Reﬂection is a key part of the SCA experience and over the past few and unusual months, many SCA alumni have shared with us the insights they have gained upon reﬂection. In 2019, Joe Negen, a student at the University of Michigan, participated in SCA’s Adirondack Corps, a five-month residential AmeriCorps program based in the mountains of northeastern New York. This year, Joe’s been thinking a lot about last year.
It was about a year ago that I arrived in the Adirondacks and have been doing some reﬂecting on my experiences a year out from when I arrived. I thought I would share them with you.
First reﬂection: I miss the woods.
As the weather is starting to turn warmer and the bugs are coming back out in Michigan (no black ﬂies, thankfully), I’m reminded of the connection that I felt to the land and the forest while I was working. I still spend a lot of time outside and have been camping a few times this spring, but nothing replaces the deep connection that I got from living and working outside.
Second Reﬂection: Trail work prepared me better for the COVID-19 pandemic than just about anything else.
When the coronavirus really started to hit the US (that week in March when the NBA cancelled their season and everything else went down), my brother and I were living in Whitefish, Montana (near Glacier National Park) working as ski instructors at the resort in town. We had to make a tough decision to pack up our lives and drive back to Michigan to be with our family. Before I did the ADK Corps, that’s the kind of decision-making that would have paralyzed me but, like choosing a rock [to use while building a trail], I looked at the available information and made the best call I could at the time.
I also know that the mental fortitude and stability that trail work taught me has been one of my biggest assets during this whole thing. Just like you get up, make breakfast, and go to stretch circle every morning, no matter how muddy it is or how sore you are. I’ve been able to get up and work, no matter what’s going on in the world outside me.
Third Reﬂection: ADK Corps changed me in ways I didn’t even realize at the time.
When I left New York, I knew I was going to be a different person going forward, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that looked like. I’ve gotten a slightly better idea now that it’s been a year.
1. I’m more effective. I didn’t realize how much better I would become at creative work, technical skills, and other “computer job” skills as a result of my time in the woods. But I can work harder, for longer, with significantly better results now than I could before I spent time behind the sledge hammer (and rock bar, and in the mineral pit). I can’t quite put my finger on what changed but something clicked into place.
2. I’m a better communicator and leader. This is probably the biggest thing I learned and gained from my experience in NY. I really learned when to shut up and let other people talk (something that’s not always been my specialty). This skill was especially valuable when teaching five-year-olds how to ski. I’m excited to get back to school and be a leader in my student organizations, and on campus as whole, with this new approach.
3. I really understand how little I know. As you may recall from what I said above, I’ve got an answer for just about anything. But few things humble you like the trail, and I feel that today as much as I did when I was out there working. Probably even more so now. I had to approach every day on the trail as an opportunity to learn, and that’s been one of the things I’m proudest to have carried over from my experience in NY.
As the ADK Corps starts its 22nd year, you all have been in my thoughts and I’m wishing you the best this year! Thank you for all you’ve done for me, and continue to do for others.
Posted with the writer’s permission.