From Green Trees to Green Screens

At this time of year, I am typically hauling out my flannel shirts, a few toques, wool sweaters, socks and all things cozy. We are packing tents, working with schools to finalize cabin lists, dietary needs, canoe trip routes, gearing up to welcome over a hundred instructors and thousands of young people.  This will be the first Labour Day in 20 years that I am not driving north to kick off our ALIVE Fall season. Like so many others, I am feeling off kilter. Every year, as I drive further north, there’s an endless line of cars crawling south back to the city, back to routine, back to reality.  I always feel like I am witnessing the final scene of the movie Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.”   

That line from the film has actually been at the back of my mind for a chunk of this past 6 months. What do we need to build in order for people to still feel we can offer something of value at this unique time? Everyone was using the word “pivot” and it just did not speak to me at all. Having been a Phys. Ed teacher at the beginning of my career, a pivot to me was the planting of a foot and a quick change of direction, all in one swift motion. You pivot on the basketball court with ease, but how does a 20-year company that has been entirely focused on bringing people together, and espousing the value of unplugging, stay rooted in our integrity and our values, and move things online?   For a while there I honestly had no idea.

I struggled to move away from living in a “what should have been” mentality, to a place where I could see the truth of things and look ahead. I lingered over my calendar, marinating in the moments that we were being missed.  Our 20th Anniversary Women’s trip to the Kingdom of Bhutan, the amazing grade 4 students that come from Colegio Tilatá in Bogotá, Colombia for 25 days each spring, the school from Ohio that we had worked with to build an immersive Toronto cultural program, the missed trips to Vancouver Island for leadership and Duke of Ed. trips, and the list went on. I felt heartbroken about all the missed educational experiences for the students and our instructor team. I even mourned that we would not go to bed listening to the loons serenade us. In truth, I sank for a while there. Finding a growth mindset again took some time. While I am saddened that we will not be up north all fall helping students kick off their year while immersed in the wilderness, I must say that I am proud of the fact that we have developed some programs to help schools still offer some form of experiential education, despite the challenging circumstances.

“If you build it, they will come,” has been a quiet little whisper at the back of my mind that has been a motivator of sorts. I must also say that I have been very touched by the outpouring of support from our clients who have expressed that they not only see a valuable role for ALIVE at this time, but they are counting on us to be there when we can safely gather together again.

We have gone from green trees to green screens. From starry nights and the glow of the campfire to the blue light of our electronic devices. It’s not only humbling, it’s sad, but the truth of the matter is this is temporary. This will not be our reality forever. Maybe when we are back together, neatly tucked in our bunks and sleeping bags we will have a greater reverence for the magic and beauty of time with our friends, laughing into the night while the crickets, loons and cicadas sing us to sleep. 

The other day, someone said to me, “It’s not possible to build true connections over the screen… it’s not possible to have fun or to truly have impact!” Five months ago, I may have agreed with them, but I learned this spring that we can do this! When I say “we can do this” I don’t mean those of us at ALIVE pushing forward. I mean all of us.

I have spent hours on the phone this summer speaking to educators, many of them in administrative roles, and while there has been a sense of overwhelmed energy, there has also been a deeply rooted desire to find ways to help everyone stay grounded, to stay well, and to help students and staff stay connected and inspired.   There is absolutely no question that this a pivotal and challenging moment in all of our lives, and yet all we can do is move forward with as much grace and courage as possible. 

Like many other educators, I was truly saddened to learn about the loss of Sir Ken Robinson; what a legacy he has left behind. In some ways I feel his death right before we embark on this school year is incredibly poignant. His emphasis on creativity, imagination, play, the importance of nurturing individual strengths and talents, and helping people find their element is something we all can use as a north star at this time when it feels like there is very little clarity and direction. The nice thing about the north star is even in a changing world, it’s constant. 

Take good care of yourself everyone. All of us at ALIVE wish you everything you need to find your way forward this fall with as much peace as possible. We will be back together again soon, with our screens turned off. I can picture it now; the crackle of the campfire, the wind rustling through the trees, songs of laughter and guitars fill the air. Another activity-packed day comes to an end. Flashlights line the pathway and everyone head’s back to their cabins to enjoy each other’s company and share stories into the night.  I will hold onto that vision and I hope you do too.

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