The Tiger and the Deer

Today one of our special needs campers had a break down.  Right before dinner he was mute, in tears and unresponsive.  I sat down to dinner with him at the back of the dinning hall and searched for something to pull him out of his funk.  Then I pulled my notebook out, wrote a sentence and asked him if he’d help me finish my story.  This is what we wrote during the best meal I’ve had at camp.

The Tiger and the Deer

Jack was a tiger who lived in the jungle.  He loved hunting other animals all day.  

One day while he was hunting he saw an enormous deer, it was the biggest he’d ever see.  He tried to run away because he was scared but the deer followed him.  He realized that today he was being hunted by the deer.  At that moment Jack started to run as fast as he could, afraid that the deer would catch him.  

He ran past his favorite tree, over his favorite stream and through his favorite bush but still the deer followed.  That’s why Jack climbed the biggest tree he found.  

From the top of the tree he could see the deer at the bottom breathing heavily.  The deer started hitting the tree with his giant horns.  The tree was swinging forward and backward.  Jack was terrified because he couldn’t hold on much longer so he shouted at the top of his lungs, “What do you want!?”

Then the deer stopped for a bit and said, “You’ve killed all my children.  Now I am taking my revenge.”

Jack replied, “I’m sorry.  I only killed them because I was hungry.”

After that the deer stopped and started crying.  She said, “Even if you have done it because of the that what am I going to do now? I have no children left. My husband died years ago. I am all alone.”

Jack was shocked.  He never realized he was hurting anyone by hunting.  “I could stop hunting,” he suggested.

The deer answered, “No, you can’t. If you stop you will die.” 

“I could try eating fish.  There are plenty in my stream,” said Jack.

“That could work,” said the deer.  “My name is Jill.”

So Jack became a fisher and helped Jill protect all the animals of the forest from other tigers.

The End.

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Personal Time?

This is the first personal time I’ve had in three days and it’s about to be interrupted by a meeting.

It all started on Sunday.  The dreaded arrivals day when 79 kids from as far as Hong Kong converged on our hotel in Austria.  My personal time ended at 7:30 as I left for the Salzburg airport to collect six arrivals.  After I returned I spent the day meeting campers, playing games and getting them settled.

Monday I had FLOP duty.  Floor Patrol.  This meant that on top of teaching an English class for the first time in a year and leading a basketball session that all of my free time was spent getting kids to activities on time.  You can imagine how many times I used the phrases “Let’s go” and “You’re late” that day.

Tuesday morning I almost got to play ping-pong with BJ but ended up preparing the English class.  After class we went straight into lunch and then I lead an all camp excursion to a waterfall an hour away.  There were problems with the buses and I ended up coming back with 42 kids on a public bus carrying twice it’s capacity.  Needless to say, we got back late and went right into meetings then dinner.  After dinner it was right into the evening activity.

Boom.  Three days with no free time.  Tomorrow, however, I should have an hour off in the afternoon.  Whoot whoot.



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Review Time

In outdoor education we value experiential learning: learning through doing.  To reinforce this process, after any new learning experience we hold review sessions to allow everyone to talk and think about what they’ve gained.

Now that we’re in summer camp reviews are a thing of the past.  Education has no place here.  We’re focused on FUN!

Today, however, we managed to squeak a review into our day.  BJ, Kayla and I led a kayaking session on the lake.  It was cloudy until the moment we pushed our boats off.  We demonstrated paddling technique  played some games and I got some people to get out of their boats on a 20 inch floating platform and seal launch into the water.

As the session was coming to a close BJ suggested doing a review and I got everyone to make a circle with their boats (something I’ve never tried before which works surprisingly well).  Then, floating in the middle of a massive lake surrounded by snow capped mountains  bleeding down into rich greenery, we each shared something that we love about camp so far and something that has been bothering us.

When everyone had shared we counted down from three, shouted “Oh Shit!” in unison, pushed away from each others boats and kept paddling.

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My spring teaching season in France has ended and I’ve moved on to summer camp in Austria.

The last week in France was amazing.  The weather was superb, the kids were great and there were NO tourists on the first day of our two day canoe descent of the gorge.

Paddling forty kids boats and fifteen staff boats alone on a river that can have up to five-thousand boats a day on it in good weather is one of my favorite experiences of life.  I only spent half the day with our group.  After lunch two guys and myself paddled ahead to set up camp and start cooking burgers for a hundred people.  Then we slept under the stars.

The next night BJ and I left France for Austria.  We’ve been here for four days now and the season is starting to shape up.

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Three Hours Later

What do we do when the kids leave?  The same things we do when they’re here – just cooler.  As soon as they left last Friday we started playing on our own.  Despite iffy weather six of the staff took canoes up river to the Chassezac, a tributary of the Ardeche.  It was one of the best days of paddling that I’ve had all year.  


As we were driving to the launch a few flashes of lightening in the distance were cause for worry but we set off in the rain anyway.   Starting out into a few sets of rapids were we could warm up and play.  The river was a combination of the familiar limestone cliffs and pillars we find near camp and bucolic flat waters surrounded by idealic farms and forests.  Dozens of grey and purple herons fly near us as our paddling disturbed their solitary vigils.

