By Michael Hwang, Naturalist for the Mason Outdoor Center
Look around: You’re 35 feet above the ground at the top of the Vertical Playpen with your best friend and who knows when you’ll get another chance to conquer the challenging element. Or maybe you’re at the top of the daunting Catfish Fire Tower, watching a turkey vulture soar past as you admire the view. You might even find yourself gliding through the air on a rope swing towards eight new friends who are trying to find room for you to land on the already crowded 3 ft. by 3 ft. platform they call “Proudy’s Landing.”
Whatever you’re doing: stop and take it in.
As someone new to Outdoor Education, the last few months have been a whirlwind for me. Fresh from Rutgers University, I moved out to “middle-of-nowhere” Hardwick, New Jersey and immediately began staff training. After meeting new coworkers and friends, I spent the next few weeks (literally) learning the ropes. Soon I had learned ins and outs of multiple high rope elements, teaching skills, and knots, and before I knew it I found myself teaching students from visiting schools about Forest Ecology, Wilderness Survival, and the countless other topics Camp Mason offers.
But Camp Mason is more than learning about the outdoors and climbing rope ladders. As a staff member, I still find myself constantly amazed at my occupation. Sure, I get to hike trails, canoe on lakes, and shoot rifles. Of course, I get to swing from ropes, cross bridges, and scream songs during campfires, but the part of my job I consistently find the most rewarding is the positive influence I am able to leave on those that spend time here at the camp. Whenever I encourage a student push himself beyond what he thought he was capable of doing, I find myself smiling. Every time I notice a camper’s eyes widen with excitement when she catches a dragonfly nymph during a Pond Ecology class, I become thrilled. When I see the moment a group collectively realizes the key to solving a team building puzzle they’ve been struggling on, I become filled with pride. If they say “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” I don’t think I’ve worked a single day at Camp Mason so far.
For me, it’s all about instilling the passion for the outdoors and nature in those that normally don’t see this side of learning. Nature has so much to offer, and here at Camp Mason, we try our best to show everyone the best of it. So if you’re ever find yourself spending some time at Camp Mason, take the best advice I can give you as a staff member: stop and take it in. You won’t regret that you did.