Getting Out to Go Within
By Emily Pease, An article for Washington Trails Association magazine, published in Spring 2009. Read our online copy or download the actual article to get the full picture.
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2,585 miles hiked, 44 youth participants, 13 mentors, and 5 little words that mean something much more than their size would imply: Get out and go within. Together creating one unforgettable Journeys’ summer in the Northwest. As a new guide, but an avid hiker, I was drawn to a summer with Rite of Passage Journeys and I wasn’t let down. There is no shortage of stories from my summer but here are three of my most memorable.
Ages 8 – 12: Nature
Everything was silent. Our young group was playing a game to practice silence and stillness by blending into the natural surroundings. I was hiding also with one eye on the seeker, who stood in a small circle as he swept his searching eyes across the forest. He was looking for a sign of one of us – a movement, a flash of a colorful t-shirt, a giggle, anything. But we had somehow turned off all our noisy trail voices while disappearing into the woods. We were patient and quiet as bugs crawled across our pant legs, as birds chirped out their songs, and as small chipmunks scurried for food next to us. Until we were all found we remained as still as we could, carefully and slowly adjusting a leg or a sleeping arm, for what seemed like an eternity. Then simultaneously every bit of pent-up conversation and laughter came pouring out of our mouths. We all excitedly shared stories about what we saw and where we had hid. Disguised as a game, we had actually spent one entire hour watching nature and appreciating all the small acts of wonder that were happening all around us.
Ages 12 – 14: Self
“Aw-OO-kah!” The call and response song ended with a strong drumbeat and our favorite new word, “aw-OO-kah.” We didn’t know if this word had meant something to someone at one time, but for us it meant we were home for the night. Calling out our song announced to our coastal campsite that we had arrived and that we were going to stay for a while. But on this particular night, this would be the last word that we were going to speak to one another for over 24 hours. After we shouted our word we sat down to our dinner in silence. We were preparing for the Solo Vigil day, during which our youth would be spending a full day alone under the careful, but discreet, watch of their mentors. Beginning at dinner and continuing on for a little over 24 hours we were each entering into our own individual journeys. Even though the ocean waves washed out the sounds that each of us were sure to make during our time alone I imagined that if I were to call “aw-OO-kah” to the wind, all the girls, having found home within themselves, would echo it back.
Ages 15 – 18: Community
Some journeyers only have the opportunity to delve into the joys of wilderness adventures once during their lifetime. Then there are others who were so touched by their first experience that they feel called to return. Our alumni programs bring together these special young people. They already understand the importance of each individual and the new community forms effortlessly. But being in a cohesive group rather than just individuals hiking together can be challenging when one member needs to leave unexpectedly. When goodbyes were said to a friend on the trail last summer the air felt thicker and our legs moved slower. As we took an extended break by a stunning river, I picked up a stone that I later presented to our group as we sat in our nightly talking circle. This special stone was undeniably marked with the numeral 7 and the member who had left that morning was decidedly “Participant Number 7”. That evening, as our group felt smaller than usual, a stone sat in for our absent friend. Somehow it felt better to remember her seat in the circle than to pretend that our group never had a 7th participant.