Recently I went to this camp in the California redwoods, along with 15 others, to be a camp counselor for a sixth grade science camp. At this camp there were the cabin leaders, the school teachers and then there were the field teachers. The field teachers were the guiding light throughout the camp, showing the kids what the natural world was all about and how to connect with it. All the cabin leaders (which was what I was) got put into groups with a specific field teacher, there were a fair amount of field teachers. All had their own style, and their own nature name.
Anyway, I was in Coyote’s group along with two fellow cabin leaders named Sunshine and Ladybug (we all had nature names). This human being may be the most interesting one I’ve ever come across. Coyote has a background in sailing, one of his favorite animal encounters being when he was riding the oceans with whales. He more recently got a degree in ornithology, also known as the study of birds, and he could play both the banjo and the flute. Quite a combo of skills, all of which made me envious and stupefied.
The ornithology was cool upon face value, at least it was to me, but the real eye-opening, amazing part of it came when he readied his lips and mimicked bird noises, eliciting responses from the birds in the area. The man could literally communicate with other birds and could easily identify the birds in the area based on the songs and chirps that played from the trees.
He was keen on all sorts of things. His musical talent was impressive and totally unexpected. In the camp we had a night hike, we’d walk in a straight line, following Coyote as he led the group with a hypnotizing flute melody. In the day time he’d whip out the banjo and improvise a tune as we headed out to our destination. And he also possessed an ability to connect with others, an outlook that was later relayed to me and has stuck with me since.
He talked about making sure everyone “bought in” and ways to make that happen, to get people to give into the lesson, the experience. My nature name, Beans, was a way to get buy-in, it was goofy, dumb and fostered connection by showing that silly vulnerability. Coyote’s demeanor, his stories, his out-loud attitude, performing accents and playing games, they were all buy-ins. He got the sixth graders to open their eyes, ears and minds. That seemed to me one of the best ways to think about human connection and in particular, a way to lead groups. Looking at ways to get every single person to open up and accept the situation was what the buy-in mindset did.
And a whole lot of the time, especially with kids, it’s showing humanity and being fun and goofy. I remember the kids, Coyote and the cabin leaders were sitting in a circle after playing a game that’s all about stealth. We had to be as quiet as possible in the game and we were debriefing, taking about controlling breathing to improve stealth. As we talked about breathing through the nose and mouth I kid you not Coyote began to breath out of his nose and instantly snot rocketed onto the ground, in front of everyone. It was hilarious.
It showed real side to this human being, this human being that with so many skills is bound to be put upon a pedestal, framed as a perfect human being. The snot rocket broke the false perception that this person was flawless, while also completing the picture, driving home the perfection, by showing the imperfection if that makes much sense.
During my time at the camp I was wide-eyed, Coyote is the type of person who I largely want to be. Musically talented, connected to the human experience and the nature world, while remaining goofy and weird. Role models are important, I hear of people having mentors and people who’ve been taken under the wings of superiors and been taught how to live. I don’t think I’ve had that from someone other than my parents.
I only had that role model for a couple days, not quite enough to form a strong bond, but damn was I impressed. The lasting impression has been made, and it has shaped me for the better. Hopefully one day I can sail the seas, talk with the birds and strum banjo strings. Oh and especially snot rocketing without giving a shit.