Students Reflect on Solo Experiences in the Forest
December 07, 2023
Throughout the semester, students in TA’s environmental studies and outdoor education course work toward an important milestone – the overnight solo experience. The experience at TA is similar to solos in programs like Outward Bound, and challenges students to spend time alone, connecting with nature and practicing self-reliance.
Like the protagonist in John Smelzer’s “The Trap,” a book students read in the course, students bring only limited supplies to the solo overnight. For example, matches and warm layers – but no electronics or other modern distractions. They use what they’ve learned about the science of staying warm, how to make a fire, and how to build a shelter to have a real-life experience of independence.
Of course, when students reach their limit, they have the option to join outdoor educator Scott Ellis in the school’s heated yurt – but many persevere in their shelters for the full experience. After each solo overnight, students are encouraged to write about and reflect on their time in the woods. This year, two students, sophomore Aylhea LaBadie and Andy MacNeil, volunteered to share their reflections.
Ayhlea Labadie, Grade 10 –
I went to the woods because I wanted to face my fears. Of not only the dark but the fear of what may be inside myself.
Being alone for hours on end with your thoughts can be quite a dark place. Thoughts piling in like no tomorrow. “What if?, “it could be..”. Breathe, I told myself as the thoughts grew louder overcoming my mind. “I have time,” I said to myself. I knew I didn’t have much time left before the dark traveled over the mountains to cover the current land. I moved fast collecting firewood before the night came. I knew the fire would provide light and heat and I would have something to distract myself from the thoughts. The thoughts of how I could tap out and be in the warmth of the yurt, knowing I was protected from the elements, or how I could be at home with my family and phone. Controlling thoughts like those was definitely the hardest part. I knew deep down that if I had given into the thoughts I would have felt regret because I knew that the feeling of knowing I completed the night out alone would be like no other feeling of immense pride. This experience taught me being alone isn’t always a scary place.
Andy MacNeil, Grade 10 –
I went to the woods to find my limit. When all alone, in the quiet, you can get lost in your thoughts.
I connected to my surroundings by focusing on one sense at a time. The first sense was sound, it was tranquil with the occasional rustle of the leaves and crunch of the snow. The second sense I focused on was touch.
I felt the earth pulling me towards its warm caring embrace, and I felt nature all around me. I could even feel the moon up there staring at me as I lay in the mud and snow.
When it came to sight, I climbed a tree, broke through the canopy wall, and poked my head out looking over all of the trees out into the ever-reaching land. I felt something I had been searching for for ages, a sense of connection, finally knowing my place in the world, and just accepting that I’m not any different than anything else in this world.
When I focused on the smell of nature, I could smell more than just nature, I could smell the world. I smelled the smoke of a fire, the scent of the cold earth. I even noticed the comforting smell of the trees, reminding me of my childhood when I didn’t have TV or internet. It was one of the many ways to ground myself.
I have finally found the purpose of nature, it is there to help us remember our connection to each other and the earth and to help us think.