Later in the day we left the placed waters of the Chassezac and entered the turbulent Ardeche whose waters were still swollen with the recent deluge.  Once on our home river we alternated between a breakneck pace and flat-water drudgery as the water alternatingly rushed and pooled in front and behind the five weirs that we had to cross.

The weather started to get weird as we portaged around the weirs.  Periodically the sky would open up and try to drown us.  Then the sun would swoop in and sprinkle a few rainbows.

Coming off the third weir Falcor and I paused, finally noticing a familiar landmark in the distance: one of the two derelict castles used to control the valley sit around our camp.  The river wound down around a corner towards the more majestic of the two ruins.  Behind the castle the white limestone of the gorge stood out in bright contrast to the black rain clouds behind it and the layers of greenery reaching into the foreground.  All around us the roar and smell of smashing water coming off the weir filled our senses.  Just as we were about to set of again a rainbow became visible reaching over the castle.

Another rainbow appeared as we were coming around the final bends in the river to camp.  It’s base was obscured by the greenery but a paddler could tell that the pot of gold was exactly where our camp is located.


We finished our day of paddling exhausted and luckily, the next day was sheeting with rain so I felt no obligation to exercise.  In the span of about 24 hours we received over three inches of rain.  The river responded almost immediately and that evening, during a respite from the deluge over dinner we watched the meadow below our campsite flood as around four additional feet of water came down the river.


The rain was gone as suddenly as it came and on Sunday we found ourselves with a beautiful day to exhaust.  Westie got a group of six people excited for climbing and we set out to explore a huge limestone crag within walking distance from camp.  We spent the day climbing above the treeline to some amazing views of the countryside.  Westie even managed to climb some 35 meter routes with a 60 meter rope (which means he was 10 meters short on his way back down).


A lazy day.  Sunny and hot – finally.  I took a run (literally) into town in the morning then fixed all my broken gear with the supplies I brought back.  Then we set up camp around the petanque pitch (it’s French bocce ball) by dragging out a couch and chairs before whiling away the afternoon in the sun.  That evening we went into town for a leisurely pizza and watched movies when we got home.


Half the staff went off site for the week on Monday so by Tuesday the rest of us had settled into our own little routine.  9AM breakfast followed by a stretching session.  Then I went for a run.  12:30PM lunch followed by a long, exploratory hike in the forest preserve behind our site, returning at 6.  Dinner at 7PM into desert and the evening movie.


Went for a 5 mile run through the trails behind site.  In the afternoon I took a mountain bike out to scout the more majestic of the ruined castles, finding that it is open to the public (an idea made controversial by the houses surrounding it’s base) and that it has the best views of anywhere I’ve been in the area, to wit: you can see the beginning of the gorge, our camp, the other castle, our flag hike lookout, the towns of Vallon Pont D’Arc and Salavas; the bridge we use to cross the river into town and every other major point of interest in our lives here.

After exploring the castle I cycled into town and met the others for a beer then cycled back up to the castle with a couple of people (to show it off). Then we took some experimental downhill trails (probably not meant for bikes) back to the road and camp.


After breakfast Coral, Twig and I took out some canoes on the river.  Twig had never solo paddled one of our boats before so Coral and I spent the morning training her while the wind and high water flow battered us.  My paddling is strong enough that I enjoyed the often ridiculous challenge but Twig was still to green to make it back up the river so Coral and I used some super river leader tricks to get her boat back home.  Just remember kids, knowledge is power!

In the afternoon I took a mountain bike out to further explore the trails we discovered on Monday.


I recently started another blog called MyOEDInjury for all the staff here.  It isn’t really up and running fully yet but my adventure for Friday is described there (here).


If Fridays shenanigans hadn’t been enough on Saturday we went paint-balling with the full staff.  It’s so terribly satisfying to shoot you co-workers, especially when only an inch of their fuzzy head rises over the top of a bunker and you manage to clip it from thirty feet away.


Back to work.  The new group of kids arrives tomorrow and this morning has been spent preparing.  I took time to organize and catalog all the new books in our library, as well as to plan lessons; stock and sort helmets; brand compasses and maps; and find some new climbing games for the rock climbing session that I’m to help lead this week.

A week off here seems like two and now I’m ready to go back to work.

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The Great Rains Recede

School Group 2: Stuttgart Germany

Our last group left almost a week ago, on Friday morning.  They almost left behind the great rains accompanied them.  Rains that closed the river (cancelling our paddling program) and forced the staff to scramble for wet weather alternatives to the Grand Descent of the Ardeche gorge – the key element of our program.

I was particularly disappointed.  After a week as a troglodyte, leading the caving session I was excited for four days of paddling.  Our week started out well.  Warm blue skies filled with slight breezes.  For the first two days we did the intro to paddling we do before taking them down river.

The day starts by prepping the kids: putting paddles in their hands, helmets on their heads and buoyancy aids on their shoulders.  The morning is spent coaching in our front yard (which is the river).  After lunch we talk about river hydrology and moving water technique before paddling four sets of rapids and passing underneath the Pont D’Arc.  It’s a great day and I’m glad I got to do it twice before rain cancelled the rest of our paddling.

