One of the most influential people in my life is my 5th grade teacher Mr. Murphy. Mr. Murphy did not impart any words of wisdom that I specifically remember, nor has all the knowledge he taught me stayed with me throughout the years—in 5th grade I could name all the states and the capitals, and that is no longer the case. I can say that every Christmas my mother still displays a Santa made out of egg carton pieces that sits in a silver painted turkey bone sleigh I made in his class, and that decoration will probably outlast any of the knowledge learned in Mr. Murphy’s classroom.
One might ask why Mr. Murphy is such an important person in my life if my school year spent with him 20 years ago, though wonderful, wasn’t life changing. It was out of the classroom that Mr. Murphy helped me meet the best teacher I ever had: the wilderness. My father had introduced me to the wilderness as a child, taking me camping and fishing with the family, but Mr. Murphy solidified my passion for the out of doors and helped it become a long lasting love. For that I will be forever thankful, as this passion and love has not only lead me into a profession I love, but the wilderness has contributed to a higher self-esteem and a positive sense of self.
At about 13 years old, I embarked on my first backpacking trip ever with Mr. Murphy as the lead. It was a week long trek that ended after hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States. One might think that is impressive for a first backpacking trip, but perhaps more impressive is that my second trip was two years later when I hiked the John Muir Trail (200 miles total) with Mr. Murphy and 3 others. I have been up Mt. Whitney a totally of three times in my life, all with Mr. Murphy as my guide.
I was excited to come back to high school in the fall able to report that I backpacked 200 miles when giving reports regarding what we did during summer vacation. I felt accomplished. I felt important. In high school where everyone is judged and ranked, the outdoors provided relief from all of that stress. Mother Nature treats everyone the same; if she rains on you, she is raining on the guy next to you as well. She doesn’t play favorites and she welcomes anyone who wants to join her non-exclusive clique.
I accomplished something that I didn’t think anyone else in my class had done, and even if they had, it wouldn’t have felt like a competition. For example, anytime I run into a person that also did the John Muir Trail, it is a way to connect through memories and shared adventure rather than compare and compete. Just doing it is a feat, and no one is keeping time or marking the score. That is the great thing about the wilderness: it isn’t about being good, but rather just being out there.
Being out of doors became something I needed as I grew older. I crave the sunshine, fresh air and feeling free. Due to the trips I took with Mr. Murphy, I became a strong believer in the power of the wilderness. It helped me find out who I was, gave me room to explore and think, challenged me both physically and mentally, and showed me I was capable of anything if I put my mind to it.
Because of this passion, this love, I have become someone that helps others experience the wilderness. Right now it is in the form of gardening. Feeling the dirt in your fingernails, naming more plants than you ever imagined your brain could remember, harvesting food and cooking it that same day, witnessing seeds you planted grow, sweating due to hard work, helping others, and accomplishing tasks you never fathomed you were capable of, all happen at Pacific Quest. Not to mention all of this is done within a group of peers that consider themselves family, meaning they support, love and care for each other and the land on which they tend. All of this can help someone harvest a sense of belonging, an opportunity to learn more about yourself and increased self-esteem, products that come along with the bananas, papayas and greens growing in the soil.
So although Mr. Murphy was a wonderful teacher, he will remain a role model not for being an educator but for being a guide. I hope I can be to just one child what Mr. Murphy was to me. I may not be the best teacher in the world, as I am no match for what the wilderness can teach. I can only hope I can introduce the wilderness into people’s lives so they too meet the best teacher I have ever known.
By Mary Beth Osoro