By Matthew Stoffel
Working for The Outdoor Campus has been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a great deal, and I’m sure I’ll learn plenty more. The work is exciting, the challenges are stimulating and I’m getting paid to do things I love.
As a bonus to all of that, I’m getting outside again. While the caricature of today’s youth being sheltered indoors and glued to a computer screen isn’t always accurate, I do sometimes see it in myself. Over the past few years, I’ve become more attached to technology. Between college classes and several theatre productions I didn’t find time to get outside simply to be outside.
Last summer I worked as a lifeguard at an outdoor pool, pulling giant shifts to keep building summer savings. As a result, the great outdoors became my office. At the end of a long day telling kids to walk and fiddling with my whistle, I wanted nothing but to laze about inside. The sun drained my energy throughout the long hours, and I was so tired after work I rarely did anything.
Back in high school I ran cross country and track. I was a long distance addict, and I’d be out running 2 hours every day. I’d cover anywhere from 3 to 10 miles an outing, and the exposure to nature was healthy for me. I was in great shape and I loved to be able to escape into the scenery.
But I’ve lost touch with that in the last couple of years. I lost touch with it to the point of not realizing anything was missing.
The Outdoor Campus, as its namesake suggests, changes that.
To get outside in the early morning, to start a day breathing the cool trail air has reminded me how stale inside air can be. The chance to kayak down a river has awoken my passion for the water. Seeing how inspired other people are by the world around them has made me stop and appreciate the beauty of nature, whether through the lens of a camera or for my own private wonderment. Watching kids catch a fish, eyes lighting up with pride, delight, excitement, I remembered the spark I used to have for fishing, for the outdoors.
I went home for a short visit the other day. I grew up beside the water of a small lake in Minnesota. For the first time in a few years I felt compelled to buy a fishing license. I went out on the water with my brother and my cousin. We found a quiet spot to cast around, enjoying the water.
I’d fished on this lake for years and caught the same thing. Crappie, bluegills, perch, an occasional Walleye, rough fish.
Then, for the first time in nineteen years, I hooked a bass. It hit and put up a good fight, but I landed it, heart pounding. It’s ridiculous, really, that it had taken me so long to find one. But however much it might speak to my ability as an angler doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that as I held the fish up for my brother to take a picture, I felt pride. Delight. Excitement.
And that spark I was so sure I smothered after years indoors came alive again. It was rekindled and burned anew.
This time, I’m keeping it lit.