When I was growing up, my parents were active Sierra Club members. Almost as soon as I could walk, we were going on weeklong trips to the Sierras, first with pack animals carrying our gear and eventually packing everything we needed for ten days on our backs (as the youngest, I was allowed to carry the lightest ration of group gear: a few rolls of toilet paper and the gas canisters for the wilderness stove). I climbed my first mountain when I was nine, learned early what “leave no trace” means, how brilliant the stars in the night sky are once you get away from civilization, and how to recognize constellations. Most importantly, I developed a lifelong reverence for the beauty of California’s uninhabited backcountry and early on understood how important it is to preserve that beauty for future generations.
I thought about that early education today when I attended a brunch for an amazing nonprofit, Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT). In response to a growing worry that young people are losing our essential connection with nature, BAWT gets youth outside. They train organizations on how to lead wilderness trips, they loan out camping gear, and partner with the Crissy Field Center, Presidio Trust and other organizations to sponsor a program called Camping in the Presidio (at the Rob Hill campground, just up the hill from where I live but which might as well be another world if you have never camped). At today’s brunch, we heard from Sister Stephanie Hughes and a group of children from her Lazarus House, just back from a windy night spent at Slide Ranch. Sister Stephanie was exhausted, but she and the children described how exhilarating it was to spend the night outside, hearing the wind howl outside the tents.
In their 10 years of existence, BAWT has provided training and gear that has helped over 11,000 local youth get outside and experience nature. But this amazing organization needs help, because they are struggling with the economic downturn — even as demand for their services is higher than ever before. Being outside for a few days, away from electricity and running water and all of the technological comforts we all take for granted, you begin to remember how simple it is to be happy. A hot meal, good conversation around the campfire, and a warm sleeping bag under the Milky Way are really all it takes. Take Swiss Miss: it’s kind of disgusting if you make it at home in your own kitchen, but there is nothing like it on a cold night in the mountains after dinner, sipped out of a Sierra Club cup.
Bay Area Wilderness Training needs your help, and it is indeed a worthy cause.