Posts Tagged ‘Summer’
After a VERY busy summer here at CAT, I had a chance to take a short solo camping trip last week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a GREAT trip – utterly beautiful.
For me, getting into the wilderness centers me and grounds me. It gently, almost imperceptibly pushes aside all the things that don’t matter, and reminds me of who I am. It allows me to be fully present in the moment.
That respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – it helps me get back to calm after a busy, hectic, exciting, fabulous summer. And so I am reminded, also, how important that respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – how important that is for our young people.
Don’t get me wrong – there was plenty of excitement, too! A solo kayak camping trip is not something to be taken lightly. The weather changes just as dramatically whether you’re solo or with a group. When it comes down to it, the Lake is in charge.
You have to know and understand the risks. You have to know your own skills and limits. You have to respect the weather and the conditions. You have to be ready to change your plans, whether you want to or not. You may well be nervous, even scared, during parts of your trip.
I had several tricky judgement calls to make. For instance – one should not paddle with water spouts! On Day 2 I paddled around a point to find a water spout front and center. I got ready to turn around and hightail it back to land – but I paused because I was mesmerized by the beauty and the awe of the water and the spout. As I watched, the water spout and the rest of its cloud moved east quickly, there was clear sky behind it to the west, and I was traveling north. I kept paddling in calm waters and the water spout eventually disappeared.
Or how about this one? You should not paddle in conditions beyond your limit. Listen to the forecast and heed it. The night before I planned to paddle out, the forecast was calling for 4-7 foot waves the next day. I like to play in those conditions with friends on a sandy beach with an unloaded boat. I do NOT paddle in those conditions solo around cliffs with a loaded boat! The conditions didn’t materialize in my sheltered bay the next day but I was concerned about north winds and the north-facing point I needed to round in order to get home. I watched, and could see that the bay had waves less than a foot high – well within my limits as a solo paddler. I could see larger waves on the horizon, but it looked like my point was still in the lee of the rest of the island. And I could see that there was a safe place for me to go where I could see around the point. I paddled out, reminding myself that if conditions warranted I MUST go back and re-set camp to paddle out two days after my planned departure, when the winds were forecast to settle down again. I got to my observation spot of the point to find a few gentle 3 foot waves – at the edge of what I’m willing to do solo, and diminishing the farther around the point I could see. I paddled out that day.
So I ended up paddling solo with water spouts one day and in a 4-7 foot forecast the next. Without the background info, I would call bad judgment if I heard about someone doing that.
But it was fabulous, it was safe, and the combination of respite and honed observation or risk had remarkably rejuvenating effects. The combination of respite, pause, a chance for worry to fall away on the one hand; and excitement, risk, careful consideration of sensory stimulation sorted through a filter of what we know about our chosen activity – this combination can get our brain working well. It can get our brain making creative connections, without the overstimulation and inability to stop that comes with chronic trauma or with other constant, unending stimulation. I won’t go into the brain chemistry and morphology involved – it’s fascinating and deeply relevant for the work we do with Chicago youth, but I won’t do it justice. My brain certainly started working better. As did my heart and my soul.
I had lots of ideas about CAT programming, about a staff retreat out here, about all sorts of stuff. What I am left with is this:
We talk a lot about the importance of respite for our young people. Providing for respite is recognized as one of the necessary components of trauma-based interventions. I think that sometimes we forget what that really means, and why it’s so important. We get caught up in making sure we’re matching the right theory with the right population; that we’ve got an effective debrief; that we’re building life skills that can be measured in order to prove we’re doing quality work with important outcomes; that we can articulate why and how we do what we do. The list of important considerations goes on and on.
What I am left with after this trip is the visceral reminder of the importance of respite.
I am home now, the cook set and other gear is washed and put away, and I have returned to find fall waiting for me. It’s a season when we do a lot of reflection and planning. We want our young people to learn to assess the risk in their lives and develop skills for managing it. We want them to be able to think critically in the midst of nervousness or fear. We want them to make good decisions. We want a lot of things for our young people!
This fall I will remember that as we carefully plan interventions that allow our young people to assess risk, to think before they act, to communicate clearly, to solve problems effectively, to develop a personal confidence they hadn’t had before – I will remember that this active part of our programming must always be balanced with respite, pause, and a chance for the worries to fall away. At its best, our programming should gently, almost imperceptibly push aside all the things that don’t matter, and allow our young people to be fully present in the moment. It should remind them of who they are.
Wishing you all a great fall, full of challenge and respite!
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
We’ve had a busy summer. We have more, but it’s drawing to a close. As we get just a bit less busy, I find myself contemplating the summer. The range of emotions I’ve felt working with our youth has been as wide as the Grand Canyon. The program that brought me to tears the most frequently was the gang prevention program we work with in Little Village.
Yes – I admit it – the guys brought me to tears, and more than once.
I cried when I got the email from our contact there saying he needed to cancel a program because they were holding a funeral for one of the youth that day. The young man was shot and killed.
I cried when one of the guys showed up with bruises all over his face because he’d been “beat out.” He’d made a decision to leave the gang – which meant that he had to show up for a scheduled appointment to be beat up by the people who’d been his closest friends for years. I cried because I was so proud of him. I cried because no kid – no person – should have to be beat up by their closest friends in order to live a life that isn’t bound by violence. I cried because I can’t imagine having the strength to change the course of my life like that, in opposition to my peers, when I was 16 years old. I cried because when it came down to it, I didn’t know what to make of it, or, really, just how to feel. I cried that we live in such a world. I cried that our youth live in such a world. I cried for the hope of changing the world for these guys.
I cried when we went camping with this group, too – when they started talking about beauty at the end of the trip. I was stunned when someone said that our evening paddle on the trip was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. I cried because I often forget the beauty at Devil’s Lake – I’ve been incredibly lucky to go to many places I consider more beautiful. So it brought me up short to realize the lack of beauty in these guys’ lives. And it made me cry because of the impact that beauty can have on a person. These are tough guys – their peer who was killed earlier in the summer was much like them. They’re all familiar with violence. But there was such softness in their faces when, just for a moment, they talked about beauty.
I almost cry, if it weren’t for the absurdity, when I think about how scared these guys are of the activities we do – especially the climbing and kayaking. But that they’re not scared to pack a gun or Hunting Rifles. That they have a hard time trusting the safety of a belay system or a life jacket; but they don’t understand that much of the activity in their daily lives is more dangerous. You can imagine we talked a lot about safety and risk management with them.
I laughed so hard I cried – and nearly peed my pants! – when we did a Harbor cleanup with them. At the very end, one of the land-based crews spotted money floating all over the water, and sitting on the bottom as well! So – probably not my best moment – but with their suggestion, prompting, laughter and disbelief – I dove for the money. Yes, I dove for singles with the serial numbers cut out. I came up with fistfuls of money, to their disbelief not that I would dive for money, but that I would get into that water. And, despite their disbelief, to directions about where next to dive! The intensity of their directions was hilarious! We called the police, made a report, and turned over the money – because it was the right thing to do, and bills with serial numbers cut out are a little sketchy, to say the least! (I was impressed with how they handled themselves around the cops, too.) The spontaneity, shared laughter, engagement and absurdity that we all shared was one of the greatest moments of my summer. A summer that started with us not knowing if these guys would ever open up to us in the least; or if we’d be able to forge the slightest connection with them.
Thank you for making so much possible!
Thanks you for changing lives.
My thanks, too, to our many partners, especially The Northwest Passage, Lincoln Park and Lakeview Athletic Clubs, Bike Chicago, and Alliance for the Great Lakes
Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Founder and Director