It fell the most overnight into Wednesday – instantly putting the river into a swirling brown torrent and forcing us to do orienteering sessions in the rain.  I facilitated groups in student led hikes and in the evenings we had to make up programs to keep the kids entertained under the terrace where we eat dinner instead of by running around in the fields.

Well, despite the weather it was a pretty sweet week in which I learned a damn lot about navigation and orienteering.  You pretty much have to when you’re expected to teach it the following day.



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Spelunking is for Spelunkers

Our first group has come and gone.  I’ll miss the spoiled little weirdos, that is until the next group comes to replace them and all the faces start to blend together.  Last week I learned 39 names which I need to start forgetting to make room for 56 more.  I caught a glimpse of 39 personalities, sets of ambition and personal dilemmas which have gone back to Qatar to develop.  More are coming in moments.  And so it goes.

For the first week I was the camps caving specialist.  The day before they came I scurried about the staff library (finding it terribly short on the subject) and poured through internet archives pulling information applicable to our solutional limestone cave.  I led the session the way I was introduced to it.  To start, we’d hike out of camp and take a step into a small cave on the way to the main one where I’d make an introduction while our eyes adjusted to the dark.  Once the kids could see I’d set them off into the shadows, using the light of the cave entrance to explore for further entrances and perhaps a hidden counselor.

After this short introduction we’d pop over to the main entrance of our cave system.  The first chamber is the biggest.  It’s yawning mouth angles down into misty darkness where it meets a crystal pool of water at the end of a stream running out of the rock.

Once the kids had been given instruction on our rules for the caves I’d turn on their helmet lights and we’d set off like a group of miners.  Usually the kids were mildly bored by the experience up until the time that the distant daylight was no longer relevant to their navigation of the cave floor.  By the time they’d reached me at the edge a crystal clear pond deep into the throat of the cave they’d be mine.  Headlights would dart around taking in all the strange sensory inputs: dripping stalactites, running water, gemlike droplets clinging to the ceiling, and pervasive cold and mud.  It’s amazing to go from fighting for attention to have a dozen curious headlamps pointed towards you in the dark as you explain why this alien world is there.

After the first chamber the kids search through the dark for our next entrance.  Most of them are worried about crossing the pond so they’re momentarily relieved when they find a tunnel that they’d passed by on the way down.  However, when they crouch down and start crawling through the first low tunnel in the mud they’re far less excited.  The second chamber is all mud and we stop for a minute to talk about cave formation before we crawl through trench eroded by water rushing through from above.

On the way to the third chamber the kids are filthy and already resigned to or embracing the dirt and cold.  This squeeze is the tightest we do, forcing me down on all fours (well, threes since I’m keeping one hand clean) to cross over polished stalagmites while my head bumps cracked ‘tites.  From here we enter into Jabba’s Palace: so named for gnarled old ‘mite central to this chamber.  Here we can see a couple new speleothems (cave formations like stalagmites): soda straws and columns.  The kids get excited and two or three of them always come up with great questions.  I’d taken to describing the formation of stalagtites and stalagmites as a million year romance where each drip of water is a flirtation culminating in a kiss when the two meet and a marriage as they start their life together as a column.

We leave Jabba’s Palace by the way of a natural stair case into a pool of frigid, waist high water.  The next chamber the Qatari kids renamed the Burj Kalifa Chamber after the world’s tallest tower in Dubai which is represented by a particularly splendid column.  Here we talk about a few more new speleothems, the coloration of the cave walls and the effects of people on the cave environment (exampled by a sad ‘mite/’tite pair which had nearly reached their first kiss before someone clipped off the ‘tites nose).

Once we leave the Burj Kalifa chamber we climb up into a muddy dead-end known as the Jam Chamber.  When everyone is safely ensconced and comfortably sitting I come around and turn off their lights.  It’s an amazing sensory experience to be with a group of people in complete darkness.  There we do a couple singing exercises, get comfortable with being in the dark (and the kids probably touch each other).

After the Jam Chamber we head back to the Burj Kalifa and look down into the next tunnel which leads further into unexplored cave.  I then turn out the kid’s lights and run ahead down the tunnel leaving them to grope and communicate as a team through the tunnel until they find me and I pop on my light.

By this time the kids are shivering with the cold and I give the group two candles them run back towards the beginning letting them catch up to me at Jabba’s Palace where I turn their lights back on and request that since this is the last time many of us will be in a cave for a long time (if ever) that we finish our journey out in silence.  When we finally reach daylight again (two hours after entering the cave) I smudge war paint on their faces and release them back into the world.

The exit of the cave is amazing because you walk through an invisible wall from the caves cold dark to the day’s bright warmth.  Then we head down to the river to clean off and back to camp for whatever’s next.

This week I’ll be working with our river leader on canoeing support.  If the threatened thunderstorms stay away it’ll mean two days instructing the kids on paddling and two days leading them on the Grand Descent through the Ardeche Gorge.

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