Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Comments on a series of adventures

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you will know that I’m a rather strange person: more the type to be writing about where to find medieval coins with etching mistakes than about the personal journey of an environmentalist. Therefore, regulars shouldn’t be surprised that one of the things I live for is a particular smell. I’ve never precisely traced its source, though I believe it has something to do with sweat on canvas, and I always seem to smell it after the few moments in my life that can properly be called adventures.

Everything about the Whitman College Outdoor Program makes me feel alive. I’ve been on a Scramble (backpacking in the Wallowas), rafting on the Deschutes last fall, and cross-country skiing: for the first time in my life: at Horseshoe Prairie just this weekend. I love everything about a trip: picking out gear, riding way out to the countryside in a Turtletop, seeing stunning vistas, and talking like I know a damn thing about how to survive in the wilderness.

The best part has got to be the very rare instances when I’ve been allowed to feel I was in danger. On my Scramble, my group crossed a wide glacier high up on the cliffs. Too many false steps, and any one of us could have plunged down an icy slide and over a sheer rock face. When rafting, we had to put out of the river at a very specific spot lest we wash into Class 6 rapids that would have torn our boat to shreds. This weekend, I experienced a momentary whiteout.

I did not believe for a second that anybody employed by WCOP would have allowed me to be injured, let alone killed, but I reveled nonetheless in the idea that I had escaped serious harm with nothing but wits, endurance, and teamwork. It’s easy to mock outdoor enthusiasts for spending hundreds of dollars to remove themselves from modern comforts, but this kind of japery misses the point by a wide margin. We go to the wild to break up our lives, to test ourselves, to remind ourselves that we exist.

I used this opportunity to muse, as I use much of my life, and came back to an interesting dichotomy that has occupied a bit of my thoughts recently. On campus, we have Tamarac House for the outdoorspeople and the Outhouse for the environmentalists, and I have yet to hear of a person torn between living in one of the two. To put it concretely, the people working to save the wilderness don’t seem to be the people who spend their weekends there.

I know that there must be involved environmentalists who partake in outdoor sports, because I am one of them to a degree, but we seem to be a minority. On the ride home from Horseshoe Prairie, soaked to the bone and watching the treeline rise above my head once again, I came to an answer. Each of us is searching for a fight to make us feel alive. Some choose to tangle with the forces threatening nature, others with the roughest elements of nature itself, and others with entirely different enemies: opposing teams, or intricate concertos, or the idea that everything that can be written has been written.

Distinctive personalities are the norm, on campus and on Earth, and thank heaven for that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to see a man about a 1297 Crusader deniér of the Princess of Achaea. Adieu!

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