As quiet anticipation filled two SCA emblazoned vans, SCA Manchester tramped in and out of Bear Brook State Park on the winding drive from Manchester through Allenstown, New Hampshire. White pines soared overhead; C.C.C. era buildings dot the ride; open water from half-frozen ponds shot sunlight through the trees and into our eyes. The wind was breezing, the sun was shining, and the early morning birds were chirping as the high school community members rode down the long and serene pass into the beautiful SCA New Hampshire Corps Spruce Pond Camp. With a lesson of layering under their belts from their previous Corps Meeting, the high school members were ready to tackle whatever weather this odd New Hampshire winter might throw at them. Fortunately for everyone, nature's hot chocolate, the sun, accompanied us through all our plans and left our preparations unimpeded.
As we exited the vans to explore the historic C.C.C. building that makes up our camp, members were challenged to leave their electronics behind, embrace the woods, and get to know the forest in a way that they may have never imagined nor seen. "Respect yourself, respect others, and respect the environment," encouraged co-leader Chelsea Kibbe to set the theme that pervaded the day's plans.
"I've got mail for anyone that woke up at 6 am or earlier to be here today," one member highlighted during the icebreaker game, "I've got mail for...," led by Chris Olsen, which sparked the day's activities. It harked back to the C.C.C. days of ole when members woke up at 5:30 to begin a full day's work of conservation. The game allowed the group to not only connect with each in their similar capacities but also to represent the group's diversity as one member noted, "I've got mail for anyone who was not born in the United States," and the majority of the group competed for places around the circle. Later, two intense "Human Knot" games tested this new group's ability to communicate, work as a team, and get to know each other by name.
After a quick tour of the NH Corps living facilities, two interpretive hikes, one led by Jonathan Rager, another co-led by Maddy Hunt and Andrea Klaphake, acclimated the group to New England's woods, trees, and ecosystems. Since there were enough corps members to have two concurrent interpretations of the park happening at the same time, every minute was filled with informative moments. "There's a battle going on up there." Maddy encouraged the students to look up into the sky and observe the white pines of New Hampshire's mixed forest competing for sunlight. Maddy and Andrea made the forest feel alive to the group down the Beaver Pond trail. Birches are bending over trails searching for light, hemlocks were drooping in shame over their small cones, and peat moss squeezed dry onto the boardwalk over the marshlands. Quiet conversations between the members compared their own woods, trees, and forest from their homelands. The high school crew was instructed to hang back, giving the students priority over the lesson.
Jonathan Rager's hike was a slippery jaunt on the compacted ice that plagues Spruce Pond Road in the winter, and he prefaced his walk: "I don't want to scare you from walking on the ice, but the ice is a part of nature, and it's something I think you should experience." Jonathan spoke stories of the structure of state parks, the recreational activities and their presence in parks, and the Civilian Conservation Corps' influence not only on the trails the groups was currently standing on, the buildings everyone was entering and exiting but also on SCA Manchester itself. He challenged his groups to dig underneath the surface of the physical features of the park; Why are we all here trudging through this path? How did the history of design of Bear Brook State Park get us here right now? How do we stop and appreciate the natural elements available to us? It was an introductory philosophical swim into the natural world, history, and decision making. Jon utilized his skills of place based education. SCA Manchester was dutifully engaged, hopefully questioning inside their purpose of being here and what mark they will leave on the program.
The day wound down by a fire on the Spruce Pond beach complemented rightfully so by smores and hot chocolate. The high school crew chatted, observed their peers, and met who they will be working with on conservation projects in this year. Spontaneous games of ninja and soccer sprang up on the beach and several took the time to just look out on the pond to ponder where the harsh winter had gone.
With Spring just around the corner, SCA Manchester headed home-much louder and more lively than the ride in. The team has begun to form, the conservation projects are coming in, and the White Mountains are calling soon.