2021 School Walk Continues Tradition, Celebrating Mr. Gunn and his Love of Nature

2021 School Walk Continues Tradition, Celebrating Mr. Gunn and his Love of Nature

On October 7, faculty and students gathered on the Koven-Jones Glade for the All-School Walk, a beloved Frederick Gunn School tradition, begun by Mr. Gunn in 1861. The weather for this year’s walk was sunny and warm, with a slight, intermittent breeze that sent the first yellow leaves fluttering from their branches. The Shepaug River was running fairly high and during quieter moments, one could hear the sound of the water rushing along. It was, in the words of Dan Fladager, Director of Outdoor Programs, “a beautiful day to gather as a school and celebrate our founder’s birthday and the beautiful area we call home by walking together in fellowship and community.”

In a message to the community announcing the date of this year’s All-School Walk, held just three days after what would have been Frederick Gunn’s 205th birthday, Head of School Peter Becker noted that at that time of the first School Walk, Mr. and Mrs. Gunn had been running their school in Washington for 11 years, and had about two dozen students. The Civil War had just begun, and Mr. Gunn decided the best thing he could do, given a disrupted school year, was to take his students on a camping trip in Milford, Connecticut, on Long Island Sound. A description can be found in “The Keewaydin Way,” a book by Brian Back about the canoe tripping camp founded in northern Maine in 1893 by A.S. Gregg Clarke, one of Mr. Gunn’s first students. Of Mr. Gunn, Beck wrote:

“In 1861, he made his mark on American history by incorporating the first recognized camping adventure into a school program. The entire student body travelled 40 miles to Welch’s Point near Milford on Long Island Sound for the two-week experiment at ‘roughing it’ in the woods, living by their own hands. They called it the ‘Gypsy Trip.’"

According to "The Master of The Gunnery," the students camped in tents, played in the surf, organized ball games and gathered around the campfire to sing a song that was new to them, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Mr. Gunn and his school returned to Milford in August 1863 and 1865 before moving the camping trip from Milford to Point Beautiful on Lake Waramaug. Although the route and destination have changed over time, the tradition of the All-School Walk has continued “unbroken, from everything we can tell, from 1861,” Becker said. It is a day off from classes, where the entire community is immersed in the natural world that Mr. Gunn so loved. 

Standing on the wall of the terrace outside Solley Dining Hall, Fladager gave students a few final instructions, and thanked the members of the Outdoor Leadership co-curricular who had marked the trail in advance. Marlon Fisher '01 of the Alumni & Development Office reminded students that they were following in the footsteps of the many alumni who had come before them.

“This is about connecting with friends, meeting people for the first time. This is to get out in the natural world and experience it just like people have been doing at this school during this week for hundreds of years. We are reconnecting with the past, and reconnecting with the natural world,” said Associate Head of School Seth Low, who read a passage from “The Master of The Gunnery,” written by William Hamilton Gibson, Class of 1866, about Mr. Gunn’s love of nature:

“Those walks with Mr. Gunn, the rides, the quest for the first anemones or arbutus; the woodland strolls, when the faintest perfume brought its recognition of an unseen presence among the blossoming herbage, when the veriest chirp, or even the flutter of an unseen wing amid the thicket, foretold the song we would surely hear! … He knew the punctual birds, and heard the warble of the bluebird ere his neighbor had thought of spring. He knew the prophetic faces of the flowers that usher in the seasons, months, or weeks, and many were the ‘appointments’ which he kept with some shy recluse of the woods or fallows – some rare pale orchid, radiant aster, or wild blue-gentian that met his loyal welcome at the first unfolding of its fringes.”

“Mr. Gunn,” Low concluded, “was a lover of nature. He also understood the restorative power of nature, that we can go into the natural world to seek solace, maybe from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. Let’s channel Mr. Gunn today, appreciate the natural world, appreciate this community, and love the school. Have a great School Walk!”

Dressed in commemorative t-shirts designed by Emily Chiappa ’23, the students set out from the main gate on Kirby Road, with Ed Small, the Anne S. and Ogden D. Miller Senior Master, Ed Surjan, Educational Technology and Library Director, and Ron Castonguay, Director of the Arts, leading them into Steep Rock preserve. They followed an eight-mile route that took them past the ruins of Holiday House, through the dark and muddy railroad tunnel, along the banks of the Shepaug River, over the wiggly suspension bridge and up the hillside to the Pinnacle. Descending from the summit, students and faculty followed the old railroad bed along the river back to the riding ring near the entrance to the 998-preserve, and up the last steep hill to campus, where they enjoyed pizza and ice cream on the Glade.

By all accounts, the day was a great success, a wonderful opportunity for students to continue a great school tradition, and honor our founder and his love of nature.

Photos by Dan Fladager, Director of Outdoor Programs, Seth Low, Associate Head of School, and Phil Dutton '81 P'23

Additional Images

Students heading out the main gate for School Walk 2021

Students heading out the main gate for School Walk 2021