A Full Bag and Empty Journal

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Guest Written by Zoë Heard

Camper '16-'19, George River Trip '21, LIT '22, Camp Leader '22, Trip Leader '23

In learning to become a Chewonki leader, I’ve tried many different teaching methods amongst the woods and waters of the Neck and beyond. In all these experiences, two things stand out as simple essentials: an empty journal and a full bag.

At its simplest, learning is a process of employing the scientific method: we obtain information, analyze and process it according to what we already know, and then ask questions. Learning has no distinct end; it’s beautifully cyclical–like seasonal exploration and campfire circles. And the perfect place to reflect and learn is within the blank pages of a journal.

We have staff training at the beginning of each Chewonki summer, and the first week’s focus is learning how to lead. One of my favorite parts of Chewonki’s teaching model is the agreement that learning doesn’t need a classroom as much as it requires a student – and that leaders are students, too. After long, hot days full of outdoor exploration and activities, my journal is where I record memories and reflect on everything I’m experiencing. Writing is how I prepare to teach others; no desk or lectures are necessary. 

Zoë on the George River Canoe Trip in 2021

Both participants and students take turns leading and learning throughout the summer, and I’m always amazed by what I have to give others and the learning I receive in return. I’m grateful for the patient company of my journal through these experiences – its pages are always ready for new thoughts, reflections, analysis, and deeper questions – especially when I encounter the unexpected.

Exploring the outdoors invites surprises (it’s one reason we go!), bringing me to the second leadership essential: a full bag. It never hurts to be prepared. A good portion of our staff training focuses on safety (physical, emotional, and interpersonal), and most of these can be packed for. Whether it’s a loved musical instrument, ginger chews, or an entire sheaf of friendship bracelet string, having what I need close at hand makes every situation more manageable.

Zoë with campers in 2023.

Chewonki ranks are full of unique individuals who represent many different teaching and leadership styles. Within this variety, you’ll always find a spark of curiosity and a good packing list. There’s no end to the teaching and learning that occurs in the woods of Maine (or out in nature, anywhere!), so pack your bag with a journal at the top. I hope to see you out there! 

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