With only a few weeks left of program, Western Group A get stuck into forest exploration in Mount Rainier National Park, Halloween away from home, and self reflection.
"Our week as captains started off with a bang—the biggest grocery list this side of the Mississippi. We were on our way to the Mount Rainier Institute, an organization within the University of Washington located in Pack Forest and would be far away from a grocery store for the entire week. After visiting a pumpkin patch and loading up on sugars for the intense physical workout that is a grocery store run, we were ready to go in. Even through the hectic nature of the time constraints and the uncertainty about what exactly to get, the group killed it, and we ended up with all the food we needed. Each of us were holding at least a bag of food on our laps on the bus, leading to an usual photo of us in the bus covered by bags of food. We arrived at Pack Forest that night and were given a tour of the facilities by our teacher, John.
The next day, we prepared us for the busy week ahead. We woke up late and ate amazing chocolate chips and blueberry pancakes, then all got our costumes on and did our makeup and dress up. Some people took pictures, some carved pumpkins (with an amazing PD pumpkin done by Alex), and others baked Spice Cupcakes filled with Nutella and topped with cream cheese frosting. After the pumpkins were carved, a group helped bake the seeds and they were eaten quickly. We ate burgers and hot dogs for dinner and then redid our makeup to get ready for the Halloween Costume Contest, which was hyped up throughout the day by Nathan and Amelia. We all prepared a walk-up and monologue about our respective characters and Nathan and Amelia judged us both on our costumes and our presentation. The winners were Lauren, Lance, and Evan for their Toto, Dorothy, and Wicked Witch of the West costume. Then, Nathan and Amelia took out the bags of candy from their grocery bag and we knocked on their door and trick-or-treated.
The day after, we split into two groups and went on educational hikes in Mount Rainier National Park (one group went with John and the other went with another instructor, Amy). Upon getting to the meeting place, we gave our phones in to help us be more present for the week. At Mount Rainier, we first visited an old-growth forest in a relatively low elevation and saw how trees—specifically Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and Western Hemlock—develop over time in a stable environment. We then drove about a half hour up the mountain to hike closer to the mountain and see views of other nearby mountains. Learning about the development of volcanic mountains in the Cascade Range, we were able to see first-hand the product of volcanic eruptions in Mount Rainier and the far away view of Mount St. Helens. We often credited the great Juan De Fuca Plate for colliding with the North American Plate and creating such natural beauties. We even saw a waterfall with Mount Rainier in the background!!! After the beautiful hikes, we called it a day.
We woke up early the next day to study Pack Forest. We first looked at the height and diameter of trees to determine the tree in the area that would cost the most amount of money. In doing so, we saw the economic benefits of forestry. We also learned about the carbon-storage benefits of forests like Pack Forest. After trekking to a higher elevation, we ate lunch in a quiet area and we played a game called Stellar’s Jay. It was a variation of Red Light Green Light where we needed to get to the other side and return an item without the instructor guessing who has it when they turn around (we were still in two groups at this point). Afterwards, each group went to a spot to study the carbon-storing capacity of one-tenth of an acre of forest and hiked a beautiful hike back down the mountain to our cabins.
The next day we woke up to waffles with Chocolate chips, Nutella, and strawberries. We made chicken pesto pasta for lunch, a new hit among our group, and we went to a meeting room to talk about our values. Originally we reflected on ourselves, but then we reflected on the treatment of Native Americans and the destruction of much of their population and culture. After relaxing for a little, the power went out and much of the group went into the kitchen to hang out. The dinner crew was preparing to cook on the gas camping stoves, but the power was turned back on right before they had to start! We ate tacos and chips and tucked in soon after.
The next day we relaxed again and planned our self-led week and ate an amazing stir-fry for dinner. At night, we had a discussion about empathy towards the struggles of people different from ourselves. We first wrote down our first impressions of different races, identifies, and genders, then read those out to emphasize our personal biases and stereotypes. After a heavy but essential meeting, we went to sleep.
The next day we woke up early and packed up. We went on a hike with John to a couple waterfalls in Pack Forest. Expecting to see trickles of water in early November, we were pleasantly surprised at the size and power of the falls. We ate lunch on the hike, and upon returning to the cabins we left for Onalaska. Because we got there earlier than we had expected, we were given a tour of the sustainable farm we were sleeping at and carried chickens among other things. We helped put garlic back in the soil too because some birds had picked the garlic out. We met the two horses on the farm, three cows named New York, Philly, and Boston, and set up our tents. It was a cold night, and we were set to wake up very early the next morning, so we all went to bed early after a burrito meal with potatoes, veggies, and eggs. The seven boys all slept in one four-person tent, making for an unforgettable night." Sadie and Lance - Student leaders of the week.
Keen for spring? More information on our Western USA program here.