by: Raina Freedman
“My name is Martha, I’m 73, and I feel faint,” Meredith slurred as she stumbled along the pine covered ground. The surrounding students rushed to her aid as she slowly collapsed into their arms. After determining her level of consciousness, Marly gently squeezed the patient’s finger to view circulation while Ryan checked her pulse. The lack of sensation on her right side as well as her impaired speech signaled the source of Martha’s ailments: a stroke.
This scenario was just one of many we practiced this past weekend during our Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training. Over the course of three days, we covered everything from basic CPR to heat stroke and spinal injuries. We learned how to splint broken limbs with fleece jackets, sticks, and bandanas, and how to move a hypothermic patient from a freezing stream to an insulated wrap made of a tarp and sleeping bag. Our instructor, Douglas Downes, from SOLO Wilderness Medicine, furnished us with several acronyms like BUFF (big, ugly, fat, fluffy) to describe the cumbersome nature of our improvised splints, and various sayings like “Hydrate or die” and “Stay away from snakes” to ensure our safety in a backcountry setting. The course was a whirlwind of new information; however, we are now all rewarded with both CPR and WFA certifications.
It is important for us to learn first aid skills due to the nature of our program at Arcadia, as it is located in a wilderness environment. Although we have a full academic schedule, we also take a half-credit course called Modern Outdoor Recreational Ethics (M.O.R.E.) taught by our two assistant directors, Kim Covill and Will Madison. This class not only provided our WFA training; it also teaches us outdoor skills that we’ll use on various backcountry expeditions and during our daily lives at Arcadia. When asked about the importance of the M.O.R.E. class, our instructor Will said, “We want to prepare you to be able to lead trips and go into the backcountry alone, and do so in a responsible and fun way.” We are having an incredibly unique experience on the Adirondack Semester because we get to practice what we learn through many excursions provided by our M.O.R.E. class—an example of place-based learning that is unlike any other we have had in our educational career thus far.
Not only do our assistant directors want to teach us about outdoor recreation and safety, but also about everyday skills that can help us function as independent adults. College students rarely find themselves in a position in which they lack modern luxuries such as technology and running water or have to cook for large groups, clean their own community spaces, and defend their belongings against invasions of mice. These experiences are helping us become more responsible, community-focused individuals.
Academically, we are adjusting to a different way of learning than we would undergo through a normal campus course schedule. At Arcadia, we have each class only once a week for three to six hours. We also take various field trips around Massawepie (the Boy Scout property and conservation easement tract where our yurt village is located) and the larger Adirondack region. This unconventional style of teaching is cultivating in us a unique relationship to the place in which we live through our increased knowledge of the place itself. For example, in our Natural History of the Adirondacks course, we are learning how to identify the various trees and ferns around Arcadia, and in our Land-Use Change in the Adirondacks course, we are learning about the specific occupations of regional community members such as loggers, boat builders, and trappers. These courses strengthen our understanding and interest in the Adirondacks and help foster our love for our new home at Arcadia.
From course expeditions with our assistant directors and field trips with our professors to WFA scenarios and life at Arcadia, we are all developing a unique sense of place. We are learning about ourselves and our community as well as academic subjects comparable (but very different) to classes on campus. This past weekend, we not only learned how to deal with struggling patients like 73-year-old Martha, but we also came to understand the importance of being knowledgeable in a wilderness setting and came to appreciate how most people our age do not get the same experience of living what they learn. As our WFA instructor Doug said, “Cream rises to the top,” and we are “the cream of the crop.”
P.S. Hi Ryan’s mom! We promise he’ll write soon—and more often!