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Featured Team Members: Emily D. Fernandes, MSW,

“I’m grateful that we share our ‘gratitudes’ not just on Thanksgiving, but on every day at Open Sky,” shared one student, referencing our daily practice of sharing “gratefuls” before evening meals. On this Thanksgiving, the gratitudes shared were even more potent than usual, for staff and students alike: family, friendship, fresh starts, the desert, food, fire, and life, to name a few.

FullSizeRender-1 2Thanksgiving day started early for each team to allow time for building fire with ample coals to roast their 20-pound turkeys in a dutch ovens. As the turkey cooked over several hours, care went into preparing sweet potatoes with candied pecans, fresh sautéed vegetables, stuffing, bacon (a fan favorite), green beans, and gravy. The excitement was palpable, including exclamations such as, “Oh thank goodness, there’s cranberry sauce! I was worried there wouldn’t be cranberry sauce!” As you probably have experienced in your lifetime, eating in the out-of-doors somehow makes good food taste even better. As we feasted in the mid-day sun, the food tasted as brilliant as the blue sky on this Thanksgiving Day in the desert.

The emotional work of Open Sky is challenging, and being away from home during the holidays can be especially difficult. For this reason, we take great care to make Thanksgiving a special day, filled with opportunities for sharing tasty food, meaningful connections, and fun.

After feasting, all groups gathered for the annual Thanksgiving “Bust-Off,” a competition to see which team can make a bow drill fire the fastest. No post-turkey naps on the couch here! The sage field was abuzz with energy and activity. Each team came with their best spindles, fire boards, bows, and nesting. Drumming in the background added to the drama, but it was soon drowned out by cheers when Team D was the first to make flames.

Next, the talent show. Aaron and I opened up the event by sharing highlights of the history of Open Sky and the values that have driven us since we started in 2006: courage, community, and excellence. We talked about how the value of community inspired this basecamp: a place we gather every week for group meditation, where family members join teams for graduation councils, and where the entire Open Sky community comes together for community events and holidays such as this.


We hold occasional talent shows at Open Sky not only to have fun but to give students an opportunity to take risks and share of themselves in new and different ways. The students’ willingness to take the stage was inspiring. Highlights included spirited and creative skits about life at Open Sky; a choreographed group dance with a solo breakdancing classic, “the worm,” performed wilderness style (in a sleeping bag); and original poetry and songs shared with great courage. The event wrapped up with a band of field guides (an actual band who perform together in their time off) with guitar, banjo, drums, and vocals. The music rocked. Even those normally shy to dance were smiling and moving their feet.

2As the sun set and the moon illuminated the desert sky, teams made their way back to their respective camps for pumpkin and apple pie. Our hearts were filled with gratitude: for the students, on their journey of self-discovery; for the parents who trust us to care for their children on a holiday such as this; for the field guides, away from their own families in order to create an experience of family for our students; and for the blessings of meaningful work.

It is our family tradition to spend Thanksgiving in the field. There is no place on earth we would rather be.

With gratitude,

Aaron & Emily Fernandes

November 27th, 2017

Emily Fernandes, MSW | Executive Director, Co-Founder, Therapist