Gifts of the Wild

Photos and Text by Vivian Toll

“There is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted” – Mary Oliver

A healing and rejuvenating force, wilderness has the power to bring out an individual’s true nature, fostering honest connection with self, others and the earth. The nine-day, July SOP (Summer Outdoor Program)  backpacking trip presented this opportunity for five high school participants.

As the trip progressed, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness worked her magic. Diving into the waters of the Illinois River, the negative elements of home life clinging to each of the participants began to wash away. Beginning to let go of the outside world, the group of students from high schools within Oregon and California were able to slip into the wildness of the Kalmiopsis, simultaneously easing into their true selves.

Lake by V TollTarp by V TollOpen and receptive, the group began to develop deep relationships with the environment as well as each other, bonding over heavy packs, wildlife sightings, shooting stars, mosquito bites, likeminded journal entries, blackberry picking, early morning swims and late nights by the fire. Together, the group became more and more self-sufficient and comfortable with life among the trees, spearheading bear hangs, constructing tarp shelters, building and maintaining the evening fires, filtering group water, navigating maps, cooking delicious meals, and eventually welcoming the challenge of a 24 hour solo.

Throughout the nine-day trip, these experiences within the wilderness fostered self-exploration among the group members, ultimately furthering their development of self-trust and empowerment, both applicable and integral to the entirety of their individual lives. These are gifts offered by the wilderness. By partaking in the SOP experience, the participants were provided with the opportunity to begin to unwrap these gifts of the wild.

AHS by V Toll

Written by Vivian Toll
One of three guides on the 7/1 – 7/9 SOP trip