Steve Woods

Coming Down From the Mountain

In What Day is it? on October 29, 2009 at 5:51 am

After days and nights of it, the laughter of the children echoing up from the foothills below began to grit on him, and he had to find out why there were so many children in the wilderness.   This was supposed to be a quiet place, away from it all.  Slowly and deliberately, he made his way down the familiar paths, pulling up and swinging his wooden leg as he walked, sniffing the air for the musky sign of bears…

The Clemmie Gill School of Science and Conservation


SCICON, nestled in the Sierra Nevadas

SCICON, the Science and Conservation camp nestled in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range since 1950, provides to local students an immersion course in nature conservancy, far from city life and amenities.  Prior to leaving for SCICON, all technology is eschewed by the 6th grade students, a fact that with each passing year brings ever-louder groans, as they sadly set aside the cell phone, PSP, Nintendo DS and iPod at home.

For 5 days under beautiful, open skies, students are led by interns on long hikes, where they learn about predator/prey relationships, nature’s fire cycle, area flora and fauna, recycling, composting, and man’s relationship to nature.  Fireside chats and performances draw laughter almost nightly, as children drew nearer to each other, drawing comfort in each other, away from the hungry mosquitoes.  And there are songs, always songs to be sung…

A Life of Connections, a Life of Distancing

My life is spent connected.  I am online all day as a function of my job, and after homework is complete, my children have spent many an hour chasing after avatars in Disney’s ToonTown while I look up a recipe for dinner.  Into the late evenings, my fiancée and I like to find out what our connections are up to on FaceBook, and I connect as much as I can on Twitter, play more than I would like to admit, and blog away.  Am I too nestled, too comfortable?  Just how near do I draw to others, when I in the online world?


The Hermit Cabin of Irvy Elster

Born in 1889, 61-year-old Irvy Elster lived in the hills above SCICON in a cabin of his own construction, by a flagpole upon which he was known to fly a pair of ragged, red long underwear, likely to help him locate his home after long days in his many hand-dug quartz mines.  Irvy was a hermit, speaking to nobody for months on end, except when he came into town to sell his quartz and purchase supplies.  I am sure his rare visits caused quite a stir, as townsfolk gawked and mothers pushed their gaping children along.  And I am also sure that Irvy wanted nothing more than to get back home again when done shopping, to his familiar places…


What IS this guy buying?

Becoming Social Hermits?

I have always been fearful that the Internet would stifle my social life, that my online relationships would be shallow and short-lived.  I was basically concerned that with all of this connectivity from home and my propensity to shyness, I might wind up an Internet hermit.  Would I peel myself from the keyboard only to scramble for short jaunts to the grocery store, throwing together a hodgepodge of bare necessities and snack foods, thrumming my fingers on the shopping cart as I waited in the too-long line?  Would I forget to actually go places and meet people in person?  Would I develop social ineptitude to such a depth that I too would be gawked at when about town?  Would it bother me if anyone got too close?


Dangers around every corner...

SCICON was built far enough away from the rest of us to mentally remove the students attending from civilization, so they could focus on the beauty of nature all around.  It was this desire for remoteness that brought it so close to Irvy Elster’s cabin, and into his life.  For so many decades Irvy had been used to being alone, just as he had wanted it.  He knew how to handle the foxes, the bears, the mountain lions, even cold and snowy winters.  Life had been rough; nobody knew how Irvy had lost his leg, but everyone was aware that the wooden replacement was hand-carved and self-installed.  It was considered best to leave him alone, and Irvy had no problem helping to propagate that belief.


Learning to expand horizons

Walking Away From Familiarity

After arriving upon SCICON, Irvy wandered its outskirts, around the new cabins, staring suspiciously at the wooden bridges placed over streams and rough-hewn dining hall.  But what pulled Irvy in from the invisible boundary separating his world from theirs was the children.  Hundreds of bright, smiling faces, listening carefully as interns and teachers spoke reverently of the forest, animals, flowers, skies and stars.  Children were told to be careful among the fragile, newly-emerging saplings, to pick up and examine the scat and attempt to name the animal that had deposited it, to identify tracks on the ground, to classify the flowering plants all around.  This was not a world encroaching on his own; no, this was his world slowly, surely, finding its way into the hearts of these young ones.

Irvy carefully let his presence be known, and the children grew to love his presence.  He visited SCICON often, eating with the children in the dining hall, loudly regaling them with stories of his time in the hills above.  He shared his knowledge of the plant life, the habits of both the smaller, skittish animals and larger, dangerous predators.  He led the children on hikes to his cabin and mines, letting them pick quartz from them.  In short, Irvy Elster became a fixture of SCICON.


Taking a walk on the Sky Trail

Irvy passed away in 1965, and was buried in the neighboring Springville cemetery.  To this day, the favorite trail in SCICON is the Sky Trail, a 2 1/2 mile hike into the wilderness above SCICON, to what is now known as the Hermit’s Cabin, and to the nearby quartz mines, where children search for wayward pieces of loose quartz and ponder on the once-lonely life of the man who moved away from what he knew, joining in with the happy voices of the world around him…

Social Media as the Less-Walked Path

Today has two holidays that weave together so well… It is both the Anniversary of the Internet, and Hermit Day.  What I have discovered about Social Media is quite the opposite of what I feared, but only because I wanted it so, and steadily worked toward it.  Social Media and the Internet in general has become, to me, a method to share who I am, and to learn from so many others.  Each and every day I mine the steady stream of news, blog posts, e-zine articles, and daily lives of hundreds of others.  I revel in the very personal photos shared with all, the thrown-together poetry of child-rearing and broken hearts, the one-liners and pleas from all sides to join in another cause.

In Social Media there is a mountain of love to climb and build one’s home upon, and the laughing voices carry from all directions.  After taking the time to scout out and understand what was going on, I am so happy that I left my worries behind, and joined in the fun.  Oh, I have so many stories to tell, too…

  1. You have sooo many stories to tell & I love reading them. I can also relate!! God Bless the memory of Irvy. Loving social media…so glad to have crossed your path.

  2. And I am happy to have you to spend time with too! I always appreciate comments, and hope that you keep them coming. I’ve been to SCICON a few times, and love the atmosphere, stories and traditions come with a place being filled with the joyful minds of children for so long…

  3. I love the story, it makes me want to one day go spend time at SCICON myself!

    • Come to California someday, and Lovely Nadira and I will bring you up there for the day! This time of year, it is beautiful, with all of the deciduous trees changing and dropping leaves everywhere. So quiet and still there…

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