Published August 9, 2019
One of the aspects of F&W that I most appreciate is getting to work with older staff (many of whom have been former campers) who have had incredibly adventurous and accomplished lives. This summer, one of these people has been Lisa (Sobel) Spinelli who was a counselor at the BDC the last two weeks, while her daughter Macy Spinelli attended the Ravens group. Lisa, whose era at IB dates from the ’80s, works as a Forest Management Officer for the U.S. Forest Service in Potlach, ID, in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Previously, she often was involved in frontline wildland firefighting in her work since 1993 managing multiple natural resources benefits in the national forests in Idaho. She began this work after graduating from Forestry College at the University of Vermont, a decision inspired (despite her Philadelphia roots) by her F&W tenure.
I was the counselor on the first backpacking trip Lisa was ever on (also my first F&W trip) when she was in Tajar Cabin at IB. In all outward appearances, this trip was a failure. With five or six older, athletic and experienced hikers, and two 11-year-old big lodgers, the group was extremely and awkwardly mismatched. The counselors (one of whom was me) failed to properly prepare the trip group for this, for the terrain we would be on (near Brandon on the Long Trail–too easy for most members and far too hard for the novice hikers), or even check packs to make sure the proper gear was brought along. We paid for this latter error with Lisa bringing her favorite stuffed animal, a box of stationery and even her pillow in her frame backpack. In response to the heavy weight of her pack, and the hike that felt like a forced march, she cried the whole way. Carrying up the rear, and walking at a pace that was so slow it took effort to slow down, I felt each of her tears and worried that this experience would swear her off hiking forever. Instead, it had almost an opposite effect.
Doing the completely wrong thing provided an opportunity (Lisa claims it was perhaps the greatest opportunity) for growth. She didn’t know what she was doing when she set out on that trip, but over the course of it, by doing, she learned a whole lot, including and especially perseverance. The trip made her think about the importance of having the appropriate tools for the job. It also gave her an appreciation of her own strengths. And, because some of those older campers in the group came back to take some (even all of the weight on day 1) she learned of the specialness of hiking with others who can help with the load, physically and emotionally lifting you up.
I know as a parent that we often want all our kids’ experiences to go “right,” thinking that that will enable them to have fun. But “right” can sometimes be elusive, or subjective, or in Lisa’s case, not really apparent until much later. Tom Barrup, a former director of Tamarack Farm who I greatly admired, used to say that “Tamarack Farm is the best place to fail.” I think of that often, but especially as I listened to Lisa’s story, and as we now prepare to send our 2019 campers home. Perhaps their summer did not go as you or they intended—they found it hard to hang with the same kids, they didn’t complete two grand circuits as was their goal, they didn’t get assigned to the trip they most wanted. But as important as hearing about what didn’t go right, ask them about their journey—did they see something or do something that they had never before considered; did they have to learn something they didn’t know in order to succeed?; did they persist in a manner that was beyond what they thought they could do?; and/or did they have to rely on people who they didn’t before consider friends? And, then observe with them, did these experiences foster growth, connection, a sense of success and fun?
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