My life was shaped by tramping through forests, mountains and deserts. That may be an exceptional thing for someone who grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles in the latter half of the 20th century, but it is true.
When I was 3–1/2 years old, my little sister Cathie was born with severe cerebral palsy. She would spend her 36-year life in a wheelchair. Recognizing that her handicap would impose certain constraints on our family’s way of life, my parents found a retreat in a mountain community about an hour-and-a-half drive from home in Wrightwood, California. We spent most every weekend at our cabin there, and two glorious weeks each summer. Well into my 20s, I continued to go there, staging epic 20-mile hikes through the rugged terrain of the Angeles National Forest with friends and topping it off with beer soaked nights at a tavern called The Yodler.
Wrightwood was a haven and a hideaway and a grand playground for a kid obsessed with frontier history. I could grab my pellet rifle and head out for hours, sometimes with my dad, but most often by myself, imagining stalking the woods with Kentucky frontiersman Simon Kenton or running the ridges with Jim Bridger. We also got Cathie out into the great outdoors, taking her complicated contraption of a wheelchair out into places where it most certainly — and most wonderfully — didn’t belong.
Deeply imprinted upon my memory is the sound of her peals of delighted laughter as we careened dangerously fast along a paved road to an observatory on a peak west of town.
It was a grand way to grow up. Or to avoid “growing up,” since the training of my imagination never deserted me, and found its way out in a lifetime of studying and writing about frontier history. I still live most deeply in those moments when I jump the reservation and get out “chasing buffalo” as Rullman puts it (with a hat tip to Gus McCrae).
I never knew, growing up, that I was living a life of unacceptable risk and danger…
Pity the poor Penn State University Outing Club. The venerable 98-year-old institution has run afoul of the schoolmarms.
(T)he university will not allow the club to organize and run outdoor, student-led trips starting next semester.
“This is a result,” the announcement said, “of an assessment of risk management by the university that determined that the types of activities in which PSOC engages are above the university’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations.”
After a two-month review that did not include consultation with student Outing Club leaders, the university’s offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management made the determination that the hiking, canoeing, kayaking, trail building and camping activities the student-led club has long engaged in are too risky. The club is one of the oldest entirely student-run organizations at Penn State.
“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Lisa Powers, a Penn State University spokeswoman, said in an email response to questions about the school’s assessment.
“In addition to the inherent risks found in many of these student activities that occur without fully trained guides or leaders, the behaviors of some students on unsupervised trips have become a concern. These concerns have, at times, included the misuse of alcohol in the context of already risky activities. This mix is obviously dangerous.”
She said the groups are being “disbanded” in their current high-risk model, where students in the club are able to lead trips, and re-organized to provide more oversight by staff in the university’s Outdoor Adventures program.
The students involved are calling bullshit on the alcohol misuse charge, and anyway, the thrust of the action is sending the message that young adults aren’t actually adults. This is transparently a liability issue, and bureaucratic risk-management for the university. And it’s pathetic.