Black people do not do the wilderness. Black people do not go camping. I thought your kind was not into this type of stuff. What made you come out here? Is this your first time?
Metro occasionally contracts with community members to write about newsworthy topics from their perspective as a member of a historically marginalized community, such as people of color, immigrants and refugees, low-income residents and people of varying abilities. These pieces are intended to provide important points of view and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Metro or the Metro Council.
Jamartae is a teaching assistant at Beaumont Middle School in Portland. He is currently studying for his teaching certificate.
These are the assumptions people have and questions people ask when they see a Black person or a group of Black people in a new setting. But many people who come from where I come from – North Portland, Oregon’s historic Black neighborhoods – enjoy the outdoors.
I wasn’t one of them.
At least I didn’t think I was.
Then, at 24 I went on a school field trip that changed my life and my view on the outdoors. I am an educator at Beaumont Middle School, so I go on plenty of field trips.
A lot of folks have strong memories of field trips they went on as kids, but we don’t really think of them as being a big deal for the teachers. During most field trips, all I’m really worried about is keeping the kids on track and safe. The trips are nice, don’t get me wrong, but they’re for the kids.
The trip to Mount Saint Helens two years ago, was something new. And experiencing it along with students who look like me, who were having their first nature adventure as well, meant I could see it all through their eyes too. Experiencing this as one made it that much more special.
We started our trip at Lava Canyon. It was my first hike ever. Walking up these trails together, me seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces, them seeing the excitement on my face, it was priceless.
Walking up these trails together, me seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces, them seeing the excitement on my face, was priceless. And it was nerve racking.
And it was nerve racking.
Parts of the trail are steep, and if you get too close on the edge, bad situations can happen. One of the students even grabbed my arm and said, “Anything go wrong Mr. Martae, you have my back, right?” I responded, “You know I got you. We in this together." We shared a huge smile by both of us, which let us know we got this.
We made it up to the top of the trail. It was breathtaking – tall trees just taking over the whole view.
Students tried to spot the tree line in the canyon that marks the edge of the lahar flow. We could see the old trees that survived the 1980 eruption and the young growth that has come back since then.
If Lava Canyon gave me an exciting, even a little scary, experience outdoors, the Trail of Two Forests gave me calm and a chance to just appreciate nature. The trail is a short, easy loop. It was a chance to inhale the fresh air together, take in every sound, watch the clouds moving and see every tree blowing in the wind.
During this trail walk, I remember just having life conversations with the students. Questions like, "You never been here before Mr. Martae?" "No." "You never been somewhere like this before?" "No." As I answered questions the shock on some of their faces was priceless.
Having a moment to reflect and having the students ask me questions as we shared a bond of being in nature together, with no judgment about our past experiences, was exciting. And it was fun.
One of the highlights for this trail was students crawling through small tunnels that were made when trees were covered by lava about 2,000 years ago. I could hear echoes of laughter and giggling coming out of the tunnels. I felt pride because I felt I had helped bring that sense of joy.
After the peace of the forests, we visited the strange world of the Ape Cave, which was most of the students’ favorite because of the adventure it takes you through. The cave was formed by lava flows from an eruption two millennia ago.
It was dark, wet, windy and cold at 42 degrees. Bats were in this cave, though we did not see them. There were strict rules to protect the environment. For instance, you could not touch the wall because it was covered with fungus and bacteria called slime that feeds the cave’s ecosystem.
Equipped with flashlights, we looked for things we’d never seen before: flow marks that show how high lava flows reached; railroad tracks, which are ridges show lava flows that entered the tube after it was already formed.
The learning was great, but this was a middle school field trip. In the midst of the cave, competitive spirits came out in a race to see which group could make it the end of the tunnel first.
It was pure middle school: energy and goofiness. Flashlight beams were everywhere, the wet sounds of our feet like we were running in the rain.
One of the students in my group told another group and fellow teacher, “We have Mr. Martae with us so you guys don’t stand a chance with us.”
Near the finish line we saw The Meatball: A block of cooled lava that fell onto moving, liquid lava and got wedged in a tight spot high in the cave. The name itself made us all think of spaghetti and gave us motivation to reach the end. I called out to my group, “If we make it to the finish line, spaghetti on me at Beaumont.”
On our bus ride back to the school, I understood that the students and I had created a new avenue in our road of Mother Nature. We drove down a street that we didn’t know, that we all were afraid of taking, but it led us to our destination, together.
As a Black man, I did not feel unwanted or like I did not belong, which was huge for me because that was my first time feeling like that outside of my community.
Most Black and Brown children do not have the chance to step outside of their comfort zones due to society's stereotypes and the prejudice and suspicion that come with them. Here we had the opportunity to trust our outdoor instincts to have fun and allow learning.
As a Black man too, I did not feel unwanted or like I did not belong, which was huge for me. That was my first time feeling like that outside of my community. I opened my mind and senses to a new place, and I am grateful I experienced it with other Black and Brown faces who had the same first feelings as me.
As a Black man, I do not want to be limited to what society and other people think of where I should be. Just like everywhere else, I belong in the wilderness. I deserve the right just as anybody else to experience nature, explore,
Knowledge and history about every area we visited were given to myself and my students, and that is an experience nobody can take away from me as a Black man living in America.