When I was teaching full time, the mountains were where I recharged my batteries nearly every summer. I still find the mountains, and particularly Rocky Mountain National Park, one of my top destinations no matter how many times I've visited in the past. There is something inspiring about the mountain views, comforting in familiar surroundings, and challenging as we seek new things to see and do.
With each return visit, the challenge is finding new thing(s) can we see or do in addition to revisiting old favorites. This year's new emphasis was hiking on trails we haven't done before, but ones that would work with our fitness levels and age. Yes, those considerations matter if we want to have a good trip! Note to self: preparation increases the chances of success.
We started with some walking (shopping!) and low level (although nothing is really level in the mountains) hikes so we could get used to the altitude. One of the things I decided to try this time around was a walking stick for the trails. So my first souvenir purchase was a walking stick. It felt good in my hand as I walked from shop to shop and I thought I was set! Then I forgot my hiking stick the first time out on an actual trail. Note to self: New tools require new habits!
We visited an area of the park that had been affected by a flood a couple of years ago, noting the changes and the renovations that had occurred. Just like the people you meet, you don't know what has happened in their lives to bring them to this point that affects their attitudes, behaviors, or results. Note to self: Be mindful of circumstances that may change what was once familiar.
The next day our hikes increased in length and intensity. And just as we'd hoped, we saw sights we'd never seen before. My homework was paying off (and so was that new walking stick!). We opted to get off the road and away from the popular destinations and hike trails that led us to beautiful, cascading water falls in an area of the park we rarely visited. My walking stick made these new trails easier to navigate, so my husband decided he needed one too! The enjoyment was in our new adventure. Laughter prevailed as we failed at taking timed photos, and succeeded at retrieving a dropped an apple from the rushing water. Note to self: Get off the beaten path. Be present. Enjoy the moments.
After the intensity of the previous day, we explored our favorite lake trails that required more energy to take pictures than it did to complete the hikes. But the steps kept registering on my fitness device and we made progress. Note to self: Take time to rest so you can accomplish the rest.
All of this preparation led up to our last hiking destination - a lake many hike to each day, as evidenced by the fact it has it's own trail head destination on the park service shuttle service route. We asked questions about the best route (there were 3 options) and we enacted our plan. It was a great hike; harder than we imagined in some places with the steep, rocky terrain challenging our physical skills, but not our resolve. We paused frequently to rest, talk with other hikers, take pictures, and tend to my blisters (I should have worn the other pair of shoes!). This was not a race but a journey. We allowed other hikers along the trail to "play through," but their speed did not deter us one bit. The beautiful views from the trail were just as rewarding as our destination would be, as the canopy of tall pines that shaded our path also provided my husband with another walking stick (or two!). But the ultimate reward was that first glimpse of the mountain lake, surrounded by majestic peaks and thick forests. We were refreshed by the breeze, but wished it would die down momentarily to still the waters and give us the reflection every photographer seeks! Note to self: The greatest things in life don't come from our comfort zones.
Surprisingly the hike back down the trail wasn't as easy as we often believe it will be - since we went up, up, up and now we're headed down, down, down. The rocky terrain and steep descents made for treacherous footing and a slow go. But once again, I was inspired by sights I hadn't noticed on the way up because I was focused on the path and not what was around me. The extra walking sticks my husband picked up turned out to be helpful tools as we navigated the steep and rocky path. We took turns leading and determining the best path through rugged sections of the trail. We encouraged each other and offered advice to hikers heading up the trail. We rejoiced as we passed through the smoother, flatter parts of the trail. Slow and steady brought us home and kept my blisters at bay. Our biggest challenge was over. It was the last leg of our journey before we prepared to head home. Note to self: Together Everyone Achieves More.
This whole vacation experience has been a metaphor for life and actually, a lot like school. Each year I was inspired by my colleagues to work hard and achieve new goals; comforted in returning to familiar surroundings and routines; and challenged to try new things and help my students be the best they could be. What inspires, comforts and challenges you?
Each school year teachers blend what worked before with what new learner and/or learning challenges are before them. Just as I did my homework this spring once we decided that Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park would be our vacation destination, teachers spent their summer learning new ideas, strategies, and skills to prepare for the upcoming school year. What new thing will you learn to do or place will you visit? How will you turn the routine into something fresh?
Teachers and students alike will look for what they find familiar and blend that with all things new and different. They will rely on knowledge and skills previously learned to support new learning. Teachers will help kids learn by guiding them on practice hikes working up to the ultimate learning goals. How will you prepare for new situations?
There will be challenges and parts of the learning experience that will require perseverance and adjustments to be made. But there will also be beautiful views and successes to be celebrated. We often wonder if it's worth it or if we should walk away. What helps you keep moving forward?
Teachers will use new tools and resources, much like my walking stick, to improve teaching and learning experiences. Those new tools and skills will require some getting used to but in the end will help more than they expected. What resources are available? What else do you need?
Most of all, these journeys are team events for teachers and students alike. But whether you are in education or not, we all need someone to share our journey, support and guide us. We also benefit from others with whom we engage in conversation and share the benefits of our experiences. Before we know it, the school year (or calendar year) will be over. As we look back, we realize new memories were made, lessons were learned, and challenges were met. The reward will be the journey as well as achieving the goal. Note to self: As we hike through life's journeys, what will capture our hearts, challenge our minds and bodies, and make a difference in our own lives and others' too?