By Riley Meese
You hear, “live and learn above the clouds,” and it is impossible to not become somewhat curious about the Teaching and Research in Environmental Education (TREE) Semester. In some ways, it is this statement that has kept me up here through all the late nights working, crying over a bad day teaching, and being overwhelmed by the community. The fact is: TREE is hard. Between the workload and living with the people you have class with, it can get quite overwhelming.
Then, through all the tears and frustration, there are these “pocket moments” that make me pause and realize how much I cherish being a part of this semester. For me, pocket moments are those small moments in time that you want to hold onto. These are never the big, celebrated views at the top of the mountain, but the random moments in between. The majority of these moments have nature embedded in them, whether it is from direct contact or indirect chance.
Being immersed in nature brings people together, which I have experienced countless times through backpacking trips and camp programs. What these experiences have in common is the lack of distractions that occur. Without service there is no contact to the outside world or social media. Instead, you focus on building relationships with people around you.
TREE is similar, with no service and very limited Wi-Fi, but different in the sense that this is not just a 10-day or two-week trip, and the primary focus is not simply developing friendships with others. When you spend four months with a mere 13 other people, there is bound to be bickering and the need to do more than spend all of our time together. For me, this is when pocket moments occur with nature.
It’s the moment when I’ve stared at a computer screen for the past four hours and cannot will myself to write one more word. Feelings of stress and being overwhelmed are at an all-time high, and I know I need a dose of nature. So, I walk. I go outside into the fresh pure mountain air, and I can smell the wood stove burning, which provides our dorm with heat. I walk until my face is red from the cold. In these moments, I laugh at how my ankles are numb from walking through a foot of snow, and yet 10 minutes ago I was almost in tears over an assignment.
I realize this ability to be so intimately surrounded with nature is a feeling I will probably never get again. This realization hits me in the weirdest times. It can be when I wake up at 6 a.m. to teach and as I open my door to rush outside to the bathroom I see the familiar pink cotton candy sky. Or it could be when I am walking back late at night to my room from Limber (the building with Wi-Fi), and only need the reflection of the moon off of the snow to guide my way through the trees, that I am struck with a sense of awe.
This feeling of bliss doesn’t only happen when I’m alone with nature, but also through shared pocket moments with others at TREE. It’s five of us waking up before the sun to go on a hike through the woods in more than a foot of snow before class, throwing snowballs and sliding down hills and me laughing till my stomach cramps. It’s taking someone to go canoeing with me on a frozen lake, slowly breaking the ice every inch with paddles. These are the in-between moments that I will pull out of my pocket later to remember. Through the hard days, the connections nature has allowed me to develop with this place, and the people, make TREE the program I love.