Six Weeks In


Hey everyone. We’ve got about three weeks left in the course, so I sat down with Tim Smith again to chat about it so far, but mostly because he offered me coffee.
There will be a podcast of our discussion in the future, but for now, I’d like to just compile my own thoughts on the semester so far. The truth is, I can’t begin to explain how grateful I am to Tim and his wife, Jennifer for awarding me the semester scholarship. I have not only found an industry I have a passion for working in during my time here. The truth is, I’ve found the first modicum of peace I’ve had inside myself since I can remember. Not only has that come about simply by being outdoors for an extended period, but also from talking with Paul and Tim about their philosophical stances on life. They have turned me on to books and trains of thought that solidified a mess of internal inklings into a solid foundation of values for me to use moving forward.

While all of the skills learned here have been incredible, the most shattering experience I had was reading a pair books recommended by Tim and Paul. These are “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn, and “the Chalice and the Blade” by Raine Eisler. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend it. They have affected how I see the world around me in a way I can’t quite bring into words as of yet. I’ll be sure to once I’ve unjammed the thoughts in my mind.

We’ve come a long way in the six weeks we’ve been here. Everyone comes with different goals for the course, and that takes a while to homogenize into a workable group dynamic. It’s feasible that a group could be entirely independent of each other on a course like this, and to an extent, each of us needs to be if we plan on going forward in this industry. We aren’t training as people who join a group and contribute. We’re training to be the person those groups turn to when they run into roadblocks, or have no knowledge of a situation out on an expedition or trip.

However, camp life is simply easier when all of us are on the same page. By the third week, we’d sort of hit that stride. Everyone had their particular chores and did them. We helped each other out where we could when people struggled with a certain task. Once that synchronization happened, is when we (or at least myself) started to get the most out of the experience.
And really, what I’m garnering from it is something I’ve always known about myself in some sense. I need to be near or on the water. Going forward in this industry I plan on gravitating towards river or ocean based guiding. It was already in my head, and then during my conversation with Tim he asked what I’d gotten out of the course, or what skill I’d enjoyed learning most. In that instant, my mind connected the joy I’d felt canoeing with that ache I’d felt all those years trapped in the Midwest. I’ve been away from water too long. I’ve got a lot of catch-up to do.
That’s sort of the incredible part about this course. What seemed like an overwhelming and slapdash mix of content that Paul and Tim threw at us isn’t just an attempt to make us well rounded. It’s a way of letting us find the aspects of this industry and lifestyle that appeal to something in each of us individually. As well as giving us a solid base of skills that allow us to take care of a group we’ve taken out in our chosen environment for guiding. I look forward to paddling out with people, showing them the rivers, lakes and oceans that have always called me towards them and being able to talk to them knowledgeably about the experience while I make them Bannock over a fire.

I realize that I’m romanticizing the experience, and that’s even truer when it comes to the idea of canoe trips. There’s nothing sleeping under a canoe and tarp provides that you can’t get from setting up a simple “a-frame” with the tarp. I’m well aware of this, but there’s something I can’t quite put into words about the sense of simplicity that I got from pulling out my canoe at the end of a long day of paddling, flipping her over and sleeping underneath. It brings to mind the idea of only owning what you can carry on your back, but with a lean towards a coastal lifestyle. Everything you have helps you in multiple ways, and nothing is superfluous.

As I said, it’s a romantic idea, but I have no problem with living that sense of romance. Especially when it means waking up to a view of the water that you traveled on the day before, from under the bilge of the craft that carried you down it.
I thought my Jeep gave me freedom, and it did to an extent. However, it couldn’t compare to the smell of pine and water I woke to under that canoe. I woke up with a reminder of the day’s purpose from each of my senses. If you find a job that does that for you, pursue it until your body breaks from the effort. It won’t be a monetary gold mine, but it will give you a sense of purpose I haven’t experienced before.
I’ll be sure to post the interview with Tim, as well as a brief summary of it as soon as it’s available. For today, this needed to be put to the page while it’s still fresh in my brain, and the rivers and lakes I plan on being on wash it out and leave it behind me.

So thank you. Thank you, Tim and Jennifer, for helping me experience this. Thank you, Paul, for your patience as we all learn these skills. Thank you to my fellow students for being such a wonderfully wild bunch of pine tarbarians and of course, thank all of you for reading my scribblings.

~Christopher Russell

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