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2014 Spring Issue 5 (May 9, 2014)

Outdoor Class, Surviving the Arb

May 9, 2014
By Perrin Stein

Many argue appreciation for the “great outdoors” is dwindling. As our world becomes more industrialized and the pace of modern life quickens, accessible, open green spaces seem much harder to come-by, and feel frequently overlooked by those engrossed in technology.

Carleton’s 880-acre Arboretum, however, is open for students to explore its diverse forests and prairies. Nancy Braker, the Aboretum Director, emphasized the incredible luxury of living adjacent to a nature preserve. “Many of us will end up living in urban areas with no easy access to nature, but right now we have the Aboretum right next to campus,” she commented.

In an effort to fully utilize this green space, Braker and Jocelyn Keller, the Women’s Head Soccer coach, have decided to use the Arb for a unique class, PE-153, titled “Outdoor Skills for Outdoor Adventure.”

The class meets for three hours Thursday mornings. Keller and Braker, along with student assistant Anthony Hill-Abercrombie ’14, teach students how to pack gear, create bear hangs, plan trips, read maps, use a compass, identify plants, build fires and cook with a stove. There is also an emphasis on general outdoor safety. The course ends with an overnight trip to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, during which students implement and practice all of the skills they have learned.

“These are great life long skills to have,” said Braker. “Nature provides a valuable relief valve from a busy life, and way to refresh and recharge our ‘batteries.’ We all spend too much time indoors, in front of screens. If you know how to be comfortable outdoors and feel safe, you will enjoy your time there more, and seek out opportunities to be outside.”

Keller explained that she and Braker have a diverse skill set that makes the class an all-encompassing introduction to the outdoors. A NOLS alumna, Keller has led backpacking trips out of Steamboat Colorado, and so possesses hands-on experience in guiding others through outdoor adventures. Braker, who majored in Biology at Carleton, is highly knowledgeable in the botany, biology and animal science aspect of the course.

Not only does the class provide students with important, often undervalued skills, it also creates an alternative learning and social environment. Keller said, “I feel like although there is a skills component, it’s a different atmosphere for people to interact in. Being outside and sharing the newness of those experiences brings people together. This class taps into people’s interests that they may have liked to explore but were too busy to.”

Freshman Yifan “Vicky” Wu decided to take this class because, after a somewhat hectic backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon, she wanted to learn more about trip-planning, food preparation, map and compass skills, as well as the methods of keeping a group healthy and safe. “It is important to know how to work nicely with, survive in, and protect our one and only Mother Nature,” she said.

Wu loves outdoor adventures because “even though they can be challenging and sometimes freezing, they have a way of creating a precious team-spirit that last a lifetime.”

She looks forward to the challenges the end-of-term overnight trip will offer.

Hill-Abercrombie is taking this course to better prepare for a 500-mile Colorado Trail hiking expedition he is embarking on this summer.  In addition to acknowledging the practicality of possessing outdoors skills, he added, “These types of skills cultivate self-reliance, which is a disappearing virtue that necessitates intention and practice.” 
Keller hopes to some day work in conjunction with academic departments, and integrate outdoor skills into other curriculums.  She imagines a class that would include history of the environment, investigation into the “leave no trace” movement, math skills necessary for planning, and hands-on practice of these ideologies.

These skills, moreover, may assist students in the classroom and in their lives beyond Carleton. Braker added, “Many of the skills we teach in the class may end up being very useful to students in their academic career and future jobs.”  

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