Building Community in Lassen National Park

Submitted by Eugene Rinehart (This first appeared in The Fall 09 HABIT Issue 2.)

Mt Lassen GroupOn the first weekend of October, 12 Dominican University students and faculty plus one guest lecturer got to see Lassen as a delightful muddle of education, adventure, growth, and bonding. 

Humanities professor Scott Sinclair came up with the idea for a trip that would be less taxing to those who participated. He saw a trip to California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park as an opportunity to fill a gap untended by DU’s international trips. 

With a cost of only $100 per student and an array of choice faculty members, Sinclair sought to provide students with the travel experience without the international cost.  

Some of the Faculty at Mt LassenHe knows Lassen well, and understands it to be a spiritually powerful place where the natural world is free and unfettered.  It was for that reason that on the weekend of Oct. 2 to the 4, Sinclair got the Humanities department to take seven students on an adventure in California’s backyard. 

The three-day trip consisted of miles of hiking to some of the most exquisite vistas in the park.  Those hikes were intermingled with informal lectures, poetry and art workshops, and a healthy dose of spiritual growth. 

Students were encouraged to open themselves up through Sufi meditation and Christian prayer.  In many ways, the art and poetry workshops acted as a form of meditation in their own right, encouraging students to express themselves through physical works.  The presence of the natural surroundings and the warmth of the cabin we stayed in amplified each experience. 

Outdoor Classroom in Mt LassenHumanities Chair Harlan Stelmach allowed use of his cabin as a cozy observatory and classroom.  On our first night, Lorin Spaulding, a Dominican associate, took a gorgeous moon and made it better.  With a high-powered telescope, he and the Dominican group admired ancient craters and lifeless lava seas late into the freezing night.  The next morning, Psychology professor Matt Davis, affectionately called “Disaster Man” on the trip, brought the group out into the rising sun and enlightened us on matters of life and death as dictated by the awesome power of volcanoes. 

Without conditioning our minds and our bodies in such a way, I’m not sure we’d have fully understood what we saw during our hikes.  All of Lassen Volcanic National Park has been affected by some kind of volcanic activity, and it is fiercely evident after one look at the landscape.  Imagine miles of rocky lava flows poured out over lakebeds and valleys, or regal volcanoes surrounded by marks of chaotic destruction only recently being covered by fresh overgrowth.  The landscape today lies relatively dormant, but in years past, Lassen was the epicenter of tremendously violent eruptions.

Mt Lassen StudentsWhile on the mountain the lines that separate student and teacher blurred, and for those three days we were a group of peers who sought nature’s finest and found it in our laps. 

I’m happy to say that, because it means that Scott Sinclair’s travel experiment worked.  For only $100 per student, a group of 12 DU students and faculty ventured into the wild world and came back to the university as fuller people with an even greater sense of community.  The trip stood out to me as moment of reflection before the dive into finals, and like any good breath of air, I look forward to the next one.