What I Do As A Wilderness Therapy Instructor
Q: What is Wilderness Therapy?
Well, we take teenagers and young adults into the wilderness, teach them various survival tools, help them learn to work within a group, and help them complete therapeutic assignments.
Q: So are they in tents? Are there campfires? Do you have s’mores?
No, the students learn to build a shelter with a tarp. We cook over the fires and in winter and shoulder seasons use them for warmth. Negative on the s’mores.
Q: So, what do you do all day?
Uh… Well…That’s the question that I find most difficult to explain. Generally, when people ask about my job they want the quick and simple answer—not the hours of explanation I might need to thoroughly explain a day in the Oregon desert. So I generally don’t answer that question at all or I give the answer the students /clients have heard so many times before: It depends. The answer is simultaneously vague and all-inclusive and appliafteres not just to life in the Oregon desert. So much of life is unknown and dependent upon something else. While meditating further on what working as a Field Instructor at Evoke means to me, I started thinking about all the individuals with whom I’ve worked and the impact they’ve had on me. The anecdotes I remember are not filled with grandiose excitement. They are the daily moments of life in the desert.
I hopped out of the truck ready to start another week with the same group I worked with in the previous shift. As I approached camp I heard primarily student voices. The same questions each week: Who are the new staff going to be? Followed by shouts when students’ predications are confirmed. I told you ____ would come back! I knew it! Hey look at this spindle I found! I busted a fire! I earned a flashlight! I made water phase! The scene can be simultaneously exciting and overwhelming. So much is happening in these moments. Excitement, anxiety, pride, confidence. After I dropped my pack on what seemed like a standard week and joined the group, a student I worked with the previous week came up to me.
“Meagan, I carved a spoon!” His smile was so big I thought he’d hurt his jaw.
“You finished it?”
“Yeah, you want to see it?”
He spoke as he went to the tree to retrieve the bag. “It’s still oiling.”
“How many days have you been oiling it?”
“Two. I think it’ll be ready tomorrow. What do you think?”
“What do you think?” (This is a classic go-to for staff to use to help students build their own opinions of themselves and their work without basing their opinions on someone else’s).
“I think it’s more of a mouth-shovel, but it’ll work.” His smile was unwavering.
“I think so too. I’m excited to see how it works when you use it.”
He put the bag back in the tree. “Yeah, me too.”
The next evening during dinner he announced he was ready for his spoon’s “unveiling.”
“Guys, I’m going to take my first bite!”
We all stopped and watched him. We cheered and clapped and celebrated. He smiled and chewed and smiled and chewed.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Not too bad. Tastes better than eating with a wood chip.”
The next morning he asked to talk with me. We stood on the edge of camp both eating breakfast.
“I feel proud of myself.”
“I made a spoon. I didn’t think I’d be able to do that. I feel good about myself.”
“I can tell.”
He smiled and returned to the group.
Q: What do you do all day?
I still can’t answer that question in the nice package people typically want. I don’t see how I can capture the big picture in a few minutes of conversation. Carving a spoon isn’t carving a spoon; it’s finding self-confidence. Bow drilling isn’t creating a fire; it’s discovering resilience through frustration and disappointment. Living outside in the snow and rain and sun isn’t living outside in the snow and rain and sun; it’s learning to adapt and adjust and change. In the Oregon desert few things are as they seem.
Q: What do you do all day?
What I do all day is simple and complicated. I live and be in the Oregon desert. I celebrate spoon unveilings and first bow drilled fires. I listen to a student from Brooklyn who hated nature talk about seeing a wild horse during her solo. I have an interaction with a client that begins as both of us watching the ants on an ant hill and becomes a conversation about regret and sadness over the lost innocence of childhood. That’s what I do when I’m a Wilderness Therapy Field Instructor.