Updated November 2019
The Raven is the iconic and majestic “mascot” of the high desert; its familiarity matched only by its mystery. The clever bird finds solace from the realities of the desert in many places, among them the resilient and adaptable branches of the Utah Juniper. The tree’s metallic blue pinecones, often confused by the masses as ‘Juniper berries,’ are a delicacy to the pallet of the Raven. The wise Raven is often observed hoarding and caching the seeds under a blanket of desert earth, a primal wisdom guiding the act. To the patient observer, the seeds the Raven sows will grow into a new and beautiful Utah Juniper. Field guides at Open Sky are like the Utah Juniper: hearty, strong, full of grit, selfless, and undeniably unique.
Our community of field guides, like the trees they walk among, give a tremendous amount of energy and care to Open Sky students, creating an experience through which students thrive. At first glance, our humble guides appear to give everything to the students without receiving much in return. Under a deeper lens, however, our clever students give inspiration, meaning, and life to the Field Guides who share their world.
As the Assistant Field Director and Field Guide Recruiter, and a former Senior Field Guide for Open Sky, I am responsible for planning and implementing an average of 5 new guide orientations annually. Each Open Sky Field Guide Orientation hosts between 6 and 18+ potential new field guides to assess, train, and inspire over the course of a 12-day period. It’s true: employment is not guaranteed until the final moments of the orientation. The orientation installs an intimate and accurate window between Open Sky and the candidates. Then, Open Sky can make an educated and informed hiring assessment. Meanwhile, our new field guides are empowered to make an equally informed decision regarding their interest and desire to commit to the role.
Candidates for Open Sky’s guide orientations possess a wide range of professional backgrounds and encompass a diverse and unique array of personalities. The vast majority of field guide applicants have professional experience working with youth in a wilderness and therapeutic environment. During the orientation, Open Sky seeks out and provides mentorship for applicants who are passionate, professional, resilient, and above all, show a willingness to give and receive honest feedback.
As the Field Guide Recruiter, I respond to countless questions regarding the nature and structure of the orientation. What elements and standards do we use to accurately and fairly assess our candidates? What methods are used to properly train people on a host of wilderness, relational, and therapeutic skills? How do we inspire new individuals to become a part of our community of field guides? To adequately prepare people for the dynamic role of field guiding, Open Sky orientations utilize a strategic balance of skills training, behavioral scenarios, and accurate and individualized performance feedback. When it comes to building a platform to assess, teach, and inspire new members of our field guide community, there is one consistent and reliable entity which plants a seed for everything we do: our students.
The Open Sky Field Guide Orientation provides space for training orientation members on a wide variety of topics. As a highly diverse professional endeavor, being a field guide means mastering skills related to wilderness, outdoor living, communication, ecology, medicine, history, art, psychology, and many others. The topics we teach are given meaning and life by, once again, Open Sky students. When we teach bow drilling to field guide candidates, we are training individuals on more than the science of fire and the different types of wood involved. We are sharing stories of real people, like the adolescent girl in our team who was initially apprehensive and anxious and who ultimately could bow drill a three-second coal, blindfolded, calm as a bird. Open Sky students plant seeds of meaning and truth to the lessons we teach during the orientation.
We also use a variety of scenarios as a foundation to assess candidates during orientation. During each scenario, we honor current and past Open Sky students by adopting and mirroring their actions and behaviors in an often dramatic reenactment of a team dynamic. Orientation members are then assessed on their ability to hold the container of a contrived team with specific and outstanding dynamics. Based on real Open Sky students in real Open Sky teams, the use of scenarios is an important tool we utilize to assess potential candidates.
Finally, Open Sky Field Guide Orientations aim to inspire. New field guides are inspired to join our community and embrace the role of field guiding through a variety of avenues. Among the most common avenues of inspiration is the introduction of new field guides to our students. At the culminating event of the new guide orientation, orientation members are officially introduced to Open Sky students for the first time during an evening visit to the student teams. Following these experiences, new field guides consistently comment on the warmth and hospitality of our students, the brightness in their eyes, and the presence of life in their faces. New field guides are immediately struck by the unique balance of cohesive and welcoming energy of both staff and students. At the end of the evening, it is hard to pull orientation members out of the teams. Visit after visit, I hear the same remarks while walking away from the student teams: “that was fantastic,” “I want to guide in that team,” and “now I know I want this job.”
During an Open Sky Field Guide Orientation, we aim to assess, train, and inspire new members of our community to embrace the dynamic role of the field guide. Just as the Utah Juniper provides rest and solace to the desert Raven, our field guides grow into strong, confident, compassionate, and selfless role models for Open Sky students. Just as the reliable and rooted Utah Juniper is a refuge and nourishment for the Raven, field guides hold physically and emotionally safe space for Open Sky students to grow and thrive. And ultimately, just as the humble Utah Juniper is replanted and renewed through the seeds that the Raven sows, field guides flourish as they recognize the full circle of the Open Sky community: the students we guide are, in fact, our guides.
Are you interested in making a difference in the lives of young people? We are currently accepting applications for our next guide orientation: January 6-18, 2020. Check out our Field Guide page to learn more and apply by December 13, 2019!