There are many outdoor education programs available these days, but there are huge differences in content, educational philosophy, and curriculum between them. When we explain what we do to people with no concept of bushcraft, they often remark, “so it’s just like (insert name of national outdoor company here)”. We reply, “No. In fact the only thing we have in common is that both of our programs emphasize the benefits of being outdoors.”
The large, national companies who advertise in the major magazines and refer to themselves as “the leader” and other self-aggrandizing terms, offer backpacking and mountaineering programs as their staple, and their ads feature plastic-wrapped hikers carrying huge packs and urging everyone to tread lightly (if you think these ideals are at odds, so do we). While these programs get people out in the natural world, the focus is on human interaction and high-tech gear, not the traditional skills of the wilderness.
There’s also a new genre of program with a focus on tracking and nature awareness that label their programs as immersion experiences, but meet just 2-4 times per week for a few hours. They’re located in urban and suburban areas, but claim that they offer a wilderness experience.
While all of these programs offer great things to their students, they’re fundamentally different than what we offer both in what they’re trying to achieve and how they go about it.
We’re located in remote northern Maine, and our field school has little in the way of modern conveniences. Simplicity and do it yourself are a lifestyle here, not just a mantra. Our curriculum is organized around intensive outdoor living experiences with an emphasis on traditional bushcraft skills, nature knowledge and the wilderness living and traveling skills of professional Maine guides. In addition to the curriculum, there are many lessons learned as a result of being outdoors that just can’t be learned any other way except by living them for an extended period. The focus is to make you better, more knowledgeable, more confident, and more at home in the forest. So while other schools see skills as an end, for us they’re the means to facilitate a powerful experience through simple self-reliance in the bush.