Expressing Yourself: Creativity in the Field
Living in the wilderness provides many opportunities for creativity. Absent the items and distractions we can come to depend upon in the front country, we are required to find new ways to do things. The field is an environment in which students practice creativity as not only a way to be resourceful, but also to have fun! I’ll cover some of the ways we find creativity in the back country.
In the field, students frequently express themselves through the written word by writing letters, poems, and assignments. Some students find enjoyment and creative expression through visual arts, such as drawing. Music is treasured in the field and students can often be heard performing their own songs, sometimes to narrate what they do throughout the day--hand washing, busting, and hiking--or the fun tradition of rapping on Friday’s “Meat Night.” Morning wake up songs and evening lullabies are ways that students share their vocal passion and create cool moments in the day. Some of the more technically talented music lovers may be able to play instruments in the field, a wonderful treat for those lucky enough to be an audience!
Ceremonies are an experience that often combine multiple creative elements that activate the senses--sculptural components made of stacked rocks or spiraling circles, spoken words or drumming, wafting sage smudge smoke--and can be an expression for the student creating the ceremony, as well as a touchstone for the student for whom the ceremony was created.
We often use ceremony in the field to bring focus to a significant event. Each time a student transitions from one phase to another or does a solo, it is marked with a ceremony. Other events marked by a ceremony might include a student earning a headlamp, celebrating a sobriety date, or leaving the program. Staff and group members lead ceremonies, incorporating components of what the student has been working at during their time at Evoke. Metaphor plays a strong role in ceremony, with physical items representative of various struggles, successes, or therapeutic themes. Often, students experiencing ceremony are asked to complete tasks as part of the experience, such as busting a flame or walking through a labyrinth.
Spending time on hard skills is a time-honored tradition in the field. And while it may not seem so on the surface, these hard skills provide many opportunities for individual expression and creativity. Many students experience excitement and gratification from being able to learn and practice some of these skills, however challenging they may be to master in the beginning.
Bow drilling is one such activity that stokes the fires of creativity! At the start of Fire Phase, each student is given a bow drill set with which to practice making fire. The student is then tasked with customizing that set to their own needs and desires, as well as harvesting supplies to maintain it. A person’s bow drill set can be a physical extension of themselves--what size, shape, and type of wood did they choose for their bow? Did they carve it with a specific utilitarian or decorative pattern? How have they chosen to knot their bow cordage? Where did they find their top rock and how does it fit into the shape of their hand? How have they fashioned the material they’ve chosen into a nest that will hug the hard-earned ember? There are lots of choices to make with a bow drill set, that help determine success at busting a flame and also provide a cool exercise in collecting items and tailoring them to ourselves.
Carving is another hard skill practice that encourages student to get creative. The process of carving a spoon or ring starts with identifying what type of wood they’d like to use, finding the ideal piece for the project they have in mind, and then beginning the process of turning that hard material into a work of art. No two people can harvest the same piece of dark red juniper root, for example, and create the same pair of chopsticks. It’s a unique experience in having a general idea in mind, adjusting to the knots and grooves of the wood and letting them guide your path. The final steps of sanding can provide a meditative activity for the hands, as we move from coarse grit sand paper to the more delicate finer grit, leaving us with a super smooth finish ready to be bathed in oil to really showcase all the beautiful colors and patterns of the wood. What an opportunity to create a beautiful piece, and one that can be used to deliver delicious food to our mouths!
Speaking of which, cooking is another potential exercise in creativity in the field. Often times, we’re able to find novel ways to do things when our options are more limited rather than endless. Cooking with program ingredients is one such example of this. Students can explore cutting vegetables into different shapes, creating totally different textural elements in the final meal depending on how they choose to do so. Experimenting with the order in which ingredients are cooked, the spices that are added at which point in the cooking, and how to mix things together are all ways that students can create their own culinary masterpiece for themselves and the rest of the group to enjoy. Even something as simple as a breakfast of granola and oats provides an opportunity for students to consider their individual tastes and how to use the ingredients at hand--water, powdered milk, cinnamon, peanut butter, and fruit--in a unique way to create their ideal tasty breakfast.
Of course, there are other activities in the field from which creativity may come forth out of a more practical need. Shelter building and packing a backpack are two such examples. In each, students must find ways, with the support of staff, to make things work as comfortably as they can. Shelter building can provide students with confidence and pride, as they set up their tarp shelter with the resources at hand--trees, rocks, and sticks--with the goal of creating their own comfy place to rest from the elements. Packing a backpack also requires a certain amount of creativity, depending on the items one is tasked with carrying that day and deciding how to make them fit smoothly into a pack in a way that will be easiest to carry.
As with all things in the field, the value in creativity comes from the process rather than the end result. Students can try new things and adjust as they learn, creating their own meaning from the experience.