NOLS courses are hard.
My jaw thrusts downward and outward while my hands cup the sides of my mouth. “Rrreeddd tent, close your vestibule” I yell from my tent door through the howling darkness that envelopes my tent. A day prior the weather forecast had called for 100+ kilometers/hour winds in New Zealand’s Canterbury High Country. Now, spread wide, my arms ache from holding up tent walls, pushing back, for hours; the nor’wester wind barrels hard and fast down through the Cameron Valley. Zippers jangle and shovels clatter on rocks as they are pushed around, adding metal staccato to the howl. I watch headlamps in the red tent move toward the door. There is no reply, but door is gathered in, zipped, and the flapping stops. Nobody is asleep.
Moonlight and reflective snow allow clear vision of the three other tents. I watch Travis get out, move rocks and tighten guy lines, fighting the good fight, doing what needs to get done. I emerge from my tent for the second time that night to do the same as Travis. The wind, the tent, and I argue over the closing of the vestibule door close before I turn and struggle to stand up in the relentless, invisible wind; I give up and stay low. Several of our guy lines flop wildly in the wind. I grab and slowly secure them in an essential battle of attrition. After securing the mothership I tour student’s shelters. Things look tight but the four person, sitting crossways to the winds, is in need of reinforcements. “Hey four person, someone get out here and tighten these guy lines.” I shake the tent and ask for their help before wandering off to the rock field and grabbing a large block. Joe emerges from the tent, his large frame unfolding into the wind and arms spreading, kite like, as he wrestles himself into a puffy jacket. Together we pile more rocks and tighten things up, fighting a never-ending battle.
I crawl back into my vestibule and shake off the cold and resume my position bracing the tent from the wind. My tent mates look at me; we share knowing smiles and shake our heads. I don’t bother delayering.
NOLS courses are hard, but they are just practice.
The howling isn’t always the wind, the rough seas, or the four day storm. Right now, and for so long, the howling has been injustice, systemic racism, and overt racism of people in power. Right now it is just louder and stronger. Most of us will never again wake at 3AM and roll huge rocks onto guy lines; lie on the snow, in the rain and wind, while sewing a tent back together; or hike thirty miles over five days with no food. But right now, sleeping with our clothes on, crawling out of our tents, and working together to end injustice is paramount. Right now our arms need to ache from holding signs, raising our fists in protest, and resisting; lives depend on it. Right now, we all need to be actively anti-racist. There will always be a backcountry to escape and find solace; now is not the time. If you want to test your mettle, test it standing in solidarity. Test it by looking inward, assessing complicity. Silence and escapism condones violence.
NOLS teaches four leadership roles, which embody seven skills. NOLS teaches that every action, everything we do, is leadership. Someone is watching, waiting, seeing what you will do. Don’t let them down. You don’t have to be the organizer, you don’t have to be the loudest voice, but, if that is what calls to you, do it. Leadership is putting on a mask, going to a protest, educating yourself, standing together. Donate money if you have it. Donate time. Show up; do your part. You won’t always get it right; be open to that. Leadership is empathy. Leadership is owning our part. Leadership is working to change ourselves. Leadership is standing against injustice. Use your strengths. Leverage the strengths around you. Don’t make excuses.
Step forward. Now is the time to lead.
Featured Image: adapted from https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die