True Grit: Lessons Learned from a Rescue Tent

One of the great pleasures in my professional life is the opportunity to help chaperon the Geology field trip to Death Valley each spring. I am lucky enough to have the support of my school to take one day away from the library to join perhaps 20 students on their 3 day exploration of this amazing  destination, and my years as a biology major (before switching to lit) helps me with supporting the topics explored. I love getting to know the students away from the school environment, and even better, students get to know me in a whole different light. Relationships built during these days spent ‘outside the box’ have been some of the most rewarding of my career.

This past spring saw me once again adventuring alongside our upper schools geology students. Many of these kids had never camped before in their lives. It’s always interesting (surprising? hilarious? astonishing?) to see what students will bring on a camping trip, but this is how you learn, right? Trial and error, and see what happens. This year one enterprising student requested permission to bring his own tent. The teacher, always interested in rewarding initiative, said, sure! On the designated day, we packed ourselves into the bus and headed for adventure.

The first day is filled with roadside stops and explorations, from Vasquez Rocks to Red Rock Canyon to Fossil Falls and over the high deserted passes to Death Valley. We usually arrive just in time for a late dinner, tent setup and sleep.

death valley and library 025

The next 2 days were action-packed, with geology lessons interspersed with adventures, picnics and hikes. Star studded nights, fireside stories, and serious science all jumbled together. Our last night started clear but soon clouds began to build, and so did the wind. Storms in Death Valley tend to be epic, but aren’t uncommon at this time of year so we were all prepared. Students had low profile ‘half-dome’ type tents which weather storms well. There was quite a thunderstorm, complete with near-gale force winds, but we all survived and came away with some great stories.

We all survived, but for that one tent. Remember, Henry had brought his own tent. Turns out it was brand new, huge and … not quite set up properly. The first night was fine, but with the coming of the wind and storm, the dawning of the second day saw the tent largely blown over and a serious mess.

Our main task that morning was to pack up camp and head out of the park, with a few last spots to visit on our way out. The storm had passed by, and on the whole our camp was fairly tidy. We helped students get their gear packed up and organized. Henry’s tent was another problem. It was so thrashed, sodden and muddy as to be a challenge even packing it up. Henry declared it a total loss and was ready to toss it into the camp dumpster.

I found this unacceptable. Blame it on sleep deprivation, or, more likely, my inherent inability to discard perfectly good material just because it is inconvenient; perhaps I was channeling my depression-era mom and her hard-learned thriftiness. At any rate, I was unable to let that tent be added to the landfill. I wrastled that muddy mess into a tarp and loaded it onto the bus for transport home, vowing to Henry to resurrect it.

Throughout the spring,  Henry and I would banter back and forth about the state of the tent. Henry would call out “Hey, Ms. Acedo! How’s the Tent?” and I’d respond that I would see that tent back up on its poles and camping again, come heck or high water. Henry would always express doubt, sure that it was a hopeless case.

During the summer there were a number of tasks on my list, but the tent loomed large. So last week I dug it out of the garage and started work. It was a daunting challenge, but with time, patience and persistence, I got it sorted out. I got the base laid out evenly, and using online instructions from the Coleman site was able to see how the structure was supposed to work. There was dried mud aplenty, but it was ‘good clean Death Valley dirt’ (you could even call it ‘gritty’), easily washed off. Two poles required a minor hardware fix, managed with the help of a neighbor’s drill.  What was once destined for the dumpster turned out to be a very nice 2 room tent, able to sleep 8 people.

tent saved 1 - Copy

Having officially resurrected this tent, it is now our neighborhood Rescue Tent, available for anyone who wants a very cool, large super luxurious tent for car camping; I would not recommend it for backpacking as it weighs perhaps 40 lbs 🙂 .

I’ve been thinking about why this was such an important issue with me. First, the waste alone is a strong motivation. Connected with that is the idea that a job might be hard, it  might take determination to get it done, but you can end up with a very nice result when patience and persistence are brought to bear.

This is one important lesson for our students. Usually it’s not such a MUDDY lesson, but it boils down to the same thing. Hard work can pay off.

‘Grit’ is a word that is being used more often these days as a quality to be fostered among our students. A recent Edutopia article discusses ‘grit’ as ‘the best measure of success.’  I wanted to be able to show that with time, determination, and a little puzzle-solving, this cool tent didn’t need to add to the burden of our landfills. It lives on as a Rescue Tent for the whole neighborhood. I can’t wait to share the news with Henry!



(a) collect. sing. Formerly: Sand, gravel, small stones. Now: Minute particles of stone or sand, as produced by attrition or disintegration.

5  a. orig. U.S. slang. Firmness or solidity of character; indomitable spirit or pluck; stamina. to be clear grit , hard (etc.) grit : to have genuine spirit or pluck. to be the grit : to be the ‘right sort’, the genuine ‘article’.


3 thoughts on “True Grit: Lessons Learned from a Rescue Tent

  1. Shannon, what a wonderful essay. I love visualizing you packing up that muddy, broken tent and pronouncing its eventual survival to a bunch of cynical (but so lovable) teenagers. And for that young man to learn that patience and endurance can actually be a good thing is such an important lesson. Librarians rock!

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