Metaphors for life abound. The journey metaphor is popular, with life as a series of steps, route choices and both challenges and joys along the way. The reading of ‘Ithaka’ in our end of year service at Reddie’s Grave provides poetic and moving rehearsal of this theme.
I like the metaphor of life as a mosaic, with the richness and texture of character and personality based on an accumulation of small pieces, each one having a source and a story; each being hard fought for, luckily stumbled upon, lovingly crafted or systematically gathered. Within this metaphor, it would be a disappointing mosaic were all the pieces of similar colour, size and lustre.
In my view, orienteering helps to throw some useful pieces into the mixture, for young people. For much of their time, children’s choices are constrained or validated by adults. Unsupervised, on an orienteering course, children make decisions and cope with the consequences. Other than a friend (if paired), no-one is there to ask permission or advice. Other than face staying put, a decision must be made and acted upon. I like to think that this adds a little chip of decisiveness or assertiveness into the mosaic.
Remote from a teacher or parent’s attention, the children also exercise independence and take responsibility, in where they go, how fast they go or whether they go on or return. Any successes or setbacks belong to them and must be responded to by them. Confidence and skill in finding your way helps make other challenges less daunting, too, and is likely to make tube maps, road atlases, OS maps and other maps your friends, for further adventures.
In the modern world, children spend a long time in vehicles and buildings, cushioned and comforted within the man-made environment and entertained by man-made devices. Orienteering, along with other outdoor pursuits, takes them into the natural world, where surfaces are slippy, brambles bite and puddles get you muddy and wet. These sensations are real and provide further learning, in assessing risks and in outfacing discomforts. With zest for life, a lung-full of fresh air and a degree of competition to turbo charge that, the orienteer can run with grace and skill, bounding the forest obstacles and nimbly descending rough ground. With any luck, though moving fast, there may be passing appreciation, too, for the beauty of the frost, or the dappled light through the forest leaves, or even, if you are very lucky, the startled deer.
Some might find these attractions so appealing that they wish to collect many pieces of this for their mosaic. Others might take but a few, but when they look at their mosaic in the mirror each day, if they look hard, they can see a few little precious pieces of orienteering.
Abbotsholme offers the possibility for children to gather many different pieces for their mosaic. Some might know the design they wish to fashion; others might see the picture emerging gradually, whilst some only see the picture in retrospect. The open minded will see the opportunity in finding all shapes and sizes for their mosaic, never knowing whether what they are picking up might be the centrepiece of cornerstone of their own picture.