The Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto has a wonderful teaching-learning style. Every year, the incoming batch of students is given a preview … a curtain-raiser if you must, to what they will be studying as well as an example of a beautifully-managed Haliburton Forest that they can draw upon as they go through each semester.
This trailer entails a visit to a universe within a city where life takes on a verdant shade, away from the clanking of city streets.
I am fortunate enough to be part of that group.
What I learnt was not just what it takes to manage a forest and/or points that will help me with my studies but things about myself. As a new bunch of students who have known each other only a few hours, when put in a situation – strange and vulnerable – as we were, what emerges is our true personality. So this may sound like bragging but we are a mighty awesome group.
There was always good-natured ribbing, early-morning grumbling and complaints about how much we had to hike but the fact that we were all in it together made it an experience worth the while.
Our professors – caretakers as we sometimes referred to them – made sure that it wasn’t all learning and we had time to have fun. They were always there with a joke, a smile, a comforting word or an encouraging nod.
Here’s a for instance: I am one of those people who is accident-prone. So it wasn’t very surprising that I fell handsomely when climbing down a slope, walking through a springy, mossy area through the forest and while climbing over fallen logs. But I also like to try adventurous things. One of the things I was most looking forward to during our trip to Haliburton was the canopy walk. By the time I got to get up on the canopy trail it had started to get quite dark and although I was paired-up with one of the most wonderful, patient classmates who actually helped me every step of the way, about halfway through the walk I gave up. I figured I am not very sure-footed on terra firma, so it would be quite frightening for our professors if I lost my step quite a few feet up in the air (in spite of it being completely safe) because it was dark and I couldn’t see well or was in a hurry to get off. Our guide helped me get off, and I was embarrassed as I told our chief caretaker that I chickened out. He replied, “don’t sell yourself short. You tried and got halfway through. That is all that matters.”
That made all the difference.
My peeps have not asked me any questions about it, have not made fun about it or even mentioned it. They simply appreciate that I tried and knew when to call it quits. (The only other time I was this comfortable with a group was when I was a fellow at The Poynter Institute).
Just as it was at The Poynter Institute, here at the Faculty of Forestry, I know that I have 25 people around me who will always be there for me, and I hope I will be there for them. We know we can trust each other, learn and yet have fun.
I look forward to the next 16 months.