Mountain School Reflections #3: Emily Schauble

Walking Through the Forest

by Mountain School Instructor Emily Schauble

The second morning of Mountain School dawned to cloud blanketed skies and a nip of frost on the ground. After spending much of yesterday learning on the shores of Diablo Lake while soaking up a few unexpected rays of sun, I could see our students were eager to explore deeper into the forest. Moving our bodies to start the day felt good and helped us stay warm in this not-quite-spring air. Leaving the Environmental Learning Center’s campus behind, we waved to other trail groups setting off on their own explorations as we stepped over fallen trees—remnants of last season’s winter storms.

As we pushed on through the tall stands of Douglas fir and scrubby underbrush the echoes of laughter from the other groups became distant, then fell away altogether. Soon the only noise we could hear was the sound of our own chit chat. What about the sounds of the forest – the burbling streams, drumming woodpeckers, and other creatures? With a group of young students, full of energy and excitement for being in the out of doors, I was certain that the only wildlife we would encounter would be the ones firmly rooted in the ground.

Upon arriving at the Fawn Creek shelter one student asked, to both my surprise and delight, “Can we stop and journal?” prompting us to all choose sit spots. Mesmerized by their willingness to use their senses to engage with nature, fifteen minutes passed by altogether too swiftly and it was with reluctance that I called the group back together to continue on our way. Maybe we would see more on our hike than just plants …

At the old Sourdough Shelter we  paused for a snack break and began to talk more about the animals of the forest and how they’re adapted for survival in this ecosystem. The deer needs to be aware of the cougar to stay alive, and the cougar needs to listen for the deer in order to find a meal. The animals hear us too, I noted to the group. They’re always listening to what is around them. What would happen if we walked silently, like a cougar? How would our perspective of the forest change? We took a vote and unanimously decided to try walking silently together along the trail, in hopes of seeing more wildlife.

Rounding a bend less than five minutes from Sourdough we see first one deer, then two, three, no six! black tail deer scattered about in the brush alongside a trickling stream. The whole group stood stock still and watched, not wanting to startle the gentle creatures. It seemed like everyone was holding their breath. We remained quiet until returning back to the shelter where we shared our observations and excitement. Everyone, even our most quiet students, had something they wanted to share from this experience.

As we hiked back down towards campus we passed another trail group heading up. Our students shared with them where we saw the deer and quickly taught their friends how to walk with quiet steps. Later that evening I checked in with that instructor—their trail group also spotted the deer!

I come from a place where seeing deer is very common, but for these students from Seattle this may have been one of their very first close up nature encounters. It was clear to see how spellbound they were during this experience. Being able to witness these moments of awe in nature is one of the reasons that I wanted to become an environmental educator when I began studying at university.

As I begin my first season of Mountain School with the North Cascades Institute, I’m already certain that I will have many more magical nature moments like this in the woods with students.


Getting young people outside to learn, play, discover, reflect, and share is at the heart of a healthy life. Make a gift today!

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