Facing the Darkness
Tucker, CS15, Cincinnati, OH.

While on exploration week I set two goals for myself meant to heighten my sense of stewardship. My first goal was to spend more time in the darkness, which could mean going outside for a little at night right before bed, or just noticing shadows throughout the day. My other goal was to remember to look up while hiking on trail.

I set these specific goals because I knew they would challenge me to search for ways to experience the world in a new and sometimes sublime way. To really understand the world, you have to take off the veil of fear around you and truly see things for what they are. This is what spending time in the darkness helped me achieve. I find that most people, including myself, are frightened by darkness because it harbors the unknown. My time in the darkness was able to help me face my fear of the unknown. In doing so, I was able to experience new sights and feelings that made me so much more in tune and focused on my actions and the land around me.

On the first night, the "Trap Hills Gang" and I went out to hang the bear bags. On the way back, we stopped on the trail and turned our lights off. It was pitch black. I wasn't able to see my hands a foot away from my face; all that was visible was the amber glow of a fire the others had made about fifty feet away. The stillness in that darkness was beautiful and meditative and I felt as if I was truly able to let go of the need to see my surroundings, and be free.

Most nights I slept in my hammock alone and in the dark. I remember on the last night it had started raining when we went to bed. Before I fell asleep, I noticed how the gigantic hemlock trees would absorb enough just light to barely see them and they would cast an eerie white glow in the darkness. The change made me see the world in striking black and white and made me wonder what it would be like to live in a world without color. Time spent in the dark allowed me to think of new ways to see the world and fathom even greater ideas and inquiries about the natural world.

Another experience I had in the dark was on the banks of the Big Iron River. It was close to bedtime and we decided to have a fire on the bank of the river. I remember images of us painted by the light of the fire, outlined by a striking black emptiness. This experience really showed me how fire has changed humanity and made me think about how fire has shaped the human experience. Fire momentarily gives comfort, but also adds to the greater fear of the unknown.

When you don't look up you are missing out on half of the world around you. I can't tell you how many times I have gone on a hike without looking up, when this happens I realize that I have only been looking at the dirt beneath my feet, which is interesting but I want to be able to experience all of what the earth has to offer. On the trail I remembered to look up and I still have the memory of some of the most beautiful sites engrained in my head. I remember climbing up this huge hill and the trees looked as if they were from a Van Gogh painting, the lighting was gorgeous and indescribable. I know if I hadn't looked up I would have never seen this.

I feel that the Conserve School goal that related to the goals I set most is "Appreciates and experiences the wonder of nature; values fundamental, life-long connections with nature; and expresses those connections in creative ways." With my Exploration Week goals, I was able to appreciate nature by seeing it new ways; getting comfortable with darkness, and making sure I noticed nature's beauty by looking up.

I learned how easy it is to miss the beauty in the world but also how easy it is to find it. I feel like I need to revise my land ethic to include seeing the beauty in the world along with treating it with compassion. I better understand that stewardship is more than just cleaning the environment; it is also appreciating the environment for its intrinsic value. I think for my next trip I will keep my same goals and maybe add some like seeing beauty everywhere I look. I will also apply this to my daily life.