True Winter Tales: Today's pick
An Instant on Lake Temagami by Philip LiWei Chen
Let's stop here.
I have never guided winter outdoor experiential education the way I am this time: more aware of the environment. Doesn't it sound like an obvious thing to do? I think so - as I huddle close with a group of grade 10s. Our arms link in a circular formation so that even if suddenly the frozen lake beneath us turns into the sky we would be ready for group skydiving. I lean my head in and the students follow. "We --" I look into everyone's eyes, "--are going to set up camp here, but before we start transforming this landscape, I want all of us to individually find a spot - within visible range to the rest of the group - somewhere around this snowy bay."
I want to share with these kids a sense of environmental responsibility and empathy. In the wild landscape, I hope they will be struck by a bus load of awe. I hope the experience will trigger them to spend the rest of their life trying to do something about the human-nature disconnection. By nature, I mean this whole blue and green thing that we are standing on while gliding through space. I mean all the forces and elements necessary for the wind to wipe up from the frozen lake a sail of fine ice crystalline, sparkling. By nature, I mean humans included. "Find a spot," I repeat, "you can sit, lay down or stand - for five minutes." I get a bit more serious, "but whatever your posture and whatever your view, make sure that you are aware of the surrounding not only thinking about it but also feeling it on your cheeks, close your eyes, listen."
Students are exploring different perspectives: sinking lavishly into a bed of soft snow, crouching under an umbrella of pine bows or staking out in the open white. I am pleased. My crescent lips crack two frozen icicles streaming from my nostrils. I turn around and with only a few steps away from the circle of footprints I find my spot.
Have you ever felt through your feet the same frozen lake now splitting like thunder from miles away, or cracking like a stiff and dormant spine?
Have you ever heard a frozen lake gurgle?
Creature of the deep burping.
I have never guided outdoor experiences the way I am this time. I am more aware of the environment and my place in this community of living landscape. I turn around and I signal the kids to regroup. I take one step, two steps and three - toward the circle of footprints still waiting from the group our poetry of individual experience.
The ice beneath me cracks. I fall through.
Philip LiWei Chen is from Montreal, QC