By Robert Jeffers, L.A. Audubon Board Member and Joshua Tree Adventure Chaperone, Spring Break 2017

1 JT Students Chaps Group

Students and chaperones, Indian Cove base camp, Joshua Tree

“Did you have a good time?”

“No, it was absolutely great!” clearly announced Marshall High School sophomore Jerry, 2016-2017 Baldwin Hill Greenhouse Program Restoration Leader and Leo Politi School Yard Habitat pioneer and alumni.

Opportunities change people. For youth in particular, they can be transformative. I have known Jerry since LA Audubon and Principal Brad Rumble, then of Leo Politi Elementary School, helped the school community transform a small patch of under-used lawn into one the most important examples of schoolyard habitat in Los Angeles Unified School District. Jerry isn’t new to nature in the city nor to birding. Thanks to LA Audubon and Politi Elementary, as a Politi student Jerry had access to nature right on his campus in the middle of the city. But this was a special opportunity: a chance to immerse himself in nature in Joshua Tree National Park for three days, along with students from Dorsey High and nearby Academy for Science and Engineering Charter High.

2 JT Jerry Rappelling

Jerry rappelling down Short Wall, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Jerry’s not boisterous, extroverted, and forward. He’s calm, introverted, and a decidedly better birder than many, myself included. When the two professionally trained Outward Bound course leaders he spent three days with in Joshua Tree on a wilderness adventure asked the group of students and chaperones if any creatures could use the Silver Cholla as a home, Jerry quietly but confidently answered, “Cactus Wren” and heads turned. I think the course instructors were both surprised and impressed, but knowing Jerry and the support Jerry’s received from LA Audubon, the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program, Stacey Vigallon and many others with a strong environmental ethos – his answer seemed almost inevitable. And, the other students on this course – they could have answered this as well.

Students climbing Short Wall, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Students climbing Short Wall, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

I often hear fellow LA Audubon Board member and educational leader extraordinaire Brad Rumble offer the statement, “Build it and they will come.” And, while I find this to be true, sometimes nature’s already built it and sometimes it’s necessary to bring the students to nature as was the case with the Outward Bound led rock climbing and nature hike experience students enjoyed this spring break. For three-days the students learned how to rock climb, how to belay, how to “scramble” over, under, and around boulders, and proper planning for engaging with nature while camping and backpacking. Jerry isn’t new to birding --- we can thank LA Audubon and his time at Leo Politi for that – and he isn’t new to nature either, but Joshua tree – this was new to him. This experience wouldn’t have happened without the support of LA Audubon. Though it’s only about 150 miles and a three traffic-hour drive away from where he does his homework, volunteers, and interns, Joshua Tree might very well be the alien landscape it so often stands in for across many Hollywood films. During our final night, around the hearth chat, Jerry offered those clear and direct words -- “it was absolutely great”-- about the importance of his individual and collective two days of “scrambling” through Gun Sight Canyon boulders and learning to rock climb 40-50 foot routes at Indian Cove’s “Short Wall.”

Gerson rappelling down Short Wall, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Gerson rappelling down Short Wall, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Gerson between two boulders in Gunsight Canyon during a day of scrambling

Gerson between two boulders in Gunsight Canyon during a day of scrambling

6 JT SilverChollaFlower 

Silver Cholla flower, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

A chuckwalla poses for the camera

A chuckwalla poses for the camera

Hilary shows sun safety is as important as climbing safety, Short Wall, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Hilary shows sun safety is as important as climbing safety, Short Wall, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Arely, chaperone and Environment for the Americas intern, smiles for the camera and shows motivations written on her hands for her hike through Gunsight Canyon

Arely, chaperone and Environment for the Americas intern, smiles for the camera and shows motivations written on her hands for her hike through Gunsight Canyon

Jerry came to this adventure with some trepidation I learned.

Jerry among boulders, Gunsight Canyon, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Jerry among boulders, Gunsight Canyon, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Jerry by firelight, Base Camp, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Jerry by firelight, Base Camp, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Students using field guides to identify wildflowers with chaperones and Outward Bound leaders, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

Students using field guides to identify wildflowers with chaperones and Outward Bound leaders, Indian Cove, Joshua Tree

“Did I tell you I’m afraid of heights?” Jerry confided in me moments before he belayed himself down the 45-foot igneous rock face. I couldn’t tell. A couple hours earlier he was wedging his hands and feet in a two-inch crack going up the same wall he was descending in full harness and helmet climbing gear. His fellow students along with his instructors noted he was truly excellent at “belaying” (being the safety and support person for a climber) and I can personally confirm this – he belayed for me. Transformative experiences like this Joshua Tree adventure, can have untold benefits for students uninitiated to such experiences. Creating opportunities, moments like this trip not only provide opportunities to test and explore interests and curiosities for students, but they provide confirmation that nature from birds to rocks to trees is something special and worth honoring and protecting. Proof may not materialize immediately in front of us, but our current LA Audubon staff – almost all former Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program Restoration Leaders and Interns – suggests the work we’re doing has impacts both immediate and long-term.

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