Jonathan Ebbs remembers his first wilderness experience. He was 13 and at a summer camp in central Ontario. It was just like in the movies, with hundreds of suburban kids assigned a cot in a dorm for their month-long stay by the lake. The counselors had been in camp the year before, and every other summer since they were six.
The focus was on canoeing, but Ebbs says his first trip out was a disaster. “It was uncomfortable and rainy,” he remembers. But at 14 he was back, and the canoe trip was different that time.
It was awesome, he says, but tough. The leader was into doing long days and covering a lot of ground. In 10 days, the group found themselves hauling canoes and gear on several three-kilometre portages as they glided through a chain of lakes.
There is power in propelling oneself over the earth, using nothing but the strength in one’s arms, says Ebbs. That summer, he felt it. He wants others to feel it too.
“Nothing else in the world mattered other than what was happening around us — and that’s when connections happen. I can still remember certain camp sites and certain days that happened over 18 years ago,” he says.
The desire to get young people out on the land is why Ebbs is running outdoor experience programs at Mount Moresby Adventure Camp on Haida Gwaii. He has worked elsewhere with Outward Bound, world-renowned outdoor educators that offer similar programs to his, but he wanted to bring that learning home and make it available to the young people there.
Ebbs, who lives on Tow Hill Road near Masset, is all about long trips in the wilderness and the intense learning these can impart. That’s why he offers a 21-day leadership trip into the wilderness. His adventure kayaking program is geared toward older youth between 16 and 20.
“Something clicks after 10 days out. The group gets into a neat rhythm and you can become slow and in yourself,” he says.
Longer programs also give young people a chance to practice all they’ve learned. After a number of days he’ll let the youth travel ahead, navigating, choosing directions and places to camp. He and the other guides stay at a safe distance behind and observe. By then he expects the participants will be able to set up camp, get dinner and solve any internal group conflicts that may arise.
Ebbs also wants to get young people started from an early age. He offers an eight-day camp for ages 6 to 13 and a 10-day kayak trip for ages 13-15. The younger ones get a fully guided outdoor experience, but he also expects them to experiment with doing things for themselves—getting out of the habit of relying on mom and dad.
Murphy Patrick, who co-ordinates the Boiling Point Rediscovery Camp on Babine Lake, has a similar take on outdoor experiences. His camp has been running since 1996 and offers First Nations in the Burns Lake area a chance to learn some wilderness skills.
Patrick says sitting around a campfire helps create an atmosphere that allows young people to come together and expand what they know from their own lives. He also wants to show them alternatives to the plugged-in, quick-fix lifestyle of television, drugs and rock’n’roll.
Patrick says one of the most powerful moments at Rediscovery takes place when young people are given three matches, a potato, water and a sleeping bag, and sent out overnight for a solo or vision quest.
He remembers one angry young girl who was mandated by the court to come to the camp. She refused to go on the solo trip, but finally agreed to spend the day out on her own. When the counselors came back to get her that evening, she waved them away.
The next morning she shared what she had written in her journal. Instead of the dark poems about drugs and suicide she’d written before, she had a new verse about the eagle who had stood beside her on the beach for the afternoon.
“She said it had opened her up, that she’d found the key to her soul,” says Patrick. He still gets shivers when he thinks of it, and keeps in touch with the young woman too. She’s now living and working in Victoria.
In Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, child advocacy expert Richard Louv links the lack of nature experiences in children’s lives to some disturbing childhood trends, such as a rise in obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression.
Louv points out some startling facts. He says by the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Cartoon characters are more familiar to eight-year-olds than different species of trees or insects found in their backyards.
He says our children are the first generation to be raised with no meaningful contact with the natural world. Children are less and less likely to grow up on farms, or with parents and grandparents who make their living off the land.
These are not uniquely urban problems. Even with the stunning landscapes and world-class recreation opportunities in this northwestern corner of British Columbia, young people are often unmotivated or unable to get outside.
Suki Spencer was born and raised in Terrace. Although she now co-owns Azad Adventures, an outdoor store there, she used to think Terrace was “lame and boring.” In her youth, she didn’t go hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing or do any of the myriad of outdoor sports Terrace is becoming a mecca for.
Although her store offers courses in the above-mentioned sports, they have nothing geared toward young people. She knows the cost of the equipment for many outdoor sports is prohibitive, but she doesn’t see young people running toward the opportunities that are out there either. She says people have to get self-motivated and credits her husband and co-owner of the store for getting her hyped on outdoor adventure.
“Now we don’t have enough time or days to do all the things we want to do,” she says.
Ebbs reflects on the cry that there is nothing for the youth to do in small communities. He wants to turn that around. Haida Gwaii is not just a small place disconnected from pop culture, he says, it is their home and it holds a lot of promise.
“They get bored and they get into trouble. Different people approach this problem from different angles. Mine is to get them out on the land, do the long tripping and to have them consciously reflect on their experiences,” he says.
h4.Summer adventures for NW youth
The Junior Eagle Program targets Aboriginal youth ages 13 to 15 years old that have an interest in swimming, lifesaving, scuba and backpacking. The program also provides leadership training, education and experiences in the areas of health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle choices. Check out http://youthfirst.ca
Mount Moresby Adventure Camp
Not just for kids. Check out the Women’s Kayak Program coming up.
Haisla Nation Rediscovery
Contact: Delores Pollard_Box 1101, 260 Kitlope Street, Kitamaat Village, BC V0T 2B0
Boiling Point Rediscovery
Contact Person: Murphy Patrick Jr._Box 879, Burns Lake, BC V0J 1E0_Telephone: 250-692-4700_Fax: 250-692-4792
Contact Person: Doreen Angus_Kispiox, BC_Telephone: 250-842-5590_Fax: 250-842-5799_Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Swan Bay Rediscovery
For youth from on and off Haida Gwaii. Programs still available. Call 250-559-8229. Email: email@example.com
Bring on the adventure. Scouts Canada is the country’s leading youth organization and offers seven challenging programs for boys, girls and youth age 5-26 in nearly 3,600 individual groups in most cities and towns across Canada.
1 888 SCOUTS NOW (1 888 726 8876)
Guiding is a worldwide movement for girls, led by women who are young at heart. It’s a place where girls and women can be themselves, have fun, learn skills, make new friends, enjoy camping, participate in new adventures and contribute to their communities.
Check your city’s recreation guides too.