Life is One Big Adventure

Publisher’s Note: Over the next few weeks Make It Missoula will be publishing the writings of University of Montana students enrolled in Nadia White’s autumn semester 2014 Adventure Writing class. 

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By NADIA WHITE

Henry’s beloved trumpet slipped from his grasp and fell, as though in slow motion, to its first dents and dings, its character scars. Garrett donned a scuba mask and slid into a cenote – a watery cave — trading fear of death for delight at the revealed mysteries of living on this earth. Brenden peed on a moose, then turned and went back to his wintery tent.

In the fall of 2014, 21 first-semester freshmen joined me at the University of Montana School of Journalism in a class about adventure writing. We defined adventure loosely, and they wrote stories of past adventures that described who they are: the jazz musician, the diver, the Northwoods camper.

Then, as we studied examples of classic and contemporary adventure stories, they set about exploring their new home, Missoula, and sharing those experiences.

The class was offered through the University’s Global Leadership Initiative — an effort to guide students in their studies by exploring “big picture questions” through engaging, perhaps novel, courses in their first semester.

Together, the 21 adventurers in my Homer to HeroCams course read The Odyssey, followed by a variety of contemporary adventure stories. We discussed the way technology is changing the way adventures are shared and the reasons we still tell stories of exploration and discovery.

The big-picture question my class pursued had to do with how we learn about ourselves by exploring the landscapes around us. Not just by knowing the place. But by knowing ourselves as we consciously seek to understand our place in a place.

A couple of students in the class grew up in Missoula, but most of them cut their teeth elsewhere: Singapore, Tucson, Ariz., Sitka, Alaska, Minneapolis, Chicago, Bozeman, Big Fork. For most of them, this semester was their first chance to explore a new home without the support of their families.

For the final class project, each student was assigned a trail to explore. Few of them have cars, so most of the trailheads were within biking distance of campus. Their assignment was to write an essay about the trails that invited readers both along for the hike and into the writer’s heart. Students provide enough factual information so that readers can find the trailhead on their own; cell phone photos that give a sense of the trail and the views along the way; and a brief biography and selfie, so that readers might know their guide.

The students took this assignment to heart. The resulting essays, shared here on MakeItMissoula.com, take readers along as students gain perspective on their life at college. As I read and re-read these essays, I was struck by how stressful it is to be a freshman, and at the power of nature to provide a respite from schedules, exams, roommates and money worries.

These essays are a reminder of the power of Missoula’s open spaces as well as the challenges of navigating the first semester of college. I hope readers enjoy the adventure.

— Nadia White
Associate professor
University of Montana
School of Journalism.

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NadiaWhiteNadia White can find grand adventures and stories worth telling from most every trailhead in Missoula. Occasionally she even leaves town. She teaches journalism at the University ofMontana.