Wilderness FLC: Bonding in Nature

By Faculty Andrew Herwig

Looking to go beyond the traditional on-campus FLC experience, six adventurous families chose to trek to (and around) the Black Wilderness Preserve in Eustis, Maine. The Wilderness FLC is an opportunity to bond with your family member while camping, cooking over fire, hiking, and canoeing–and, of course, enjoying the seminar experience around a campfire.

Our group arrived on the gorgeous property before lunch on Sunday morning. We transitioned our gear into water tight “dry bags” and made our way down to the edge of Flagstaff Lake. Loading all of our gear for the weekend into canoes, each family worked together to paddle their way to our campsite half an hour up the lake.

Pulling our canoes onto the beach, it became clear what a special four days it would be. The leaves had begun their transition from summer greens to autumn yellows and reds. The water was cool and the air was crisp. After some lunch, we set up camp.

The rest of the daylight was spent getting to know one another, primarily while preparing dinner and enjoying the warmth of our campfire. With six families on the trip, they broke into three teams that rotated through the major responsibilities of camp. The first team was responsible for splitting wood which they would use to build and maintain the fire. The second team was tasked with feeding our group of sixteen. The third team did the day’s dishes. Each pair of families rotated through the jobs from day to day. After dinner we gathered around the fire for a gingerbread dessert and our first seminar as a group.

Day Two started with a delicious spread of scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, sausages, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, and was our opportunity to explore one of the nearby mountains. After our morning meal we once again loaded our canoes to paddle back to our bus. Twenty minutes later we stood at the trailhead of Burnt Mountain, adjacent to the Sugarloaf ski area.

The hike, approximately 2.6 miles each way, found it’s summit around 3,600 ft. We carried lunch with us to enjoy just below the alpine zone. While strenuous for some, this hike presented our group with the opportunity to push themselves, ask for help, work together, and appreciate the natural beauty of the area. With 360 degree panoramic views from the summit, the group located some of the landmarks near our property in the distance. Our 600+ acres may feel expansive on foot, but this vantage point provided some appreciated context.

After returning to camp, everyone was ready to warm up around the fire while the cook-team assembled a large pot of chili for dinner. Heaping portions of cheese, hot sauce, tortilla chips, and delicious cornbread rounded out the meal. Having finished dinner too late to start a seminar, we spent the remainder of the night journaling and preparing for the next day.

Making camp
Making camp

With rain and high wind in the afternoon forecast, we abandoned our day’s canoe trip and moved straight into the “family solo” after breakfast. This is a time when we ask each family to pack some warm layers, bring their journaling from the night before, and head out to explore the property. The family solo is the climax of the WFLC, providing the time they need to grow as a family. This can also serve as time to begin their Final Letter, to be shared at the final evening seminar.

Each of the families made their way back to camp in time to find shelter before the rain. We enjoyed some more time around the fire, worked on letters, and began preparations for our final dinner together: cast iron coal-cooked pizzas.

Throwing log after log into the fire, we finally had enough of a coal bed built up to cook. Each family had a cast-iron dutch oven in which to assemble their pizza. Once covered, the dutch oven was nestled into the coals, with more coals on top of the lid, and baked to golden brown perfection. This meal is always a highlight of the trip!

The pizzas cooking in the dutch ovens.
The pizzas cooking in the dutch ovens.

After rounding out the trip with our final letter seminar, we began to debrief. Inspired by a school meeting run by Ken Grant earlier this month, I reminded each of our participants of all the work they have done to be where they are today. Some may be proud while others may feel disappointed. “No matter where you are today,” I borrowed from Ken, “there is always another place to go. An even better place. An even more fulfilling place.” I asked them to consider what this place looks like and what it would take to get there. Sharing those hopes and answers brought our weekend to a close.

If you’re reading this, I ask you to do the same. Where are you now and how are you feeling about that place? What is next for you? What is next for your family? And what would it take to get to that even better, even more fulfilling place?