Gratitude. Serenity. Community. Transformation. Growth. Fulfilling. Tuna. Rain. Creativity.
These are just some of the words my peers use to describe the work we do. The field guide role is challenging, unique, gratifying, and difficult to accurately explain.
As staff at Blue Ridge, we work with our team to lead student groups in a nomadic wilderness setting while facilitating therapeutic initiatives, and maintaining overall safety and wellbeing of students and each other.
There are days where we rise from the forest floor, warrior-like and coated in bug spray, determined to connect, drink 4 liters of water and hike the group over a mountain before the sun goes down.
There are also days where exposing our vulnerable selves from the confines of our sleeping bags feels like a wicked joke. Days when all of the wood is soaking wet, and it takes 2 hours to get the fire started. Days when we don't feel respected or heard, and all we can think about is coffee.
The relenting lesson on a difficult day is that everything is temporary. As field guides, we learn that our reality can shift as quickly as you can say “beef stick”. In the woods, we can doctor our own perspective by addressing our needs. Sometimes we need fun, or sometimes it’s love and belonging. We fill disparate gaps with games, check-ins, nourishment, and gratitude.
When we come to work, we leave our “real life” behind for our “woods life”. Sometimes, this serves as a method of seeking respite from the constant pinging of our devices and daily news. It can also serve as a way to observe and assess our attachments to home. Sometimes, we take what we learn from the woods—self care, communication skills, mindfulness practices— and apply it to our home life, thus creating an existence resplendent with alignment and integrity.
To work as a field guide at Blue Ridge is not to clock in and out each day. As wilderness staff, we commit to showing up consistently for each other for 8 days in a row. It’s not always fun, and it’s definitely not always dry. However, the challenges we experience with the students and the weather are frequently matched with triumphs, whether they be a sunrise hike to the summit of Mount Rabun, or a personal victory of busting our first bow-drill ember.
Whether or not the sun is shining, we perform our job in a microcosm where everybody—students and coworkers—encounters the exact same elements, environment and resources. We trudge through the same rain, we filter the same water, and we hike to the same gorgeous vistas together. Sometimes, we even experience emotional breakthroughs together. We practice resilience, patience and assertiveness. We learn to be group-minded, communal, and flexible.
The courageous collective of field staff at Blue Ridge thrive to support the students and each other while protecting nature with Leave No Trace procedures. We do transformative, life-changing work. Sometimes it’s with our students, and sometimes it’s within ourselves.