The gift of adventure: a lifetime with students
Adventures are great, especially when looking back. Nothing is more fun than re-telling stories of past adventures. The more they are repeated, the better the stories become. But, at the time of the adventure, things can seem very different. I’ve been lost a few times, disoriented, and uncertain which way to go. I’ve been freezing cold and long-term wet. I’ve been bitten. I’ve fallen a few times. Occasionally panic wells up. It becomes difficult to make careful reasoned decisions. Mercifully, the feeling never lasts more than a few hours. Still, that’s long enough to bond with others who suddenly find themselves lost.
Years ago, I directed an environmental management major at CSU. It included long weekends backpacking, canoeing, and biking. Some students had never camped. We had great adventures. But not every moment was great. Once it was so cold our water bottles froze. We woke up with ice raining down on us from inside our tents. Another time we got separated on a poorly marked trail. I’ll never forget the excitement and joy when we found each other hours later, just before dark.
Once, on a 4-day hiking trip, it began raining on the first day. It rained so hard we stopped and set up our tents on the edge of the trail. I have a photo from that day of a student sheltering in his sleeping bag under a plastic tarp. He’s got a big smile on his face as he looks through the water droplets on his fogged glasses. The next morning, I asked everyone if they wanted to turn back. We were facing at least two more days of rain with no exit points. They all wanted to continue. I was amazed.
I remember a simple daytime sailing trip in the Charleston Harbor. It was cold. Students are never really prepared for cold. As the sun was setting, I could see lips were turning blue, and hands were shaking. Nothing has ever tasted as good as the pizza and hot tea we had later that evening. Those students, alumni now, still talk about that day.
In the last few years students have set up the Outdoor Adventure Club. It’s completely student run. My wife and I get invited to every adventure. Again, students have been freezing. Canoes have rolled in the river. In spite of all the missteps, everyone comes away smiling.
You never know when a new adventure will take hold. Once, on a dare in class, I suggested we jump off a dock, into the Stono River. It was January. About 10 went in on that first swim. A tradition was born that continued with a jump in the river every month for the next four years. Those students, long graduated, are spread across the county now. They still call me occasionally.
You might be surprised to know that 200 years ago, rice was grown on what is now the CSU campus. This came up in an economic history class a few years ago. The rice was barged from loading docks behind what is now the baseball field. The barges floated down Goose Creek and into Charleston where it was milled and shipped all over the world. Students suggested we go and see. That idea developed into a canoeing trip. Goose Creek has long been dammed up. But it is still possible, with great effort, to canoe from behind the CSU campus all the way to the Goose Creek dam just past Trident Tech. It took four attempts, over eight years, to figure out how to weave through the flooded forest and old rice impoundments found behind the campus. I remember it was a cold and rainy day when the fourth group finally pushed through to the open water in the Goose Creek Reservoir. Over those years maybe 30 students attempted it. Like those students, I will remember those trips forever.
Adventures don’t always happen in the woods or on the river. Sometimes they happen in the classroom. A few years ago, I attempted to make my economic lectures seem more interesting by using honeybuns as illustrations. Honeybuns are that fabulous food made from fried extruded bread covered with a sugary glaze. After a few honeybun examples, a student brought me one from her hometown in Ohio. That simple gesture began a collection. Whenever students traveled, they would bring me honeybuns. At its peak there were 32 different honeybuns displayed in my office from all over the country, including Hawaii. Students would ask, do they ever get moldy? Well, a few did. I had to replace the Krispy Kreme versions every year or so. But the Mrs. Freshley’s Grande looked as fresh the day I threw it out as it did four years earlier when it was given to me.
The same thing happened when I began to use obscure old cars as examples and illustrations in class. Once I used an amphibious car, produced in the 60s as an example. A student shared that example with her grandfather who was a collector. He passed her the for sale ads he would find in his magazines. She gave them to me. By the end of that semester, I had found and bought an Amphicar. It is hard to count how many students have ridden in and out of the water in that car, all the while screaming. That Amphicar has been in many CSU Homecoming parades adorned with unofficial beauty queens with titles like Miss ECON 212 Section 01.
Finally, adventures are not always tied to a place or to an event. They can happen in the struggle to learn. I’ve seen many students lost in the classroom. The look is the same as that of those lost in the woods. With just a little bit of direction, something that once seemed hopeless is suddenly comprehensible. That look of excitement and relief found in the woods, is the same in the classroom. To me, whether it happens in the classroom or in the deep woods, that moment of common understanding is a miracle.
Students are amazing. They are both fragile and resilient. I feel honored that they let me share in their adventures and experiences. It’s been a great ride. I will miss them all.