Winter Holidays in the Wilderness

Posted by Abby Okoniewski, Parent Coordinator at Evoke Cascades on December 15, 2016

Pic for Bio AOLast winter signified my first winter working in wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy is a year-round operation. We function in rain, snow, sunshine, fall, winter, spring, summer, and all of the holidays in between. Some clients find themselves in the midst of their programs at Evoke during special and significant holidays. Similarly, field staff find themselves working some of these holidays. Last year, my shift was scheduled to work Thanksgiving. The days surrounding Thanksgiving rarely went above freezing temperatures. I had mixed emotions about working in the field during a holiday that I normally spend with my family and close friends. Sad and nostalgic, I decided to not have any expectations and embrace whatever this holiday did or did not look like this particular year.

Reflecting back on this Thanksgiving, I now recognize it as one of my favorite holidays that I have had to date. Early in the morning, we opened up our coolers to inventory the special food supplies we had for the day. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, rolls, apple cider, pumpkin pie. We spent the morning debating how we would cook the turkey – bury it under the coals to cook, or slowly roast it on top of the fire? After the turkey debate was settled, the conversation turned toward reflecting on Thanksgiving memories of the past. Feelings of nostalgia, regret, and gratitude were all shared with laughter and a deep sense of community. We spent the afternoon and early evening nestled around a roaring fire, filling our bellies, and sharing an unspoken sense of accomplishment and amazement around being able to cook a delicious meal and thrive in such uninviting conditions.

Now, the groups here at Evoke are gearing up to create and enjoy another holiday celebration. Throughout one’s stay with Evoke, each individual contributes to the development of a supportive, encouraging, unique community. Although both staff and clients out there will be without their families, they do have support, inspiration, and the opportunity to create new memories. The Evoke “base” headquarters is preparing a delicious meal of ham, scalloped potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie to be sent out for the group’s enjoyment over the holiday season. This special meal, along with food sent from parents and holiday messages from home, will be offered to the group as a break in the daily routine and as a way to honor the holidays. Living in the wilderness provides the simplicity of minimal distractions as well as the complexity of living outdoors. Our hope is that all groups will allow themselves time to reflect on the meaning of the holidays and celebrate in a new, memorable way.

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