I realized as we left class on Thursday that I hadn’t had the opportunity to take a hike in class since eighth grade. Though I understand how beneficial classroom learning is, I think we’ve come to define it too rigidly. I am not always aware of how limited I feel when constantly confined to a classroom, or buildings in general, but walking to the Gambles Mill Trail with my classmates, I felt that I was already gaining a new perspective on my own education and environment. So often in classes, I find myself trying to decipher exactly what a professor is looking for rather than considering the subject matter in a more holistic manner. Leaving class on an absurdly warm January day to simply observe and explore? What a refreshing way to take stock of our surroundings as we head into a class that is bound to influence us personally and as a community of Earth lovers.
As I walked down the trail, and then ventured a little ways down a creek, I began thinking about my dog, Folly, who died of a mysterious illness the day we came back from Christmas break. Straying off of a trail always reminds me of her and the way that she would disappear for long stretches of time as we made our way to Sky Meadows (a short hike on the AT from my house). I always had the feeling that she was darting off to check on something that was hugely important in her canine world. As I pondered this on Thursday, sitting on a rock by the creek, I wondered what I considered important enough in my own world that would make me stray from the beaten path with such speed and purpose? And what natural space do I know as thoroughly as Folly knows the mountain on which we co-habited? Though I’ve roamed the mountain a fair bit, I’ve never come close to knowing the secrets that Folly knew. I suppose I know more about the area around The Pinery, the cabin in Northwestern PA where my family spends our summers, but what does that show about my relationship to my environment when I’m busy with school and other commitments?
Now, I may not be giving myself enough credit, comparing my own knowledge of my surroundings to that of a dog, but sitting upon that rock in the creek by the Gambles Mill Trail, I began to feel that I was mourning not only my dog, but also the leading expert on the twenty-some acres surrounding my home. This is not to say that I was not enjoying or appreciating my surroundings—I simply felt that I had a newfound appreciation for Folly’s exploratory and intrepid character, and that my exploration of that creek bed was all the more urgent and inspired. Needless to say, that short venture to the Gambles Mill Trail was highly therapeutic, and provided me with some much-needed time to evaluate my complicated relationship to my surroundings.