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Resilience is Built not Given

Written by Chad Thomack
    Friday, 26 March 2021
Resilience is Built not Given

I wake to temperatures in the single digits; wind blowing, snow covering the streets. It is the end of January so this weather is fitting. As I sip my hot coffee gazing out the window I think of all the winter campers and what the day will bring for them. For me, it brings cross country skiing, one of my favorite outdoor sports. I lace up my boots, throw on a fleece, full face mask, and waterproof gloves. The sun is rising and the moon is setting as I glide through the woods and down to the lake. Every time I ski I am surprised how little I feel the cold.

Campers start arriving around noon so I make sure the firewood is all set beforehand. Fire is crucial during these cold winter days, especially since we don't often head indoors unless safety is a concern. My job is easy this session of camp, prep the fire and bring out the hot drinks halfway through camp. But I like to be there when they start to arrive and give them some positive energy for the day. Some arrive and take a seat by the fire to eat their lunch, others get here just to start playing in all the glorious snow. Our facilities crew did a great job creating huge piles of snow for them to have fun in.

It is amazing how quickly the campers jump right into play, it takes little to no effort on our part. The outdoors does that job. Ours is to make sure they are ready to play outside all day. Our gear consists of extra hats, mittens, neck gaiters (scarves), and these rubber-type jugs filled with hot water. We call them "water babies" and they sure do help ease the feeling of being cold.

When I come back with the hot drinks, I find happy kids and our enthusiastic adult leaders, Matt and Alex. They are all happy to see me and crowd around (not too close though as the pandemic is still with us) to get their fill. A hot drink does wonders in the cold. The kids are climbing trees, breaking ice, building shelters, and chasing each other. All activities that keep them moving and staying warm. If you haven’t already figured it out, these campers are tough. But no more able to handle the conditions than most children their age.

web WinterCamp Last Week 63

The key is making sure they are all prepared to be outside with the right gear. Gear doesn’t mean the latest and greatest from an outfitter, it means understanding what to wear and what not to wear. For winter that usually means layers, something to keep cold air from going down into the jacket, waterproof boots, and imagination. As they play they will warm up - like when I ski and will need to shed a layer once I get going.

All the things we do to prepare, from the gear to the hot drinks, get them ready for outdoor play. And the crazy thing is from my experience most younger people would be up for this type of play given the opportunity. Well, maybe "most" is being optimistic, but many for sure. Usually, it is us adults that get worried that the kids won’t be safe. Well, I have to say that after experiencing our first winter camp that idea is far from the truth. By getting outside in less than ideal conditions we are helping people to build resilience; to have the confidence that they can succeed. Here is a quote from a parent:

“He was reluctant to go, not being a fan of new experiences, and we were leery of COVID exposure. But, from day 1, the camp was great...well-managed for health protocols and my camper was happy every day...happy to be in the woods and having fun. He especially liked that there seemed to be adequate free time to just be kids in the woods without having every second micromanaged. At the end of the week, we decided that this year we would sign up for two weeks.”

If there is one thing I will take from the pandemic it is just this: we all can succeed and build resilience in our lives. We have done it with how the UEC as a community organization can still connect, all of the camps we successfully run outdoors since June, all the work each department has put into staying relevant, and all the pivoting our leaders have done to make this happen. Resiliency is built not given and the pandemic has forced us to this discovery. Who knows if we would have ever had the chance to run an all-outdoor camp in winter without it? What have you learned? How have you built resiliency in your life? If you reflect, I bet there are many!

Wishing you all well and get outdoors!

Chad Thomack

Chad Thomack

Chad Thomack, Environmental Educator, has been a staff member of the Urban Ecology Center for over 15 years.  Chad received a biology/wildlife degree from UW Stevens Point and has been teaching about nature ever since.  His hobbies include outdoor adventures like kayaking, mountain biking, trail running and cross country skiing, as well as exercising, reading, playing video games, journaling and gardening.

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