Cassidy Ann Smith — Best 2013 Essay Clark Fork High School

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Cassidy Smith

The incessant buzzing of a mosquito was all I could focus on that night in the mountains of Georgia. As I laid in my sleeping bag underneath the crudely tied tarp above my head, I thought about the things that had led me to that spot. I was thirteen years old when my mom thought it would be best to send me to a therapeutic wilderness program called Second Nature: Blue Ridge. She was looking for anything that could help at that point. Before this time in my life, I had been abused, seen three divorces, moved sixteen times, and my father recently committed suicide. As might have been natural, I took the pain inwards and we were all afraid I would never be able to come back. Wilderness was supposed to be the fresh start I needed to feel whole again; and it definitely was that and much more.

As I was put on a plane early one morning in May, I was terrified. I grew up in Texas and although I was not scared of being outdoors, I certainly was not expecting what I would fmd. I spent forty-two days and nights without a shower, modem conveniences, or anything I once relied on. The first week was hard to adjust. It seemed like the eight other girls and I all smelled awful and I could not imagine myself being able to bust my own fire or hiking five miles with a forty pound pack. However, the biggest shock of all was how much I loved it.

Sometimes, even five years later, I find myself daydreaming about it. I remember that for the first time in my life, I felt peace. There is an indescribable beauty that is felt in the quiet moments in nature. The sound of the wind rustling through the pines and the slow flow of a stream left me thinking how much more there really was in this world for me to experience. Not having to worry about any pressures from the world and only focusing on the open land was the most wonderful thing, and nearly impossible to explain to someone. I started out only hearing the mosquitoes, but the more I breathed in the fresh air and gave new life a chance, I could hear the owls and the crickets. I learned how to do everything. By the end of my stay there, I was carving my own bow to bust a fire, finding my own shelter, and loving everything about the warm, calm, summer air. When it was time for me to go back home, I felt ready. Nature gave me a second chance.

One thing led to another, and I went to North Idaho to live with a couple in a log cabin in the woods. At first, I was only planning on staying a few months- but I fell in love with it. Now, I go hiking whenever I can. I still lace up those same brown boots and face the trails with a new excitement because life has brought me so far. The simple beauty that exists here is unbeatable and so serene. I owe the life I have now to those six weeks of healing in the Georgia wilderness. I will never forget it.

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About The Author:

Sandy Compton has been program coordinator for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness since 2009. He is also a storyteller and author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and the publisher at

In addition to his other duties, he runs the FSPW All Star Trail Team (, which works on Forest Service trails in the Scotchman Peaks. He is a trail surveyor as well, and a C-Certified Crosscut Bucker/Feller and USFS National Saw Policy OHLEC instructor.

Sandy grew up on a small farm/woodlot at the south end of the proposed wilderness and lives there still. He is also board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and a planning team member for the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute.

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