The Diary of a Field Guide

By Danit Cohen
Lead Field Guide, Winter & Spring 2018

February 27, 10:18pm
“It’s so cold here. My feet are wet and I am wearing every single layer in my bag, and still I can’t get ahold of the shivering. People have normal jobs. I could be working a 9-5 office job someplace and be home in the comfort of my bed right now. Why on earth do I choose to do this?” 

Why DO I do this? The question I’d ask myself in moments like this. The answer: nothing else pushes me to grow quite like this. Working as lead field guide for BaMidbar was, without a doubt, the most challenging, spiritually and intellectually growth-filled, and exciting experiences of my professional life. The best way I’ve learned to decompress is through writing, so that is what I would do on my time off. Included below are excerpts from some of these journal entries, which should give a peek into what it has been like working as a field guide for BaMidbar.

My three favorite things about this job were living outside 24/7, developing a strong relationship with my co-staff, and having the opportunity for personal growth. I simply cannot express in words just how much I love living outside. The simplicity of each moment speaks for itself – no worries from the outside world, no cell service, no connection to anything but the present moment. It is truly therapeutic for me. Nothing compares to the inner peace I feel when I have nothing but the weight of my belongings on my back to worry about.

March 22, 2018 6:48PM
“I keep reminding myself that these are people who are struggling to be functional adults, and it’s our job to push them to develop skills they can take into their lives after the program that will benefit them. When they take 3 hours to complete a task after setting a 30 minute goal, I remind myself of this, I sit back and take a deep breath, and I know that I can just relax because where else do I need to be? It’s a wonderful job in that sense – I get to worry about here & now and nothing else. That in itself is healing.” 

There is no greater feeling than watching a student who came in belligerent and refusing to cooperate with anything, and see them help a new student just one week later get their bag on their back. I’d love to say that I can take credit for that, but it is simply the beauty of the program. The mechanism through which change occurs out in the wilderness is unlike anything I’ve learned about in school. This does not only apply to those struggling with substance use or managing a healthy relationship with family. The wilderness is devoid of anything other than the present moment, and the decision we make in that moment will bring us to the next one. How we want the moments that follow to look is entirely up to the individual. One cannot rely on anyone but oneself, and this model of extreme ownership over what happens helps teach responsibility.

March 27, 2018 11:29PM
“Do I enjoy this job? Sometimes I feel my patience is dwindling. I don’t believe I have it in me to keep on, and in those times I don’t want to continue. Who likes doing things they’re not good at? Certainly not I. Still, this is no good reason to quit. In fact, it points to exactly the opposite. When things get rough, when it’s 2am and we are still pushing through to find the campsite, when I feel I’m at the end of my line and I want to run away, and it feels like things could not possibly get any harder, that’s how I know this is all worth it. Growth. Where else could I get more of it? Certainly not from staying in my comfort zone. Comfort zone, stretch zone, and panic zone. If all three exist in my workspace, I’d say that’s a pretty good indicator it’s a good place to be.” 

A friend once taught me that when I stay in my comfort zone, I do not grow. It is only when I venture out into my stretch zone that I can start to expand the boundaries within which I exist. This is the world I lived in at BaMidbar, the world of -10 degree wake-ups and snowstorm filled hikes. The world of tireless nights and fighting to hold my ground. The world where physical comfort took a backseat for weeks on end in order to live fully with the students. It is the world in which I grow and thrive, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

April 23, 2018 5:57pm 
The working relationship I have with my co-staff is excellent; we are very communicative about our needs and empathetic to each others’ needs, which makes for an open and honest working relationship. Not only that, we have fun together. We’re able to push each other, give & receive meaningful feedback, and give space for self improvement.” 

April 26, 2018 6:50pm
“I am feeling an overwhelming amount of awe and gratitude for my life right now. I’m looking out at Long’s Peak and the rest of the Rocky Mountain National Park peaks and wondering what on earth it is that brought me to this place. So many good things-I got here by simply following the things I enjoy doing. Surrounding myself with people who have good values. Being fortunate enough to have the support necessary to get here. Sheer interest and drive. I love it. All of it. I love knowing I could have been somewhere else but I chose to be HERE. In these mountains, working with people I love, for people I also love. These students, they’re special. I love the job, I love the work. I am proud of myself. I am pushed, I am challenged and I am growing immensely out here. Grateful for those who have taught and guided me.” 

When it comes down to it, there truly is nothing else I’d rather be doing. It certainly has its tough moments, which only make the good ones all that more worth it. Each and every struggle is followed by the reminder that the effort I am putting forth is paying off. The wilderness has a way of slowing everything down around me, and showing me what matters most. It is where I am my best self, and where, I believe, others can find their best self.

When a group is packing up a campsite at the start of a day, they are well aware that the time they spend at that site is not time they will get back later. Students know how much distance we have to cover in a day, and if they take three hours packing up in the morning of a nine-mile day, we will be hiking in the dark that night, and trust me when I tell you, arriving at a campsite in the dark when everyone is exhausted is not fun. That’s the simple beauty of it: the accountability lies only with the students. Watching them develop more effective skills out in the wilderness is great, and not only because it means I get to go to sleep earlier. They learn that when they take three hours to pack up a campsite in the morning, that night will be far less enjoyable. On the other hand, if they can work together to pack up a site in under an hour and use their time effectively, they can be at a campsite with time to set up shelters in the light of day, and enjoy community around a fire that night.

Danit moved to Colorado two years ago after graduating college to teach skiing. After living on the east coast her whole life, she was ready to start anew in the mountains. She studied psychology and had been looking for ways to develop professionally before getting her Masters in Social Work.

“BaMidbar came along as a dream come true, not only for the community but for me as well. I was a lead field guide for it’s first season, and have learned so much from the experience. I look forward to being a part of this growing community for years to come.”