The past year and a half has not been easy for any of us. In managing the shocks and surprises brought upon us by COVID-19, we have all had to take on various lifestyle changes. For us as students, one of the main changes we had to adjust to was the mode in which we learned. I can’t speak for the entire group, but I personally have not had an in-person class since March 2020. As a result, I’ve had to rely heavily on technology for all of my learning purposes. Even before COVID hit, I was still heavily reliant on the internet for much of my educational needs. Inversely, as a WRFI student, I am now solely reliant on my environment and texts for education. This transition from constant technology to no technology would be shocking to any individual no matter what, but it was even more of a shock to me given that I had come straight from online classes.
Although there are countless possibilities and many ways that technology has made learning an easier experience, being totally apart from technology and instead being constantly surrounded by nature has taught me lessons that I never would have learned from an online education. For example, much of the learning that takes place at traditional universities is more focused on specific academic topics within one’s major or minor. However, throughout this WRFI course, the constant immersion in nature has allowed me to gain a great deal of personal growth in addition to the academic material embedded in the curriculum.
After being outside and living out of a backpack or kayak for the past month and a half, I have had a lot of time to learn about what it means to appreciate the natural world and its processes. We have spent nearly this entire course outdoors, which has allowed me to truly reflect on the various landscapes that I have been privileged enough to experience. This deeper understanding and feeling of connection towards nature is not something I would have learned in a traditional classroom, let alone through a computer. This course has helped me understand my place as a human being in a complex web of life, and I feel like I have a better understanding of my environmental duties as a human. I will be forever grateful for this deeper understanding of my surroundings and I view this type of knowledge as far more valuable and powerful than anything I would have learned in traditional school.
Additionally, I have found the physical work of the course to be far more rewarding than any of the mental work necessary for standard schooling. Perhaps one of the most challenging physical feats we have been faced with so far was climbing Greathouse Peak in the Big Snowy Mountain Range. At its summit, Greathouse Peak stands 8,681 feet above sea level. The climb up is steep, the trail is not well marked, and the oxygen is thin, so finally reaching the top and gazing out over the Snowies for a 360-degree view of the plains brought all of us an intense feeling of accomplishment. We were all able to relax at the top where we took photos, ate lunch, and searched for fossil evidence of the inland seas that once covered Montana millions of years ago. Once we started to head back down, we took ten minutes to meditate at the top of the ridge. Taking time to meditate every day has been a tradition we started during this section to help clear our minds and take some personal time. I used this chunk of time to reflect back on the strenuous climb we had undergone, which in turn made my appreciation of the surrounding natural beauty that much better. Throughout this trip, I have found that the completion of challenging hikes and arduous paddles in sub-prime conditions have left me feeling far more accomplished than getting handed a piece of paper with a 100% mark on it, or seeing it in a column next to an assignment on a computer screen.
This trip has been the best educational experience of my entire life. Not only has the curriculum provided me with endlessly interesting topics and conflicts to ponder such as the ethics of climate change, but the relationship that I have fostered with this great Montana wilderness and its associated challenges have provided me with valuable takeaways that heighten my sense of accomplishment and supply me with a deeper appreciation of the mountains, trees, flowers and animals that surround me. I strongly believe these lessons have helped me grow as an individual, and I will cherish these newfound personal discoveries for a lifetime.
Jesse Rubin was born and raised in Vermont and is currently studying Geography at the University of Vermont in Burlington.