Storming Norming

Greetings from a Stormy Sunday,

I woke up in a warm bed this morning instead of tucked into my sleeping bag. We’ve got 15 centimetres of snow down with more on the way. Last night I had to make the hard call of bringing the students back in because of the approaching storm. Most were very disappointed.

They’d spent the day snowshoeing into our campsite and then digging quinzhees. A quinzhee is a plains aboriginal snow shelter that is made by first piling up snow, letting it settle, and then digging out the centre. It allows for snow shelters to be build where there isn’t the kind of snow that allows blocks to be cut (and igloos to be built).

You’d think the students would have been relieved to miss the long cold night of a winter’s night. Instead, they were genuinely disappointed in missing out on part of their experience they’d be getting ready for-the culmination of a weeks of training. I can understand–I know the disappointment of turning back from a summit because of weather. It happened to me in 2006 when weather turns us back from the summit of Mount Elbrus, not once, but twice.

Just this week, I committed to a team that is climbing Elbrus (Europe’s highest peak) in July. I originally hoped to retry the mountain from the north side but logistics were proving too much to pull off so I’ll try again for the twinned summits from the south in 2009.

Back to the students, what I did see alongside the disappointment was the glow of accomplishment. I was proud of them and they were proud of themselves for an excellent effort in both the physical tasks of staying warm and healthy in a winter environment and the emotional tasks of taking on a new challenge. Some of the students had never even camped outside in the summer; some had never played in the snow. They same students were found smack in the middle of the digging process taking on their fears with patience, laughter, and support of their peers.

I was speaking to a group recently about fear. I borrowed a portion of a quote…”courage is not the absence of fear” but rather the ability to move forward despite fear or through fear. Courage is when we do what scares us. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is watching students take on their fears and move through them to a new understanding and appreciation of themselves. They “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Courage is also knowing when to say when. To stop. To retreat. To descend, to climb another day. Sometimes it takes more courage to stop than to continue. To stay rather than leave. To leave rather than stay. We each need find our own way in working with fear and challenge and what is the right path for one, it not for the other. We must choose our challenges for them to be fully our own and for us to benefit from them.

I’m off to shovel. Have a good week.


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