On Wednesday mornings before a shift, the air is electric but the guides are sometimes a bit sleepy. The night before a week long Wednesday-to-Wednesday shift often lacks the same uninterrupted rest as other nights. The potential pleasures and pitfalls of a new dramatic week often loom heavy in the mind on a Tuesday evening, and each guide must prepare themselves with their own rituals and habits.
Before they took on this rather dramatic and unconventional career path, many True North guides had only a handful of experiences living out of a backpack for the length of a full week. Now, twice a month, they meet on Wednesday morning, take part in clinical trainings, outdoor skill practices, and food distribution. They prepare for not only a week in the woods utilizing outdoor living skills, but also for taking on the considerable responsibility of maintaining a safe and productive programmatic structure for young people who have often struggled to utilize their resources effectively. Many of our guides have now logged literally hundreds of days in the woods with True North, providing safety, lessons in leadership, and emotional support. Yet, a Wednesday still tends to be filled with the nervous excitement and a hint of trepidation for a new adventure.
Every Course Leader at True North has extensive experience working as therapeutic guides in the outdoors, as well as clinical training in providing effective psychotherapy. But for a few us, taking on the role and responsibilities of Course Leader at True North is particularly noteworthy since we also worked as guides specifically for True North. Three of us spent years sleeping under the Vermont stars, hiking in the rain, smiling during students’ ah-ha moments, and sometimes spending long chilly nights without sleep, focusing on our students’ safety.
These days, when we arrive to meet our students twice per week, we Course Leaders step into the fire circle with the confidence of experience, greeting students warmly and getting a sense of the emotional temperature of the group. We sit with current guides, sometimes 5 days into their shift (with the odors to prove it), and connect as a treatment team. We discuss students’ progress and the group dynamics. We give guidance from a wider perspective of individualized clinical treatment and awareness of historical behavioral patterns.
Crucially, we Course Leaders also take a moment to connect with the guides themselves. We are eager to listen to their experiences. We recall our own days living in the Vermont woods, relying on fires for warmth and food, and listening to the Barred Owls at night. As guides, we looked up to the visiting therapists as mentors and at some point, realized that our larger vision was not about just this week, or this role. We each realized back then that the role of a True North Course Leader spoke to us, representing a new, more sophisticated and complex understanding of the awesome task of supporting our students. Today, after years of training, we walk into that fire circle and we feel a hint of that excitement that we felt on those sleepy Wednesday mornings back in those exhilarating guiding days. The air is once again electric as we prepare to inspire and be inspired by the powerful and brilliant young people who live and work in these mountains.