Semester 35: “We are off on our first big adventure!”

Hello everyone!  You will read this after we have left for expedition, but we write this first update as we pack and get ready to leave on the trip. Though this is only Day 4, the happy sounds coming from campus make it seem as if we have been in Leadville for much longer!

School started on August 19. As soon as we saw Josh (our English teacher) and Whitney (our Spanish teacher) holding up the HMI sign in the Denver Airport, it hit us that we had finally arrived at the place we had been thinking about for months. At the airport, the 48 students who flew to Colorado from all over the country introduced themselves and helped each other find their bags. Once we found all the bags, we packed up the HMI vans and headed to the mountains. The drive seemed long, and we were all feeling the impacts of the high altitude, but we still managed to laugh and get to know each other.

After about two hours, we arrived at HMI where excited faculty and students greeted us at the door. Andrew and Chewie gave us our cabin assignments, and we situated ourselves. After an hour of unpacking, we met in Who’s Hall for a delicious stir-fry dinner. After dinner, we had our first circle in Stuen Hall. We passed around a rock (the power object) that HMI used at the very first circle after the founding of HMI 18 years ago. With the passing of the power object, we introduced ourselves and talked about our feelings about being at HMI. We then went off to our cabins for the night already feeling a great level of trust as a community.

Speaking of cabins, they seem to be an outstanding way to bring the semester even closer together. For example, we have stuffed more clothing into each corner and shelf than we thought possible! Boys reside in Cabins One and Two, the girls live in Cabins Three, Four, and Five. The cabins consist of bunk beds and wood burning stoves; the stoves will give us heat during the colder months. Although life in the cabins is pretty different than at home, the social bonds that are already building among each cabin are very amusing. For example, one cabin of guys is calling itself the “muffin men.”  The cabin’s apprentice (a student teacher working at HMI for the semester who also serves as a cabin head) came up with this idea and assigned a different muffin flavor to each guy in the cabin. Some of the nicknames are actually sticking! Although HMI already has a community that allows everyone to be in close, the idea of “cabin mates” drives the ideal of brother/sisterhood between peers.

As we settled in to our new homes, it dawned upon us that the incredible hiking and beautiful atmosphere were not the sole reason we came HMI. All week, we assembled in classrooms for introductory classes that explained what we are to learn this semester. More importantly to the students, however, was the homework assigned for the first expedition. However lengthy the assignments (and some seem very long!), we left these first classes with high hopes and expectations for the academic side of HMI. Science was a great example. Many of us were puzzled at the idea of going outside to study, but Margi’s class ended up being an educational experience as she introduced us to the local plants and animals that surround HMI.

Some of the highlights of our first four days on campus before first expedition included our first community meeting. People listed off aspects of communities they have been part of (we want to keep these), and remembered negative characteristics that some marked groups; these we want to leave behind. Students and faculty compiled white boards full of community expectations and hopes. The night before, we had symbolically written down our expectations and anxieties and burned them in the bonfire, surrounded by a circle of our peers. This allowed us to come together with a clean slate, leaving behind our separate reputations and experiences from home. We students are taking steps to make this semester our own: we have put up a cluster of hammocks and had nightly conversations in this hammock triangle; it promises to be a great hang out spot, at least until it gets cold!

We leave for expedition on Sunday; we spent Friday and Saturday preparing for the two-week trip. The prep began with splitting the students, faculty, and apprentices into small travel groups that consist of around 8-11 people per group. Once this was established, each team got briefed about the mission and the gear required for the long journey ahead. After some useful demos about pitching tarps and using backcountry stoves, we spent time rationing our food supplies into little one-pound bags, which we distributed amongst our groups to put in our travel packs. Finally once all our gear was packed and ready to go, we did one last briefing about the area we were hiking and cleaned up to keep our environment tidy for the rest of the community to use.  All that is left before we are prepared to start our expeditions is to load our packs into the vans and head off to the trailheads. Armed with more cheese, flour, and pasta then we know what to do with, we are off on our first big adventure of HMI!

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