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Editor’s note: This letter was written to Feather River College instructor Darla DeRuiter and her environmental studies class praising their random act of kindness to a lone hiker, Scott Hewett, in the Bucks Lake Wilderness Area.
“To be sure, this (letter) is not so much about my brother and me. It is more about letting your students know what kind of an impact they can have upon other peoples’ lives through random acts of kindness.”
The author’s brother Doug stands above Rock Lake on their last backpacking trip together seven years ago. Author Scott Hewett loves the picture because the silhouette resembles a “bat” with his trekking poles and all-black attire. After returning home from his encounter with the Feather River College group, Scott looked at the picture and it struck him that this is exactly what the class members did: “They raised their arms like that and created a tunnel for me to go through. I like to think of it as more of a ‘passage.’” Photo courtesy Scott Hewett
Darla DeRuiter and ES & ORL Class,
“I am writing you to thank you for your ‘random act of kindness’ a few weeks ago on the narrow trail above Silver Lake. Sometimes people do not realize what might seem to be an ‘insignificant act’ can have a meaningful and profound effect on another’s life. Your spontaneous ‘flash mob’ tunnel of outstretched arms for me to walk through was one of the most meaningful events of my life, and I would like to thank you for that. Without boring you too much, let me explain:
“Seven years ago I organized a back-packing trip with 8 friends, one of which was my brother Doug. Camping and canoeing has been in our blood since we were born. That was the last time I was able to enjoy the outdoors and hiking with him.
Doug Hewett, left, and brother Scott Hewett stand near their tent during their last backpacking trip together to Rock Lake in 2006.Photo courtesy Scott Hewett
"Later, friends had mentioned they heard my brother ‘clearing his throat’ on numerous occasions during that trip. Six months later he called me and told me he had tonsil cancer. He passed away 2 years later (5 years ago), but we were fortunate enough to be able to spend the last few months of his life together, including ‘camping next to each other in the hospital’ — him in a hospital bed, and me on a roll-away bed provided by the hospital in Torrance, California.
“I have been wanting to go back to Rock Lake for the last five years and quietly revisit the last hiking and camping trip we shared together. A few weeks ago I was finally able to do so, and packed the canoe for Silver Lake and a day pack for Rock Lake. As I pulled up to Silver Lake, I was disappointed to see that the lake had been drained for repairs, so canoeing was out of the question. I was also very surprised to find that I was the only one there. I knew that my more important mission of re-visiting my last hike with my brother lay ahead at Rock Lake.
“I hiked up to Rock Lake and spent some time reflecting on that special summer seven years ago and raising a ‘toast’ and a few special words to my brother in the skies above Spanish Peak. I packed up and headed back down the trail toward my truck at Silver Lake, knowing that I had fulfilled my wish to re-visit the site and reconnect with my brother. With my mission complete, I headed back down the trail with mixed emotions and sadness that my brother wasn’t with me. And here’s where your group comes in!
“There had been no one around when I first arrived at Silver Lake, and I hadn’t seen or heard anyone in hours. As I came over the little hump in the trail I could see your class in the distance. I thought to myself, ‘wow, where did they come from?’ I know we have all been in a position of hiking on a narrow trail with two or three people, coming upon a group of two or three other people heading in the opposite direction, and the inevitable question of ‘who is going to step aside?’
“At that point, I am thinking to myself, ‘Okay, it’s 20 of them and 1 of me. How am I supposed to weave myself through this group of college students without causing havoc or getting razzed?’ Closer and closer … 50’, 40’, 30’, 20’, 10’ VOILA!!!! Like magic, your group divided in two, each occupying an opposite side of the trail and raised all your arms to form a ‘tunnel’ for me to pass through. As I passed into your ‘tunnel of arms,’ you all began to cheer. As I exited your ‘tunnel of arms,’ the significance of your random act of kindness hit me … it was exactly the kind of thing my brother Doug and I would have enjoyed doing unto others.
“I could not have dreamed of a better ‘closure’ for such an important event. I want to thank each and every one of you for what you did that day. It might have seemed like ‘just a fun thing to do to this guy hiking alone,’ but it meant the world to me. I entered your tunnel solo, but I could swear that my brother came out of the other end with me. I will never forget your flash mob and random act of kindness that day. Thank You.”
Students in Darla DeRuiter’s Environmental Studies Program, Sierra Nevada Natural History class take a break at the Beckworth Cabin during a field trip to Sierra Valley earlier this year. Photo by Darrel Jury
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