Sawing, Splitting, and Other Outdoor Skills

Last Saturday was our first-ever outdoor skills training. Every Saturday we learn new outdoor skills in preparation for Chewonki’s three experience peaks; outdoor leadership weekend, solos, and our backcountry expeditions. This year is also very special because at the end of May, we will be going to the heart of Maine’s North Woods to Fourth Debsconeag Lake. During that time, we will explore the woods, hike and canoe, and have a big community celebration at a magical place to celebrate the end of our semester. But before then, we need to gather the necessary skills for camping such as outdoor cooking, how to read a map and compass, and how to make GORP and the famous Chewonki granola bars.

For our first outdoor skills training session, the Outdoor Program Coordinators (OPCs) wanted to start off with something “easy,” so we learned how to saw and split wood. For someone who had never even started a fire before Chewonki, I felt a little apprehensive about the idea of sawing through a branch and swinging an axe. We set up the stations and the OPC went through how to saw and split safely, meanwhile I was standing in the back thinking to myself, “how am I ever going to do this?”

One by one, people were sawing and chopping wood, until it was my turn to pick up the huge handsaw and start working. I started out with very timid strokes, not wanting to make a mistake, but it didn’t take me long to get into a groove. In no time, I had sawed through the log. I had a new sense of empowerment which I took with me over to the splitting station. One thing that I learned after splitting wood is that nothing compares to taking all of one’s stress out with an axe. I left feeling so powerful and strong. It was the best way to start off my morning.

Next, we split into cabin groups to compete in three different challenges: fire making, tent pitching with a twist, and the “leave no trace” relay. The fire making station was set up Survivor-style, with two opposing fire pits and a string about one and a half feet above them. We had to build a fire high enough to burn through the string to claim victory. Unfortunately, our fire never got any larger than the match we used to light it. We had gathered all the necessary materials, but it had rained the night before and all of our sticks were wet, so no fire for us.

After a humiliating defeat, we approached the tent building with a burning thirst for victory. A couple of us had already used these tents for past trips, and tent building isn’t as unpredictable as fire making. We pitched our tent with no complications and creamed the other cabin going against us.

Last was the “leave no trace” relay. There are seven steps for leaving no trace and my cabin had come up with fun hand motions to remember each step. This relay ended in a tie because the other cabin was faster than us, but we had more correct answers. I still maintain that we won the relay, but whatever. I’m not salty about it. 

Spending my Saturday morning chopping wood and coming up with fun hand motions with my cabinmates was the best way to start off semester 66’s first weekend at Chewonki. It taught me that trying new things might seem daunting, but in the end are rewarding. And even though my cabin can’t start a fire to save their lives, they are actually the most fun group of girls I have ever met. 

Mia Levine, The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, GA

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