A fish out of water
November 7, 2021
crying in the dressing room of a JCPenney is not how I like to describe the start of a great adventure. However, it’s how I started mine.
I preface this embarrassing piece of information with how I have a panic disorder. Not the, “public speaking makes me anxious,” kind of anxiety, but the kind of anxiety that will hit me like a brick to the face in the middle of class because someone made eye contact with me for three seconds too long. The, “I can’t wear orange, because people will look at me, and then I’ll just have to die,” kind of anxiety.
It surprised me when I found my hands typing a request to go camping in Mendocino Woodlands State Park with Chico State Parks and Recreation Professor Jesse Engebretson and Sacramento State Professor David Rolloff, who were leading students on field study camps in California State National Parks as part of an ongoing question of what a classroom could look like.
So here I was, two months later, about to take the four-hour drive to Mendocino to join the field study camp. I was stressed, running late and stuffed like a sardine into a tiny car packed with too many things. Yet, somehow, I had forgotten things at home.
“A blue silicone fox-shaped plate from the kids section,” I had thought, “perfect!”
“Salt, sugar, or a camping chair? Not important. A massive hunting knife with a built-in fire-starter and whistle? Absolutely.”
Despite growing up in the forested mountain town of Paradise, I never had the money growing up to go camping. We grew up very poor; my mother was disabled and she and I lived off her disability checks. I took care of her and that — paired with chronic illness that put her in the hospital frequently — made camping impossible.
I’ve always loved being outside, though. A program in sixth grade called “Evergreen,” exposed me to hiking and camping in the surrounding national parks. It was like any other sixth-grade class, but it had a strong focus on getting students outdoors. We went hiking at Mt. Lassen and Feather Falls, and we spent time learning how to cultivate a garden and practice sustainability. The program ended the school year with a three-day camping trip to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. It was incredible, and the experience cemented my love of the outdoors.
That same little kid-brained part of me jumped for joy at the thought of camping among the redwoods.