On August 24, 2015, I embarked upon a journey that has not ended, and hopefully never will. After much anticipation and complaining (I hate being away from home), I boarded a plane that flew me out of Philadelphia and arrived in Ottawa approximately one hour later. Once through customs, I came across a sign with a symbol that looked familiar. I whipped out my phone and quickly looked up the International School for Earth Studies logo, and there it was: an oak leaf with the head of an eagle embedded in the grooves. I tentatively walked over, and soon exited with three other young ladies. An older, but young-looking lady (Jo Ellen) drove a massive truck to where we were standing, and we all piled in. My adventure had just begun.
After a few minutes in the truck, it was apparent that Jo Ellen was one of the coolest women I had ever met. When we arrived on site, the other student greeted us, along with the rest of the Cushing family: Goeffrey, Derek, Kirk, Corie Jo (CJ), and Janna Lee. For the next week, we hiked, or did something outdoorsy, every day. It was awesome. I learned how to make a fire, and tips to survive should I ever be stranded in the wilderness. I spent more time "in the bush" than I had in my entire life. When that first week-ish was over, the other four students left with Geoffrey and CJ for their cross-country Canadian road trip. I stayed behind with Kirk, Janna Lee, and Jo Ellen. (Derek was in university in Ottawa and came home on weekends). By the time they left, I was enjoying the budding friendships I had with both the other students and our hosts, but I was excited to see what the last two-ish weeks had in store for me. I was not to be disappointed.
Kirk and I were already best buds, but Jo Ellen became my second mom, Janna Lee my sister, and Derek my brother in less than a week. From working with the twenty huskies (plus three house dogs and three house cats), to riding the horses Parelli-style (only a back pad and a rope halter), to playing with the rescued raccoons, to feeding the fawns, to taking out the rowboat on the lake, to simply hanging out at the house and the lodge, I could not get enough. I photographed almost every moment and almost every animal. We worked with the huskies pretty much every day, and that soon became my favorite activity. It was so rewarding; it was easy to identify how much progress I was making with these twenty incredible dogs because I was able to tell all twenty of them apart, and they started responding to my cues and body language. I quickly bonded with the shyest dog in the pack, to everyone's surprise. No matter whether I was cleaning kennels or mucking the stables, I had a purpose. Everything I did was valued, and everything I did was fun. Friends of the family came for a few days at a time, and I soon became very well acquainted with them as well. From swimming in the water to swimming in the mud, these people, in addition to the Cushings, became my favorite people in the world.
After a whirlwind two weeks filled with love and sweat, the tears came when I departed. I never wanted to leave this place, this pseudo-farm that had become my second home. Prior to this experience, I had never had a place at which I felt I could stay forever. I had always not been able to wait to go home, but this was different: this time I could not wait to go back.