welcoming, and that there is a community of students, role models, mentors, protectors, and elders holding space for me when I need it.
There is a connectedness there unlike anything I’ve seen. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not. But there is always intent behind it. I thought I saw it before, but there wasn’t true understanding until I made it through my rite of passage. Still I grasp at the words I thought to myself the morning after, when I was still reeling from the power and emotion of it all, from the hard and beautiful lessons I’d learned, “Never stop seeing the connections between all things, that silver web woven between.” If I hadn’t become a part of this community I doubt I would have come to the same point, that place I sorely needed to come to. I wouldn’t have befriended the darkness and found my own light when I had no fire to keep me warm.
Behind all of this, what I’ve found here and the surreal beauty my mentors have helped me to see, is the scholarships that have enabled me to attend the Ravens Program. Without the incredibly generous donors that make it possible for anyone to be a part of this, regardless of economic situation, I wouldn’t have been able to be a part of the Wilderness Awareness School. Since I’ve been here, I’ve also discovered my love for teaching, and I hope to one day be an instructor as great as the ones I’ve had.
The powerful impact that this school has had on me cannot be understated, and none of it would be possible without the scholarships I’ve received.
It was because of this community and incredible group of people that I found my light and realized that I am worthy of so much. It’s here that I realized how completely and fully so many people could love me and accept me and my pain and joy. I am beyond grateful. For all of it.