“Which Wolf Will You Feed?”: Reflections on Big South Fork

Big South Fork_Main Image_4x6By Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

Two weeks ago we had another uplifting backpacking trip to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area with our 8th graders. While I went for only half a week, joining one of the watch groups on Wednesday at lunchtime, the trip was the fulfilling experience it always turns out to be. One of the “stars” of the experience this year was simply the weather: daily highs were around 70 degrees with bright blue skies, nighttime lows were around 40 – nice and brisk when we emerged from our tents each morning – and NO RAIN!

In addition to the miles of backpacking, cooking, and purifying water, another special aspect of the BSF trip is the conversations we share as groups around the campfires each night. We ask the kids many questions and everyone gets a chance to speak (s/he who holds the flashlight is the only one speaking). One of the things we discuss is why we take this trip. Why do we put a halt on academics to take our 8th grade backpacking? After a few days in the woods, they know the answers – and there are many. We’ll leave those reasons around the fire where they belong.

We also can get pretty “deep” philosophically around the fire. I thought I”d let you in on one of my favorite parables I share with the kids at BSF (and credit goes to trip originator, Mike Black, for sharing this with me many moons ago). It’s a Cherokee Indian parable that goes like this:

A Cherokee grandfather was teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside of me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

“The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about what his grandfather had said and then asked, “Which one will win, Grandfather?”

The old Cherokee replied simply, “The one you feed.”

IMG_1691We never explain this parable, but rather let it percolate among the kids and take root (and I hope our 7th graders don’t read this!). I was so pleased when I returned to school and found this written on the blackboard in the 8th grade locker area: “Which Wolf Will You Feed?” It seems we’d made an impression. And the piece of artwork to the right turned up in several areas in the school too. 

I found out Katy Roemer was responsible for the artwork and was gratified she felt so touched by this story. There are many moments like this at BSF, just as there are many reasons why we take this special trip. Congratulations and BIG THANKS to Patrick Donovan, our Outdoor Education Coordinator, Mike Black, Angela Ponzio, Tina Brown, Salema Jenkins, and High School Science teacher David Word for being fellow watch group leaders at BSF this year!

Here are a few reflections from the kids on the week:

The time I spent at Big South Fork was amazing! I never thought that hiking with a 20-pound backpack on your back could be so much fun! I will admit that going into it I was not excited about a week-long backpacking trip into a place where black bears live. If someone told me that I would have loads of fun at Big South Fork a week before the trip, I would have laughed at them. While on the trip I realized that it is not about if the trip is hard or easy – it is about the people who you are experiencing it with. My group was amazing! We laughed, cried, even fell on the trail together. The teachers leading us were great, too! I remember on the first day of Big South Fork, Ms. Ponzio said a quote that I will remember forever, “If you only do the easy things, life will be hard. If you do the hard things, life will be easy.” I kept that quote with me whenever I thought something was too hard. Mr. Word taught me and my group things about the park and about nature that my group and I never knew. Mr. Gabhart (aka “Gabo”) kept conversations going on the trail so nobody was bored just walking, and he brought s’mores! I came into the trip thinking that I could not accomplish the task, but I came out thinking I could do anything. I will forever remember my time at Big South Fork. I will remember learning new things about my classmates. I will remember falling down on a trail. I will remember hiking 10 miles a day. I will remember a lot of things about this trip and I will never forget the great experience I had with my grade at the one and only Big South Fork! – Riley Elliott

I think Big South Fork was a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed the people in my watch group. The first two days of the trip my leaders were Mrs. Ponzio and Mr. Word, a High School teacher. On Wednesday, Mr. Word left and Mr. Gabhart came. On Monday we hiked across a beautiful bridge and then to our camp site for the night, which was an awesome cave. On Wednesday we climbed up a mountain and camped on the top and it was really pretty. On Wednesday night we all sat around the campfire and Mr. Gabhart told us a story about two wolves. When we finally got to the group campsite on Thursday we were happy to see all our friends again and drop our packs. I was really nervous to go on this trip, but now I can say I’ve been backpacking for a week. Going to BSF was definitely worth it. We saw so many good views and got to know everyone in my group so much better than I already did. My favorite part of the trip was when we got to drop our packs. All in all, I am super glad I went on the trip even though I may not have liked it so much while I was there. –  Katy Roemer